What Trump must do to win over conservatives

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/05/19/what-trump-must-do-to-win-over-conservatives/

“Today, the belief in American exceptionalism has vanished with the end of empire, the weakening of power, the loss of faith in the nation’s future.” Sound familiar? It could be a lament from anyone in Donald Trump’s camp or from Trump himself. Actually, it is an excerpt from a 1976 article by Daniel Bell, a self-described “socialist in economics,” whose view of America’s role in the world reflected a dour minimalism, in contrast to Donald Trump’s muscular appeal to greatness.

That Bell wrote as he did can be understood in view of the tenor of his times: national remorse over Vietnam and Watergate, stagflation, gas lines, emerging Soviet nuclear superiority and rising crime rates. What Bell could not predict and what Trump appears not to appreciate is that America recovered from this torpor largely as a result of the Reagan administration’s stewardship of U.S. economic and defense policy during the 1980s. The story of that success is familiar to anyone who considers himself a conservative: rapid recovery from a deep recession, the onset of the Great Moderation that made economic growth and price stability possible for two decades, and – most dramatically – the end of the Cold War and of nuclear brinksmanship.

If Donald Trump wants to win over conservatives – or, indeed, succeed in November – he needs to immerse himself in a study of Ronald Reagan’s life and presidency. The parallels between him and Reagan are striking. In 1980, Democrats were gleeful over Reagan’s nomination, just as they are (or profess to be) today about Trump’s almost certain nomination. Like Trump, Reagan was pilloried by the media and the political elites as altogether unsuited to the job. In The Age of Reagan, biographer Steven Hayward quotes The New Republic as commenting that “it is still hard to believe the Ronald Reagan may actually be elected president of the U.S.” Like Trump, Reagan was inclined toward making gaffes and to telling it like it is, rather than pandering to the arbiters of political correctness. And like Trump, Reagan had the advantage of running at a time when the voters were much dissatisfied over the performance of an incumbent Democrat Administration.

There are, however, two crucial differences: First, Reagan had a philosophical core, and, second, to quote a remark by Nancy Reagan, as related by another biographer, James Mann, “he was absolutely without guile.” Trump has neither of these virtues. The Ronald Reagan who took office in 1981 was the same Ronald Reagan who spoke about America as a “shining city on a hill” even as he branded the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” And it was this Reagan who was able to encourage Mikhail Gorbachev’s willingness to reform the very same evil empire.

Trump, whose only philosophical reference point is Trump himself, and who likes to savage anyone who criticizes him, will never be a Ronald Reagan. Nor can he hope to articulate a well-thought-out conservative philosophy in the manner of Reagan, who had some 30 years to refine his views through speeches and experience. What he can do, however, is seize on the opportunities before him to reassure Conservatives who are eager for any justification to avoid voting for a Democrat candidate they loathe or, more likely, who might just stay home on election day. Let’s consider a few examples of how he might do that:

— Soften his stance on trade and immigration. Trump doesn’t have to reverse himself and come out for the Trans-Pacific Partnership or for preserving NAFTA, but he could stop talking about pointless, draconian tariffs on China and Mexico. He could satisfy his core supporters by simply pledging to push other countries into opening up their markets to U.S. exporters and promising to end all illegal immigration (with the Wall, if need be), defund sanctuary cities and push for laws that require the police to inform the immigration authorities of any illegal aliens that they come across in the course of their duties.

— Stop being tone deaf to social conservatives. Barack Obama handed Trump a golden opportunity to put Hillary Clinton in a tough spot when he issued a decree requiring schools to open their bathrooms to transgender students. What Trump could have done is condemn this as another power grab by the Obama administration and one that runs roughshod over local schools and over concerns about the risks to girls and women from male predators posing as transgendered females. He could have pointed out that this is indeed, a women’s issue.  (No one is worried about female predators lurking about men’s rooms.) Trump could have brought Obama to task for displaying a stunning insensitivity to a woman’s right to privacy – a totemic object of concern by the Left if there ever was one. He could have forced Hillary into expressing her willingness to sacrifice this piece of women’s rights in the name of sexual politics. Instead, he meekly suggested that the states should decide. There is evidence that he would be on the right side of the polls with this issue if he could just appreciate its moral and political significance.

— Start being more assertive about the double standard on college campuses. Today, there exists at colleges across America a double standard that applies to conservatives and males on the one hand, and liberals and females, on the other. To wit: the epidemic of phony, federally-inspired rape allegations against men and the recent black power salute by uniformed female cadets at West Point.

— Go where no man dares to go on the subject of Islam. The problem is not that Muslims can enter the country. The problem is that Islam has been an imperialist enterprise since its founding. “The prophet,” said scholar Efraim Karsh “was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘there is no god by Allah.’” Trump needs to listen to the speech that launched Reagan’s political career, in which he condemned those “who have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy ‘accommodation,” said Reagan. “And they say if we’ll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he’ll forget his evil ways and learn to love us.” Then it was accommodation of the Soviets. Today it’s “leading from behind” in dealing with ISIS. Hillary Clinton betrayed her inability to see the imperialistic strain of Islam for what it is in her frenzied efforts to blame Benghazi on an “awful internet video.”

In a recent New York Times piece, Maureen Dowd quoted Trump as indicating an interest in learning more about “the whole Reagan era.” Indeed, he should learn more – and quickly at that.

David G. Tuerck

David G. Tuerck

David G. Tuerck is executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute and professor of economics at Suffolk University. Read his past columns here.