#NeverTrump = Always Roe

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/06/01/nevertrump-always-roe/

“The progress of evolution,” noted historian Henry Adams, himself a direct descendant of two presidents, “from President Washington to President Grant was alone evidence to upset Darwin.”

Today, witnessing the prospect of a presidential showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, perhaps that aphorism should be updated, substituting Ronald Reagan for Washington and both Trump and Clinton for Grant. Indeed, today’s prospects are even dimmer than those facing nineteenth century voters. On the bright side, despite Adams’ dyspeptic evaluation, the United States pulled through and prospered under President Grant, and assuredly will at least survive a Trump or Clinton presidency.

Trying to avoid any responsibility for a Trump election, some conservatives are gathering under the #NeverTrump banner.

In this case, it’s especially misleading to lump all conservatives into a single grouping. It’s useful to recall that the Reagan coalition encompassed three main — if often overlapping — aspects of conservative thought. Economic conservatives broadly favored lower taxes, balanced budgets, and reduced regulation. Social conservatives advocated pro-life policies, traditional family values, and a robust interpretation of religious freedom. National defense conservatives supported a stronger military combined with a muscular, often interventionist, foreign policy during the Cold War.

More than simply speaking for these principles, President Reagan seemed to embrace and even mystically embody them. Because of the implicit trust conservatives placed in the man, Reagan, he was supported even when he occasionally strayed from pure conservative positions on specific issues. While some dissatisfaction with President Reagan’s actions surfaced, there was no Never Reagan impulse.

That Donald Trump is at this point not Ronald Reagan can hardly be disputed. But then, neither has been anyone else “been” Reagan since 1988. The greatest post-Reagan hope of uniting the three main branches of conservatism, New York Congressman Jack Kemp, fizzled in his national campaigns for president and vice president. In the current primaries, both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio advocated Reagan-inspired full-spectrum conservatism, yet neither succeeded in closing the deal.

In the post-World War II epic, the GOP has not been especially kind to movement conservative presidential candidates. In fact, Ronald Reagan is one of only two movement conservatives to secure the Republican nomination. The other, Barry Goldwater, lost a landslide election to President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. His nomination, though, won the war in the GOP, shifting the balance of power from the Rockefeller-Romney (that’s Governor George Romney of Michigan, Mitt’s dad) progressive wing of the party toward Goldwater-Reagan conservatives. The geographical center of the party moved from New York’s Wall Street to the Sunbelt’s backroads and main streets.

There was also a decided class shift, as GOP powerbrokers no longer necessarily owned membership in exclusive country clubs. Spinning a timeworn adage about Cabots, Lodges, and Rockefellers speaking only to each other and to God, the once elitist GOP power structure had to welcome folks with pickup trucks, gun racks, Bibles, and Mayberry RFD accents.

In an odd twist, wealthy New Yorker Trump has figured out a way to speak to the pickup truck and SUV drivers, not to mention motorcyclists, more directly than his many rivals, most of whom actually live in Middle America. Now, Republicans who voted for other candidates face the dilemma: What’s a conservative to do in November?

To a certain extent, it depends upon which wing of the party one embraces. The initial and most vociferous Never Trump advocates come from national defense conservatism. Being focused on America’s role in world affairs, some are comfortable with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an internationalist who relishes intervention abroad. For many foreign policy mavens, it is no betrayal of principle to promote a Never Trump strategy that results in the election of another Clinton.

Similarly, certain economic conservatives prioritize free trade as the key to American and global prosperity. An economic nationalist, Trump opposes some international trade agreements, seeing them as undercutting the nation’s manufacturing sector and labor force. Although Clinton currently pronounces mixed rhetoric on the trade question, she supported her husband Bill Clinton’s championing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and most favored nation (MFN) status for Communist China. Assuming that both Clintons favor trade liberalization, a Never Trump free trader may actually prefer the Democrat nominee.

Social conservatives face the greatest dilemma. Tempted to the Never Trump banner, many are repulsed by Trump’s tabloid emblazoned lifestyle over the past few decades; more ominously, they fear his longstanding advocacy of pro-choice positions. Pro-lifers can be forgiven for questioning the sincerity of his rhetorical switch to their side of the issue. Of course, Trump is hardly the first candidate to change abortion positions; it’s only fair to recall that President George H.W. Bush and Mitt Romney were longtime pro-choice politicians prior to their late career conversions. Certainly, no one deserves an automatic free pass recasting themselves as pro-life, particularly when political convenience beckons. And some of Trump’s comments on abortion and Planned Parenthood remain confusing and troubling.

Unfortunately, the ever-expanding power of the United States Supreme Court looms over every presidential election. This year is no exception. Somehow, Republican presidents never seem to master the art of nominating only conservatives to the judiciary. Since January 1973, when Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, GOP presidents have elevated eights justices to the Supreme Court, Democrats only four. Despite that numerical superiority, the Court has remained in liberal hands with respect to abortion, same-sex marriage, and other matters crucial to social conservatives.

The four current Democrat justices consistently vote in a lockstep liberal bloc on the social issues. Over time, the eight Republican justices have a decidedly mixed record. The four serving Republican justices often split, with Anthony Kennedy frequently, and Chief Justice John Roberts occasionally, drifting to the liberal side. Therefore, the replacement for the late Antonin Scalia will be decisive, not for overturning Roe, but for preventing the court from liberalizing further.

That’s why social conservatives must ponder carefully rather than jumping to a Never Trump strategy. On day one, the most significant agenda item facing the incoming President will be filling the Scalia vacancy. A newly elected President Trump may put forward a less than ideal nominee; President Hillary Clinton will assuredly nominate a disastrous justice. More likely, Trump, anxious to avoid an immediate contretemps, will hold true to his political commitment and advance a solid conservative; unquestionably, Clinton will put forward an extreme liberal.

And that’s only the start. Months into the next presidency, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg will celebrate her 84th birthday. Given that Bill Clinton put her on the Court, she undoubtedly will appreciate the symmetry of announcing her retirement and giving Hillary Clinton the opportunity to choose her successor. Anthony Kennedy will cross the 80-year threshold this summer, and Stephen Breyer will reach his 78th birthday before election day. Like Ginsberg, Breyer was selected by one Clinton and likely would want another Clinton to select his replacement.

Social conservatives understand what’s at stake in the upcoming election. With a Clinton victory, Roe and Obergefell will be harbingers of things to come, rather than poorly-reasoned decisions to be curbed or overturned. Religious freedom will be narrowly construed, and severely restricted. On the other hand, even if Trump stumbles as badly as other recent Republican presidents, he will at least add a worthy conservative to the Supreme Court and many more to the lower courts.

One way to evaluate Trump’s likely judicial picks is by awaiting his vice presidential selection. Should he choose a pro-life running mate, that augurs well for future court selections.

History always plays tricks on us. There would be a great irony if President Trump, with all his dissonant lifestyle baggage, were to succeed where more traditional Republicans failed: Re-establishing an originalist majority on the high court. After all, we have seen time-and-again that the rigor of one’s personal life does not necessarily predetermine the outcome of one’s political decisions. To again cite Henry Adams, this time on General Robert E. Lee: “It was all the worse that he was a good man and a fine character and acted conscientiously. It’s always the good men who do the most harm in the world.”

Foreign policy conservatives and free trade conservatives may continue embracing Never Trump. While they won’t get everything they want during a Clinton presidency, they’ll at least achieve something, as they did during Bill Clinton’s two terms. On the other hand, social conservatives will get nothing, and lose much

Put most starkly, Never Trump threatens to lock in liberal domination of the courts for another generation, and more. That means Roe v. Wade stands forever, or at least for most of our lifetimes.

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli

Joseph Tortelli is a freelancer writer. Read his past columns here.