Democrats are seizing on conservative unhappiness with Donald Trump to portray him as “dangerous” and “different.” Even Robert Gates harshly criticized Trump in the Wall Street Journal, calling him “beyond repair,”” stubbornly uninformed,” “temperamentally unsuited,” and “unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.” And Trump’s recent recalibration on a number of issues, including immigration, is leaving many conservatives worried about the GOP nominee. We shouldn’t be.
Gates is right about the perilous and dangerous nature of the world today. But because the world is so dangerous, we should want a President that our enemies might fear. Both Reagan’s arms race and Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy” relied on making sure our enemies believed we could and would do whatever it took to keep America safe. And though Trump is certainly a different kind of GOP nominee, conservatives should not be afraid of him.
Politicians who triangulate are not new. While such calculation is often vilified as insincerity, all politicians try to find popular causes to support because they want to be associated with popular things. In fact, this is the entire basis for using electoral systems to express the will of the people. Triangulation by politicians is how the system is controlled by popular will. Ignoring that is how elections are lost.
Trump is the least ideological Republican nominee since Warren Harding. Conservatives are accustomed to a GOP nominee who is more in tune with us. As a result, we have been ignoring the concerns of other Republicans who have become increasingly angry over being left out. Conservative sway over the GOP has grown even as the number of conservatives in the electorate has dwindled. Popular support for Donald Trump may be a desire for a less ideological, and less divisive, President than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush. The people want a President for all, not just for liberals or conservatives.
The danger of populism is that popular ideas are not always good ideas. But as the great economist Milton Friedman said, “Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or it they try, they will shortly be out of office.” An idea, no matter how good it is, must first be popular before a politician can risk supporting it. Popularity is to politics as profit is to markets. And if Donald Trump understands anything, it’s popularity. While we can wish that the political climate would permit the election of an ideological conservative, we have little to fear from a right-wing populist like Donald Trump, and much to appreciate.
A right-wing populist like Trump is less dangerous than a left-wing populist like Bill Clinton or Joe Biden because Trump will have no allegiance to traditional liberal power centers like Planned Parenthood, giving him a free hand to pursue popular reforms without the pressure from liberal groups that Hillary Clinton would be beholden to. Just as Bill Clinton gladly abandoned liberalism to sign welfare reform and even the Defense of Marriage Act before it became unpopular, we can trust Trump to pursue the path of popularity. We should not fear this! Polls show that Americans, and even millennials, are actually very moderate on social issues, rejecting things like taxpayer-funded abortions and late-term abortions that are enshrined in the Democrats’ platform. Liberals fear putting such issues to popular vote, which is why they use the courts to press their social agenda.
For that reason, a non-ideological president like Trump has no reason to nominate someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. But to be prudent, we will need to ensure our Senate is as conservative as possible to protect the integrity of our judiciary. One thing we can count on is that Hillary Clinton will nominate judges who will abandon the Constitution to pursue a social agenda. That should be unacceptable for those of us who care about the law.
Donald Trump’s recent rise in the polls has at least reduced attacks on conservative Trump critics, a group known as #NeverTrump. Infighting is usually seen as a sign of a losing nominee, though it’s more often to be an effect rather than a cause. But even back in June, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight.com found that GOP voters were rallying behind Trump just as they’ve rallied behind previous nominees. Donald Trump is new and different because he is a non-ideological candidate who is not beholden to liberal special interests. That may be just what America needs.