George Will’s column, “Feeble president is good for nation,” makes some striking assertions. “Trump is something the nation did not know it needed—a feeble president whose manner can cure the nation’s excessive fixation with the presidency.”
Both Presidents Bush and Obama stretched the power of the presidency. George Will explains, “After 2001, ‘The Decider’ (Bush) decided to start a preventive war and to countenance torture prohibited by treaty or statue. His successor (Obama) had ‘a pen and a phone,’ an indifference to the Constitution’s Take Care Clause (the President ‘shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed’) and disdain for the separation of powers, for which he was repeatedly rebuked by the Supreme Court.’”
President Trump is not feeble or lacking in strengths. But because of his lack of experience, narcissistic tendencies, and polarizing style, congress may be forced to take a more strategic and assertive role. George Will points to that opportunity: “Because this president has neither a history of party identification nor an understanding of reciprocal loyalty, Congressional Republicans are acquiring a constitutional—a Madisonian—ethic.”
Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s new Chief of Staff, may provide the structure and discipline to help bring order to this administration’s early missteps. Poitico reports: “Kelly assembled senior aides in his office and laid down the rules of the road: More accountability on how jobs are done. More limitations on access to the Oval Office. More structure. Better briefings and information for the president. A White House staff where everyone reports to Kelly.” Kelly may help Trump deliver on more of his promised agenda, but America may still benefit from a more balanced sharing of powers.
With Republicans in control of the executive and legislative branch, critical things can and should get done. Should Republican principles be more important than presidents in guiding our policy priorities in Washington? Certainly.
US Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona has just published a controversial new book, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principles. Although some question Flake’s own priorities and voting record, he calls for putting principles ahead of personalities. Losers don’t legislate, but legislation must serve a purpose. He writes, “If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it. If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?”
Like many conservatives, Flake believes that Trump appointed an exceptional Supreme Court justice. His positions on cutting regulations and initiating a tax policy that lowers rates and broadens the base are easy to embrace and support. But Flake feels that Trump strays from conservative principles on curtailing free trade. Free trade serves our citizens, our businesses, and keeps important allies in our trade orbit in an expanding global economy.
Republicans have lost in elections when they stray from the principles that guide them. In 2001, President George W. Bush came into the Presidency and pushed for “No child left behind” and a prescription drug entitlement plan. He promoted his “caring conservative” version of bigger, better government, and the principle of smaller government was pushed aside. In the mid-term elections, the GOP lost the Senate.
Our Founding Fathers wisely built checks and balances into our Constitutional structure. It’s time for Republicans in Congress to assert their role and let Republican principles be their primary guide. They should support and work with Trump whenever they can. They should work with Democrats willing to build on common ground, but they should not follow Trump where he departs from what we stand for. Winners legislate; it’s time they assert their priorities.
In the coming months, I will focus on the six primary principles that California Republicans have said unites them: smaller government and less government regulations; lower taxes on small businesses and individuals; a strong military and homeland security; sustain the American Dream through personal freedom and responsibility; promote educational excellence through school choice; and support a free-enterprise, free-trade economy. It’s time Congress and President Trump get busy delivering on what matters most.
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