Since his profanity-laced 2011 speech in Las Vegas, Donald Trump has made a campaign theme of calling the leadership in Washington “stupid” and “incompetent.” In the most recent GOP debate, he again expressed his anger at the “incompetent people” running the government. Those are great applause lines with angry voters.
But Trump’s frequent assessment of governmental incompetence as the cause of America’s sad state should concern conservatives. The idea that competence is the hallmark of good government comes from the so-called progressive movement. Bring in better experts and smarter managers, the thinking goes, and we will have better government. The Obama administration and the GOP establishment share the attitude that an elite class of experts can manage us better than we can manage ourselves. And with the GOP establishment showing signs of warming to Trump as a way of stopping the more conservative Ted Cruz, conservatives have begun to seriously question Trump’s conservatism. (Disclosure: I have endorsed Ted Cruz.)
Few in the conservative movement would share Trump’s assessment that the nation’s disastrous course stems from managerial incompetence. Conservatives largely view Obama, not as a bumbling incompetent, but as a dedicated leftist who uses Alinskyite tactics to subvert the Constitution that the left has long seen as a barrier to their socialist agenda. Obama does not misunderstand the Constitution; he disdains its limits on governmental power. If Hillary Clinton escapes indictment for her mishandling of top-secret information, it will not be because Attorney General Loretta Lynch is incompetent; it will be because the law does not serve the left’s agenda.
To conservatives, our borders are not open because Obama and his allies are too incompetent to secure them. Our open borders serve the left’s internationalist goals, and they serve the left’s strategy of swamping our political system with millions of leftist voters from the third world. If illegals were likely to vote Republican, our borders would have been secured on January 21, 2009.
Porous borders, unchecked federal power, and declining respect for America abroad are not the blunders of incompetent managers; they’re checkmarks on a leftist agenda that the Democrats have executed quite well for decades.
And to movement conservatives, the problem with the Republican leadership in Washington is not one of competence, but collusion. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan have skillfully used the labyrinthine House and Senate rules to bring Obama’s agenda to the floor and ensure its passage while casting show votes against it for the rubes back home. If they had wanted to gum the works for Obama’s agenda as they have for the conservative agenda, they had the competence to do it.
Trump’s accusations of incompetence and stupidity are red meat for angry voters who want to send Washington a message, but his diagnosis of America’s ills is not that of a movement conservative.
That Trump’s poll results are more about a message than a movement is illustrated in his stunning boast in Sioux City on Saturday that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. He is probably right. To Obama’s radical transformation of America and the soulless let’s-make-a-deal attitude of the GOP, angry voters are answering with a resounding “screw both of you.” Trump’s lead so far is based on his bold personality, not on conservative principle.
But now, as the time approaches for real voting that has real consequences, conservative leaders – many of them featured in a recent special edition of National Review – have begun to highlight Trump’s past support for liberal politicians and causes, and they are warning conservatives that Trump is not one of us.
Now that Ted Cruz has emerged as the conservative challenger to Trump, it is telling that the GOP establishment has warmed to Trump. Among other establishment figures, Bob Dole – who has endorsed Jeb Bush – recently told the New York Times that Trump would be a better choice than Cruz. He went on to praise Trump as likely to work with Congress and lauded his skills as a “deal-maker.”
And the GOP establishment is all about making deals.
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with making deals. Dole told a Wichita audience in 2014 that President Reagan had once told him that, “if you can’t get everything, at least get me 70 percent, and we’ll get the rest next year.” The problem for conservatives, however, is that the GOP establishment has the Reagan rule backwards. Boehner gave Obama 70 percent of his agenda, and now it looks like Ryan will give him the rest.
Boehner, Ryan, and McConnell are competent deal-makers, but they are not conservative deal-makers. Trump wrote the book on making deals, but he is not a movement conservative.
And that is what has conservatives worried about Donald Trump.