During the 2016 primary and general election, many conservatives, myself included, said they could never vote for Trump. After a tweet from Erick Erickson, these conservatives collectively became known as Never Trumpers. A year into Trump’s unexpected presidency, it is time to review and update my position.
First, let’s be clear about what #NeverTrump was. #NeverTrump was not an organization or a movement, it was a collection of individuals with only two requirements for membership: being conservative and refusing to vote for Trump in the 2016 election. Nothing else. Aside from those two characteristics, there were many things that divided us. Some crossed parties and voted for Hillary, but most stayed home on election day or, like myself, voted third party.
When the election ended, so did any purpose for #NeverTrump. There is no longer a need to say “I will not vote for Trump in the 2016 election.” That time has passed. He won.
But what do you do when your party wins the presidency over your objection?
Following the election, some Never Trumpers have become Trump supporters. Some caught a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome and oppose everything the president says or does, even when he enacts policies they previously advocated for. Most Never Trumpers, it seems to me, have taken a more detached view of today’s politics. Staying true to conservative principles and, feeling no compulsion to at all times defend the president of our party as most conservatives did under Bush, we try hard to judge Trump by his actions alone.
With that in mind, I decided now is a good time to review Trump’s presidency so far from the point of view of a conservative who opposed his candidacy and state my position going forward.
First, we begin with what I got wrong (aside from my prediction of who would win the election).
The biggest reason, by far, given to support Trump in the election was the vacant Supreme Court seat. During the campaign, Trump published a list of potential nominees that was very impressive. However, he also said he might choose a justice not on the list and would like to appoint someone like his sister, a very liberal, pro-abortion judge. Given his mercurial nature and advocacy for big government, I was concerned once in office he would appoint a liberal who would not constrain government expansion. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. So far, Justice Gorsuch has been a home run. Well done Mr. President.
Speaking of his advocacy for big government, another significant concern I had was his general lack of conservative principles. On the campaign trail, Trump often supported conservative ideas but he also routinely proposed new and ever expanding government programs, periodically supported socialized medicine, and said he would work for an even bigger government stimulus package than Obama, just to name a few examples. Whether Trump had a change of heart when he entered office or, more likely, is delegating to the conservatives he appointed to advise him, I don’t know. Either way, instead of expanding government, Trump has overseen a significant deregulation effort and reversed some of Obama’s most harmful policies. Well done, Mr. President.
Trump has also made great advancements in foreign policy. He has ended the Washington micromanagement of the War on Terror and we now witness the collapse of the ISIS Caliphate. Trump also pulled us out of the Paris climate accord, de-certified the Iranian nuclear deal, and began the process to move our Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. While the media spent a lot of ink on the president insulting one of the world’s most brutal tyrants by calling him “Rocket Man,” Trump has racked up a number of foreign policy wins.
But unfortunately, three of my concerns from the Trump candidacy have not diminished. My biggest political concern with Trump has proven to be well founded, if not as pervasive as I feared.
A pseudo cult of personality has formed around Trump in which he can do no wrong.
Jerry Falwell Jr, president of the largest Christian college in the world, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, had no problem giving Trump a pass after learning he had an affair with a porn star a year after marrying his third wife. Men who previously stressed the importance of virtuous leaders and never would have accepted such behavior from another politician instead ran interference for an unrepentant adulterer.
Some veterans who claim veterans issues are their number one priority said nothing when Trump, a draft dodger, insulted all POWs just to get at Sen McCain.
Some Republicans who previously understood Russia and Wikileaks to be enemies of the United States changed their tune when their digital attacks on Americans became beneficial to Trump.
When Trump pulled out of TPP, repeatedly threatened to do the same with NAFTA, and instituted high tariffs, some free traders only responded with “America first.”
It is one thing to say Trump is wrong on these issues, but for this or that reason it is worth supporting him despite his flaws. Every candidate has flaws, so any honest person must say that about any politician they support. I think this is the attitude of most Trump voters. But far too many have simply tried to deny or obfuscate Trump’s deficiencies. From outright lying about Trump’s record, to simply saying “fake news” to every negative report as if that is an argument, to the ubiquitous “but Hillary,” many of Trump’s most ardent supporters seem incapable of admitting he has done anything wrong.
Time after time, many Republicans set aside their long standing principles to stand behind a man who’s beliefs change with the wind. As a conservative, I give my support to those who push for conservative ideas. To see so many people I used to think did the same suddenly surrender their principles to an unprincipled politician was and is disheartening.
Most importantly, this does not bode well for the future of conservatism. When the pendulum swings back and Democrats regain power in Washington, how is anyone to take these people seriously when they once again say “character is destiny,” veterans must be respected, Russia and Wikileaks are threats, and free trade is important for our economy? By sacrificing their honor to Trump, they are damaging the cause of conservatism for decades in exchange for temporary victories.
Second, unlike the self appointed leaders of the Christian Right, I cannot overlook the President’s personal failings. There is plenty of evidence Trump is not a virtuous man – the many affairs, the way he talks about women, or the time he informed his second wife he was divorcing her by first telling the New York Post and then leaving a copy of the story for her to find.
Every president, for good or ill, is a role model to America’s youth. Does Trump act in a way you would like your children to emulate? When an athlete, actor, or musician acts as Trump has, we rightly bemoan the degradation of American culture by celebrities children admire. Should we really hold the president to a lower standard than football players?
But most of all, numerous women have accused Trump of sexual assault. Maybe we could believe this is simply unfounded accusations by women seeking fame or fortune from a celebrity turned politician, but we have Trump’s own words to back them up. Most famously, of course, is the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about using his fame to sexually assault women. Less remarked on is his boast of walking into the women’s changing room during his Miss USA pageants. Several contestants from the Miss Teen USA pageant say he did this to them too. This is unconscionable behavior we should not accept from anyone, let alone the most powerful man in the world.
Third, our Constitutional Republic is dependent upon public faith in our institutions. Dictatorships work when the military supports and defends the leader. That’s all it takes. Democracies work when an overwhelming portion of the citizenry believe the rule of law is above the rule of men, and trust their institutions to abide by this precept.
Through the constant chaos he sows, by calling every critical media report “fake news,” by making every inch of public life about him, Trump steadily weakens Americans’ faith in our institutions.
Some media reports are inaccurate, either by genuine error or by bias. But Trump and his acolytes rarely bother to refute these errors with evidence, because the truthfulness of the reports is not their concern, merely that it is critical of Trump. Many honest and accurate reports are also declared “fake news,” further eroding people’s trust both in the media and their government.
One of this administration’s very first acts was to have the press secretary, who speaks on the president’s behalf, blatantly lie to the press and therefore the American people. It was a shameless act of self-aggrandizement that proved we cannot trust our government, with no purpose other than to stroke Trump’s outsized ego.
Aside from simply lying to the American people, Trump and his most fervent supporters have peddled conspiracy theories with the express purpose of destroying anyone who stands in Trump’s way. Be it Pizzagate or the Deep State, Trump will further any outlandish claim that weakens a perceived threat to him or his ego. This has far reaching consequences, not all of which are readily apparent.
I am thrilled with Trump’s judicial nominees. I wholeheartedly support deregulation. I am always in favor of tax cuts. But all of this stands on the building blocks of national integrity, morality, and faith in our institutions, all of which Trump is steadily eroding. For those reasons, while I like and will continue to support some of what Trump does, I cannot forget or excuse the remainder of his presidency.