On Wednesday, Donald Trump finally came out of the closet: yes, he admitted, he’s no conservative, but conservatives are the problem with the country anyway. Here’s his tweet:
Remember, it was the Republican Party, with the help of Conservatives, that made so many promises to their base, BUT DIDN'T KEEP THEM! Hi DT— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2016
Trump is half-right – the Republican Party has promised, over and over again, that it would implement conservative policies. Then they reneged, disappointing their conservative base over and over. That’s one reason the two leading candidates for the Republican nomination are Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), both hated by the establishment but supported by grassroots conservatives.
So why is Trump blaming “the help of Conservatives” for the lies of the Republican establishment? Because Trump isn’t conservative, and now he’s admitting it. Trump has spent most of his career giving money to Democrats; he has spent most of his career rejecting conservative policies; even now, his version of conservatism boils down to “give me power and I’ll make great deals,” which is a leftist vision of government rather than a conservative one. Like many members of the Republican establishment, Trump thinks the biggest problem with the Republican Party is ideology; he only dislikes the establishment because he doesn’t run it. He wants to replace the old Party establishment with himself. He wants to top the power pyramid.
And so he blames conservatives.
This is also a strategic play to get ahead of the Cruz-led argument that Trump doesn’t philosophically qualify to win conservative votes. Trump is stating pre-emptively that he isn’t failing conservatism – conservatism has already failed, and he’s just here to help the country. Many of his followers believe this – I routinely receive emails and tweets proclaiming that Trump fans don’t care if Trump is conservative, because he’s a “real American,” as though Americanism can be boiled down to nationalism while excising Constitutionalism. Trump’s going full-bore populist now.
So Republicans have a clear choice. Cruz is an actual conservative, who believes in a philosophy of limited government and personal freedom, combined with social institutions that instill virtue in the American citizenry. Trump is for “The Great Man” politics, with himself as Great Man – beyond ideology, beyond principle.
Trump’s pre-emptive attack on conservatism may work. But if it does, we can rightly say that the contest between non-conservative Republicanism and conservative Republicanism is over – and that non-conservatism used the pique of the conservative movement to re-establish itself, merely replacing the faces at the top.