We’re just a few days into the formation of the Trump administration, and Trump’s moves thus far can generously be described as a mixed bag. On the one hand, he’s selected RNC chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff, a move designed to reach out to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in formulating a conservative legislative agenda; on the other hand, he’s hired former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, a fellow traveler with the alt-right and ardent enemy of the Republican Party, as his White House chief strategist. On the one hand, he’s said that he would repeal and replace Obamacare; on the other hand, he’s said he would keep Obamacare’s demand that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions. On the one hand, he’s talked about appointing John Bolton Secretary of State; on the other hand, he’s continued to talk in glowing tones about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
That means we can have hope that he’ll be a great president. It also means we should be careful that he doesn’t ditch conservatism in a populist ditch somewhere. Trust, but verify.
Trump’s an ink blot. We don’t know what he thinks on policy. We don’t know what he’ll do. We just know that he’s taken a variety of positions, hired from a variety of sources, and swiveled on policy repeatedly.
Which means that conservatives should be united in their position vis-à-vis Trump: we’ll support him when he does something right, and oppose him when he does something wrong.
Unfortunately, it looks like such unity will not be in the offing. Take, for example, Newt Gingrich, one of Trump’s most ardent backers. When confronted with the absolute fact that Trump’s rise has emboldened the alt-right, many of whom consider Trump an ally, Gingrich simply called such statements “garbage,” and then blamed “the left” for raising the issue – even though there are some of us who have been raising the issue for literally months. Then Gingrich uttered this outrageous statement: “Donald Trump is a mainstream conservative who wants to profoundly take on the left….I’ve never heard of the alt-right until the nut cakes started writing about it. Donald Trump has to be Donald Trump and the country will organize itself around who he is.”
What in the hell is that supposed to mean?
I was under the impression that the country doesn’t organize itself around the president. I thought that it was fundamentally anti-conservative — a hallmark of leftist Great Leaderism — to worship at the altar of a man just because he is the president of your party. I was told that mainstream conservatives believe that the president has a constitutional role, and it is his job to organize himself to that role, and to represent the American people in forwarding their rights under the Constitution. But according to Gingrich, we’re all just going to have to getting our minds right with regard to Trump.
In order to elect Trump over Hillary, conservatives had to compromise. They had to deal with the fact that Trump is an unknown quantity. They had to put aside his personal foibles. But here’s the danger: conservatives cannot fall into the trap of turning into Trump’s amen choir just because they sacrificed to vote for him. Holding him accountable will be indispensable to maintaining conservatism during and after a Trump administration.
If not, Trump will hijack the movement for his own ends. Conservatism will shape itself to Trumpism. And that will be a tragedy for the Constitution, the conservative movement, and the country.