As Donald Trump’s victory has triggered a metamorphosis among some supposed conservatives to abandon conservatism and embrace Trump’s populism, Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley, who fought the brutal odds against them to teach Americans about what made the country great, must be spinning in their graves.
The latest case in point, apparently: economist Stephen Moore, a supposed lifetime conservative who sounds eager to abandon his principles in order to jump on the Trump Train.
Last week, according to The Hill, Moore told Republican lawmakers assembled at their closed-door whip meeting that they no longer were part of the conservative party of Ronald Reagan. Moore declaimed, “Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party. In some ways this will be good for conservatives and in other ways possibly frustrating.”
One shocked attendee, aghast, said, “For God’s sake, it’s Stephen Moore! He’s the guy who started Club for Growth. He’s Mr. Supply Side economics.”
Moore tried to explain his abandonment of conservative principles by claiming his traveling around Rust Belt states as he supported Trump altered his views, saying, “It turned me more into a populist . . . Having spent the last three or four months on the campaign trail, it opens your eyes to the everyday anxieties and financial stress people are facing. I’m pro-immigration and pro-trade, but we better make sure as we pursue these policies we’re not creating economic undertow in these areas.”
So how does Moore reconcile his traditionally conservative views with Trump’s avowed intention to create a trillion-dollar infrastructure package? By accepting Trump’s own view that if the package makes voters happy, they’ll get it. He claimed, “I don’t want to spend all that money on infrastructure. I think it’s mostly a waste of money. But if the voters want it, they should get it … If Trump says build a wall then he should build a wall. If Trump says renegotiate TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal], he should renegotiate TPP. Elections have consequences, and I do think Donald Trump has a mandate.”
Moore continued down the tracks with Trump: “I used to be unilateral free trader. If somebody wants to sell something to us at less cost than we can produce here, then do it. But the political reality is there’s a backlash against trade. Whether we like it or not we better adapt the rules in ways that benefit American workers more, or free trade is not going to flourish. We can scream and whine all we want but that’s reality.”
Moore concluded, “Reagan ran as an ideological conservative. Trump ran as an economic populist. Trump’s victory turned it into the Trump party.”
As Jonah Goldberg of National Review noted of Moore and his pal Larry Kudlow back in March:
In August, the two legendarily libertarian-minded economists attacked Trump, focusing on what they called Trump’s “Fortress America platform.” His trade policies threaten the global economic order, they warned. “We can’t help wondering whether the recent panic in world financial markets is in part a result of the Trump assault on free trade,” they mused. As for Trump’s immigration policies, they could “hardly be further from the Reagan vision of America as a ‘shining city on a hill.’” Months later, as Trump rose in the polls, Kudlow and Moore joined the ranks of Trump’s biggest boosters — and not because Trump changed his views. On the contrary, Kudlow has moved markedly in Trump’s direction. He now argues that the borders must be sealed and all visas canceled. He also thinks we have to crack down on China.
What explains such Pauline conversions on the road to a Trump presidency? One argument they and many other converts make is purely consequentialist. “For me, Trump potentially represents a big expansion of the Republican Party, a way to bring in those blue-collar Reagan Democrats,” Moore told the Washington Post. “That’s necessary if the party is going to win again.” Instead of converting voters to conservatism, Trump is succeeding at converting conservatives to statism.
True conservatism champions holding to principle rather than selling out to what is temporarily convenient. It would seem that the conservatives fleeing their lifelong commitment to jump on the Trump Train are less individuals than a plethora of tiny cabooses.