by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Though National Review has taken direct aim at Donald Trump’s run for the Republican presidential nomination, editor Rich Lowry joins with Ramesh Ponnuru to describe ways in which Trump’s White House run could benefit conservatives.
Many of Donald Trump’s supporters are not conservatives. Many of them have not been active in politics before.
Conservatives should be glad when a public figure leads newcomers to join our cause. We should welcome it even when the new recruits have somewhat different views and passions than the long-timers do. Some older-line Republicans were appalled when, starting in the late 1970s, northern Catholic ethnics and southern Evangelicals, some of them newly active in politics, joined the party, gave it a more downscale economic profile, and forced it to talk about school prayer instead of an Equal Rights Amendment. But these changes were mostly for the better. The country was riven by new moral conflicts, and conservatism could not carry on as though it were not. And because these changes brought in more new Republican voters than they repelled old ones, they made it possible for a changed conservatism to command a majority in many elections and, thus, to implement conservative policies.
The happiest story conservatives could tell about Trump would be an updated version of that one: A newcomer to conservatism himself, he is leading others to join an enlarged conservative coalition while simultaneously injecting it with a skepticism about mass immigration that is much more sensible than past conservative leaders’ enthusiasm for it.
This way of looking at the Trump phenomenon raises several large questions. One is whether his defects as a political leader outweigh these potential gains — and they do. For reasons of character, temperament, and experience, he is a poor fit for the presidency, and if nominated he could very well cost Republicans an election that they might otherwise win. Another is whether Trump, even today, is rightly described as a conservative — and whether the coalition he seeks to lead is, either.