Principled Conservatives Can’t Support Donald Trump

If Republicans want limited government, they can’t back a man who promises strong leadership.

The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, August 17, 2007
The South Portico of the White House in Washington DC, August 17, 2007 (Michael Garnett)

Sometimes it seems America’s Republicans only like limited government when they’re not in charge. Certainly supporters of Donald Trump, a businessman and candidate for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, fall into this category.

In his latest column for The Washington Post, George Will wonders why conservatives should back a man who until recently wasn’t even a Republican and is at best indifferent to conservative tenets.

Trump supported Barack Obama’s stimulus and advocates higher taxes. He changed his mind on abortion rights and marriage equality but still supports legalizing drugs (a few years ago anyway, he might have reversed his position on that as well). Trump’s appeal derives primarily from his anti-immigration rhetoric — which, as Will points out, may drive even more Asian American and Hispanic voters away from the party.

There is also a dispiriting irony in Trump’s instance that all it takes to “make America great again” is good leadership.

The administrative state’s intrusiveness (e.g., its regulatory burdens), irrationalities (e.g., the tax code’s toll on economic growth), incompetence (Amtrak, ethanol, etc.) and illegality (we see you, IRS) may benefit the principal architect of this state, the Democratic Party. This is because the other party’s talented critics of the administrative state are being drowned out by Trump’s recent discovery that Americans understandably disgusted by government can be beguiled by a summons to Caesarism.

The Atlantic Sentinel has argued that such desires for strongmen are unhealthy.

A society in which citizens are informed and willing to take responsibility for their own lives doesn’t need “strong leadership.” It needs a leadership that respects personal autonomy and privacy. Strongmen never do. They impose their values on others, mistrust citizens, including businessmen, to make wise decisions and snoop into people’s personal lives to see if they aren’t secretly insubordinate.

Big-government Democrats may be more likely to mistrust their citizens than Republicans but they too can overlook political safeguards against administrative overreach in their quest for other conservative priorities.

Will laments that while conservatives “properly execrate Obama’s executive highhandedness that expresses progressivism’s traditional disdain for the separation of powers,” those some critics despise Republican leaders in Congress for failing to impose conservatives’ unimpeded will from Capitol Hill, whatever the president’s constitutional prerogatives.

This is not principled opposition. If Republican voters are comfortable with big government as long as their party is in power, they can’t be surprised when voters in the middle don’t take seriously their complaints when Democrats are.

Nor can they expect their argument that big government is inherently unworkable to be taken seriously when they nominate for the presidency a man who believes he is uniquely qualified to make government work. Irrespective of whether he is (he isn’t), Republicans should not be looking for someone like Trump. If they mean what they say, they should be looking for a candidate who is willing to admit the limits of presidential power and commit to making government better by making it smaller.

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