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Donald Trump, Presumptive Nominee

After Indiana, American politics have entered a new period.

For eight months, Donald Trump’s electoral strength has astounded, shocked, and dismayed the political class and terrified the inner circles of the GOP. The outer-borough New Yorker, pushy WASP (Russell Baker’s phrase of some thirty years ago), developer and TV star with flamboyant personality, bold and bombastic, a militant centrist, an Eisenhower Republican with a Berlusconi temperament, has managed to carry out what amounts to a hostile takeover of the Republican Party, or at least its presidential process.

Republican voters, told for months that Trump was not a real Republican, not a real conservative, not whatever National Review, the Wall Street Journal, or the Weekly Standard thought a Republican nominee ought to be, have said they didn’t care. Every important national pundit predicted Trump would, eventually, lose. The voters disagreed. Record Republican turnout in one state after another. Trump wins. Last night, a long resistant GOP establishment acknowledged the fact.

The first point to make is that the Republican establishment deserved to lose. Honestly, it is impossible to point to one single thing that the national Republican party has done this century for the mostly middle class voters who regularly support it. It has no legislative accomplishments, nor shown evidence of successful pushback on social issues. A large segment of its regular voters have experienced a massive sociological decline in wages, life chances, and life expectancy. The only significant thing the national GOP has accomplished since the millennium is starting the Iraq war. If ever a defeat was richly deserved, it was this one.


At this stage no one really knows what kind of candidate or president Donald Trump might be. He is of course a distinct underdog at this point. Like many, I can point to GOP intellectuals, not neocons, who despise him. Not because of his anti-war or anti-interventionist or anti-immigrationist stances. These are people who more or less agree with those positions. But because Trump seems to have ADD, because of his sometimes vulgarity, because they don’t trust him pay sufficient attention to the process of government to follow through. Because he too easily slips into demagoguery. And no one knows how Trump will do in this new stage. It’s likely that a year ago, Donald Trump contemplated a future of ten good years managing his golf empire and enjoying his family.

Now Trump has become a tribune for white working class patriotism, spokesman for a core group of this country, the one most neglected and dismissed by the Washington political class. For Trump personally, this must be a strange and largely unexpected challenge. To begin a campaign as what was perhaps a lark, or as a bid to be taken seriously, and to find oneself somehow thrust into the crucible of history. It is never clear which particular elections are historically decisive, but it is obvious that in this general period the entire West is facing the question of whether its basic identity will survive under the challenges of globalism and mass migration.

Of course these issues, all those related to globalism and immigration, was critical to Trump’s success. The campaign conveyed implicitly a loyalty to the Americans who are here now, not to some ineffable universalist idea of America, not to the hundreds of millions who might come if the the immigration laws were—as so many in the establishment wish—loosened further. For this, of course, he was denounced as racist.

Ditto of course with trade. Of course we’ve all read our Ricardo, and many in some ways appreciate the seemingly infinite supply of cheap Chinese manufactured goods in our stores. But these come at a price beyond the actual cost; that price, increasingly, is that larger and larger segments of the American population lack the prospects of ever finding secure employment. To those who remember, as Donald Trump does, that one of the things that made America special was that it was a country with many good working class jobs, this is a coruscating loss.

Republican talking heads are already speculating about the looming defection of GOP foreign policy hawks io the Hillary campaign, and the formation of some sort of Neocons for Hillary group is as inevitable as eventual rain showers. It is a genuinely curious thing that Clinton will run to the right of Trump on foreign policy. This could be a potential advantage for Trump, but it is far from clear that Trump will figure out how to make it so. His foreign policy talk last week showed he was still trying to figure out how to appeal to national security hawks while pushing for a less interventionist, more America First, foreign policy. But even some variant of the Obama-Kerry foreign policy would be better for America than the reflexive hawkishness Clinton represents.

Trump claims, without a great deal of tangible evidence, to have been an early Iraq War opponent. Hillary, of course, supported the war. It can only help Trump in the general election to draw out this distinction, and pound away at its continuing relevance.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "Donald Trump, Presumptive Nominee"

#1 Comment By JR On May 4, 2016 @ 12:47 am

Let the Neocons support Hillary. They are too few to matter; they have always been few Chiefs commanding (or imagining they commanded) many Indians.

Nice to know they are *real* “conservatives.”

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 4, 2016 @ 3:54 am

SJW’s vs. Trump.

Not a difficult choice framed that way.

#3 Comment By balconesfault On May 4, 2016 @ 5:02 am

I don’t think it’s fair to say Hillary will run to the right of Trump on Foreign Policy. Because we really just don’t know what the hell Trump’s foreign policy will be.

To be fair, he has expressed a desire to incorporate some cost-benefit analysis into our foreign policy. This is an extremely welcome addition to a GOP that has fought tooth and nail for accountability and cost-benefit analysis in every other area of government EXCEPT for military spending over the last few decades.

Now, considering costs isn’t a guarantee of good decisions. One can easily overvalue the positive benefits of an intervention or under-estimate the long term costs (even Trump was wishy-washy on the eve of the Iraq invasion when the Bush Administration was claiming that the war would “pay for itself”.)

But if we get to the place in our political sphere where asking whether something is going to cost too much – be it a weapons system or an invasion – is no longer interpreted as being “weak on defending America”, this will be a VERY healthy development for us going forward.

#4 Comment By Clint On May 4, 2016 @ 7:11 am

Neoconservatives for The Liberal Interventionist,Hillary just exposes what they always were to begin with.

#5 Comment By Tim S On May 4, 2016 @ 8:37 am

Scott- please look into the matter of promoting a VP for Trump that could balance things out. I’m thinking of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry- he is the real deal. I studied theology with him back in college. He could bring stability and commonsensical social conservativism to a Trump administration. Additionally, he could mute some of the negative press and offer a path to the future for Republicans looking for new leaders. Please look into Fortenberry and see if an interview could be arranged?

#6 Comment By Mario Diana On May 4, 2016 @ 9:36 am

My understanding of history is that neoconservatives were Democrats who left the party because of their horror at the social upheaval of the ’60s New Left. It’s ironic that, when push comes to shove, they should run back to the Democrats. It seems we should have to amend our interpretation of history. It was the peaceniks that bothered them, not the free love and communism. The fact that they will join the party of the social justice warrior, so long as they can continue to drop bombs as fast as they can make them, would seem to settle the matter.

#7 Comment By Ger On May 4, 2016 @ 10:10 am

Finally a Trump supporter who isnt talking fantasy nonsense. We don’t know what this man will do in the general or as POTUS. He’s fuzzy and inconsistent on policy, and the general election isnt going to be a cakewalk. The Dems are not the Republicans and the general electorate are not lily white anti-immigration voters.

#8 Comment By AG On May 4, 2016 @ 12:17 pm

“My understanding of history is that neoconservatives were Democrats who left the party because of their horror at the social upheaval of the ’60s New Left.”
True, but I wonder if it’s meaningful in any way to assume that a 60s Republican is a member of the same party as a ’16s Republican.

#9 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 4, 2016 @ 12:26 pm

SJW’s vs. Trump.

Not a difficult choice framed that way.

Likewise, if you frame it as “bigots vs Clinton”, not a difficult choice either.

But it’s not the worst factions within the Democratic Party running against the worst of the GOP; it’s Hillary vs Trump. Neither “bigots” nor “SJW”s are on the ballot–and in Hillary’s defense, the faction on the left that corresponds most to the epithet “SJW” were mostly supporters of Bernie Sanders–if they were involved in the Democratic nominating contest at all.

#10 Comment By Steve in Ohio On May 4, 2016 @ 12:41 pm

@Tim S

Fortenberry is a fantastic Congressman. Rod Dreher has written favorably about him.

Senator Mike Lee might be a better choice for electability. He would bring all the Mormons on board (whoever thought Utah could be in play?) As the only Senator to endorse Cruz, choosing Lee would allow Trump to claim he’s uniting the party. Furthermore, Lee would appeal to reform conservatives (Ross Douthat)and conservative intellectuals (with the exception of George Will who seems to have totally lost it over Trump’s victory).

#11 Comment By MDv On May 4, 2016 @ 1:05 pm

Clinton will run to the right of Trump on foreign policy in many but not all ways. But then it really depends on your definition of “right wing.”

Trump has at various times and to varying degrees floated the following ideas: abandoning the Geneva and Hague conventions, pulling out of NATO, using nuclear weapons unilaterally, explicitly making torture official U.S. policy, directing that the military murder civilian family members of terrorists, refusing people entry into the U.S. based on religion alone. He has criticized past use of force but has also spoken openly and enthusiastically of bombing as a solution to the problems of terrorism and Islamism. He has expressed admiration of the “strong leadership” of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

It isn’t GOP foreign policy hawks alone who should be defecting to Clinton, it should be all conservatives. But again, I guess it depends on how you’d define “conservative.” If it’s got anything to do with being prudent, careful, cautious or sane in any way whatsoever, Trump’s not a conservative’s candidate.

#12 Comment By Earl Washington On May 4, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

Many people disbelieve that Trump is conservative. All things considered, regardless of what he says his positions are, I have trouble predicting what Trump will do because, like Mrs. Clinton, he’s so opportunistic. Both are so enamored with power that their principles often waver. I have little faith in their behavior because of their past behavior. Is it possible that Bernie Sanders is less neurotic than Trump or Clinton?

I realize that conservatism is on the descent. It has never really been all that popular in America. With Trump winning Indiana, I have to concede that most people who vote Republican today are not all that interested in conservatism. I underestimated the deep cynicism in America of those who say, “he’s a bum, but he’s our bum.” I have to concede the large impact of the uneducated, the greedy, the cynical, the superficial, and the desperate. I have to concede that the garbage that appears on TV is there for a reason — because it has a large audience that wants it. And in movies, music, the internet. The people who can name the Kardashian sisters but can’t find Mexico on a map. The people who steal music, movies, and software off the internet but don’t want to pay their medical bills. The people who want higher taxes for their neighbors but not for themselves. The people who cheat on their spouses but recycle their newspapers.

Junk minds want junk products, junk candidates, and a junk America. I suppose if it becomes too unlikable, I’ll have to find a new place to live.

New Zealand sounds nice.

#13 Comment By DES On May 4, 2016 @ 1:09 pm

A candidate’s statements during a campaign need to be taken with a large grain of salt. The Republican establishment (spoken for by the likes of George Will and Bill Kristol) seem to want a candidate who at least talks about conservative values even if he does little to advance those values when elected. Ask yourself: What did either of the Bushes or even Ronald Reagan do to limit the size of government? What departments were abolished? The issue for the elites seems to be whether the candidate talks the talk, not whether he walks the walk.
The most one can hope to glean from campaign speeches is a general idea of where the candidate’s instincts lie, and even this is not always accurate. On this score, Trump’s recent foreign policy speech is encouraging. He clearly questions the interventionism and attempts at nation-building of the last 25 years.

#14 Comment By ek ErliaR On May 4, 2016 @ 1:58 pm

AG: “. . . but I wonder if it’s meaningful in any way to assume that a 60s Republican is a member of the same party as a ’16s Republican.”

Speaking for myself, between ’69-’74 I was in the streets (after having been in LZs in Vietnam) against the establishment. And now I find I’m in the streets again for Trump and against something that looks very much like the same establishment.

#15 Comment By D1ll On May 4, 2016 @ 4:18 pm

“Like many, I can point to GOP intellectuals, not neocons, who despise him. Not because of his anti-war or anti-interventionist or anti-immigrationist stances.”

I hear the canard of Trump’s supposed anti-interventionism and anti-war beliefs repeated somewhat frequently, but no where as often as at TAC. Can anyone explain to me why we should believe he is honestly any less hawkish than any other candidate? Sure, he had the temerity to criticize the Iraq War, but he did so in debates to score easy rhetorical points against idiots still willing to die on that hill.

Given Trump’s bombastic remarks about torture, his positive use of the Pershing bullets soaked in pigs’ blood fairy tale, and his talk of “kicking the hell out of” ISIS, what reasonable basis do we have for branding Trump as anti-war or anti-interventionist?

This further overlooks the tendency of American presidents to become much more bloodthirsty once they take a seat in the Oval Office. There is no reasonable basis to believe Trump is any less hawkish than Obama was when he was campaigning in 2008. And of course, Obama then proceeded to dramatically expand the drone assassination program, conducted multiple extra-congressional wars throughout the Middle East and Africa, and so on.

Taken at face value Trump is not fairly characterized as anti-war or anti-interventionist, and TAC should not be so quickly to accept that characterization of him.

#16 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 4, 2016 @ 5:51 pm

The big problem with Trump, of course, is that nobody is certain just what issues he really stands for, or if he stands for any at all.

Hillary, for her faults, has a record to analyze and criticize. Even Obama, despite being a Senate backbencher with less than a term under his belt, had a well-established intellectual trail to follow. Trump has little more than a pile of often-contradictory, often-ill-informed, and often-bombastic stump speeches and tweets. It’s one thing to promise ponies and unicorns, it’s another to deliver them.

#17 Comment By Stan On May 4, 2016 @ 7:09 pm

Two points: First, Trump voters are not economically distressed. Their median household income is about $72K. That’s $10K more than the mean household income for non-Hispanic whites, $11K higher than the income for Democratic primary voters, and $16K higher than the US median household income ( [1]).
Second, there’s another explanation for the tepid support for Trump among neoconservatives. Their intellectual leaders are Jewish, as am I, and Jews are not keen about imposing a religious test on prospective immigrants or on deporting millions of people under what would certainly be harsh conditions. Sorry about that.

#18 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On May 4, 2016 @ 7:37 pm

“This could be a potential advantage for Trump, but it is far from clear that Trump will figure out how to make it so.”

Strictly in terms of social media, the Trump campaign can amusingly skewer Hillary the no-nonsense hawk by putting up a scene from *Snowpiercer* (at timeframe 16:46-19:53 in the movie) where Minister Mason, played by Tilda Swinton, is a dead-on satirical sendup of Hillary’s personality and speaking style. (According to the director, Minister Mason is supposed to be someone like Margaret Thatcher. But in terms of personality and facial mannerisms, it’s not remotely a Thatcher parody. It’s 100% Hillary Clinton.)

#19 Comment By Ron Pavellas On May 5, 2016 @ 3:47 am

We seem to have fallen into the unspoken assumption that we have an imperial presidency. We do not. We have checks and balances (thanks, Founders), including those explicated in the 9th and 10th amendments (states’ rights). All it takes is for the other two branches of the federal government and the states to assert their respective rights and duties, which they have not been, sufficiently, for the last 100 years or more. If any president, including Trump or H. R. Clinton starts getting beyond what is rational and good for the country, he or she can be blocked. This is what the founders, especially Madison, anticipated. What he didn’t anticipate is the rise of professional politicians and the vast power, and concomitant corruption, of the money flowing into the nation’s capital. The current and past few Congresses have abandoned their duties and allowed the Imperial Presidency to rule without proper checks. Just one item: the failure of the president to enforce immigration laws and to engage in illegal activities (this includes all presidents since at least Reagan)–and the failure of the Congress to hold the president accountable.

#20 Comment By Clint On May 5, 2016 @ 10:21 am

Hillary Clinton voted for The War in Iraq,supported intervention in Libya,supported escalation in Syria,advocated surges in Afghanistan.

Hillary Clinton is a Liberal Interventionist and another Chickenhawk.

#21 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 5, 2016 @ 10:55 am

Yesterday at theintercept.com Glenn Greenwald posted an excellent piece called “Beyond Schadenfreude, the Spectacular Pundit Failure on Trump Is Worth Remembering” (that was also linked to at TAC’s “Of Note”):

“There are — and we’re far from the first ones to note this — some serious problems in political journalism reflected by this insistent, pervasive belief that Trump could not possibly win (the belief that Clinton would waltz to the nomination without any serious challenge reflects a similar problem).

“Influential journalists live much different lives from the mass of voters on whose behalf they think they can speak — or, at least, whose thoughts and actions they believe they can anticipate.

“They also often have different interests, including an inclination to prefer status quo preservation (and to see the status quo more favorably) than those who have been less rewarded by the status quo.

“The media class, by and large, is not furious with the political class or with prevailing conditions, and they thus failed to detect the sentiments of anger and anxiety that drove the Trump campaign (and, in some similar ways, the Sanders campaign).”


I commend TAC for posting Greenwald’s piece because a fair number of very fine TAC journalists are themselves “influential journalists [who] live much different lives from the mass of voters on whose behalf they think they can speak… often have different interests…[tend to be] not furious with the political class or with prevailing conditions.”

So, kudos to Glenn Greenwald for his article, to TAC for linking to it, and to Joe South for his song: “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”

#22 Comment By Ted Arens On May 5, 2016 @ 4:28 pm

Spot on article. The talking republican heads still do not want to understand that they betrayed us. Semper Fi