We have never seen, at least in my lifetime, a coalesced group of conservatives actively and openly campaigning against the Republican candidate like the Never Trump folks. Many conservatives that I admire and have long looked to for ideological clarity took part in this movement, and even today are vocal in their concerns about a President Trump.
I am not concerned. While I agree with virtually all the points raised (that he is narcissistic and thin-skinned, tweets without being fully informed or considering the ramifications, is unsophisticated in foreign affairs, is vulgar, is not an ideological conservative, etc.), I differ from many (Andrew Klavan is another who seems to think as I do) in believing that the Trump presidency could be a rather remarkable thing (as well as being immensely entertaining).
Trump wants American to be glittering and golden when he leaves office to reflect positively on him. Trump is all about branding; his career has been about building impressive and beautiful things, slapping his name on them, then referring to his successes constantly to hype his image. He wants Trump America™ to be very great again, really, really huge, fantastic, terrific.
Whereas President Barack Obama’s narcissism was backed by his leftist ideology, amply documented from Frank Davis to Bill Ayers to Saul Alinsky to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Trump’s history shows that he cares little about ideology. Obama steered America towards his leftist utopian vision, and if he had a governing principle it was finis sanctificat media, the end sanctifies (or justifies) the means. Obama’s goal was expressly to “transform” America into something closer to his leftist ideal and away from the historic strengths, ironically, that led to his election.
What conservatives have pointed out in Trump’s history as liberal tendencies or flip-flopping, I see as simple business. The core philosophy of business is success. It doesn’t matter how lofty your mission statement to change the world is without success. Politics is merely one tool in your arsenal. If it is beneficial to support this liberal politician or policy to get what you want, you do that. Not out of support for their beliefs, but desire to gain influence because of their position. It’s not an ideological exercise.
I don’t think Trump has much of a core philosophy other than a great drive to succeed and to be seen as successful. I don’t know the man, so I cannot tell if his apparent love of his family is pure or more self-aggrandizement (“I am great, look at these beautiful, smart and accomplished children I have!”). I hope he truly is a loving family man. But does it matter his inner motivation if the outcome is that he is a concerned, involved, supportive father?
I believe Trump will, in general, govern as a conservative not out of ideological conviction but because he recognizes that conservative solutions are better. He wants to make the best deals, to increase the value of Trump America™, to raise our standing in the eyes of the world (especially our allies). As a master negotiator, he understands you get better deals when you are in a strong position.
I see Trump governing conservatively because he is the ultimate capitalist. Capitalism operates, to a great deal and by its nature, by following conservative principles of individual responsibility, effort, and reward for excellence. This is the antithesis of Washington as usual.
Whereas Obama’s presidency was characterized by deliberately taking on a weak position in negotiations (starting with his “Apology Tour” in 2009 to “leading from behind” to “smart diplomacy” through the betrayal of Israel at the U.N. and the historic commutations and pardons which undercut national security and the rule of law), Trump is at his core a deal-maker who wants to come out on top, to win. He wants to win every time. He understands that winning is not bad, and that when someone wins, others lose (or win lesser prizes).
One of the fatal flaws of leftism is that it values ideology over outcome. When liberal policies fail, leftists don’t question the ideology or methods but believe it will work if you do the same thing with more money. It is an emotional response that forces willful blindness to failure. The plight of the worst cities in America in terms of poverty, crime, drug use, unemployment, housing values – whatever metric you wish to use – never causes their Democratic overlords to reflect on the role their failed policies have played for decades. It’s the old “Communism has never worked because it has never been done right” cant.
Trump has demonstrated that he looks at problems not from an ideological perspective but a real-world business perspective. This translates to being “un-PC.” You see that kids in our schools are doing worse than in other countries while we spend so much more, you don’t simply repeat “We need more money!” You don’t let ideology – or allegiance to teachers’ unions – dictate your analysis of what needs to be done. You seriously look at what works, why other countries succeed, what they do, and figure out how we can achieve success for the children without a thought to whose financial or political ox is gored.
Energy independence? Don’t let the environmental lobby keep us from doing what every other country in the world does with their natural resources. Militant Islamists say they will use refugees to smuggle in terrorists? Take them at their word, and take actions to minimize the risk. Business regulation so onerous that kids can’t sell lemonade in their yard, and businesses are discouraged from starting or expanding? Figure out the minimum of regulation needed to keep the system running. Existential military threats from rogue nations? Build the military up and convince the bad guys we have the ability and will to crush them and walk away.
I admit I’ve been astonished at how Trump has performed since the election. I was surprised at how magnanimous he was (and continues to be). I don’t recall that “Great Uniter” Obama meeting with political opponents in a steady stream, entertaining people who campaigned viciously against him and called him names. Again, I see the activity at Trump Tower as unprecedented.
Why does he do this? Not because he is a pure conservative idealist (most Never Trumpers would never have thought to meet with all of these diverse people) but because it is good business. You invite, you are respectful, you listen, you seek common ground if possible, then you make decisions based upon the best information you have for the best outcome. You seek to soften opposition even if you know you will never win them over, or you at least unsettle them to gain a negotiating advantage.
As a builder, Trump is used to having a variety of architects come to him with their ideas about the best way to build something. He listens, then decides. It’s not about what appeals to him philosophically, but what will work best, look best, be the most cost-efficient. His name will be on the property, so he wants it shiny.
I am pleased with almost all of Trump’s cabinet picks, and I understand that some I am not thrilled with may well be the master negotiator at work. While the press may scoff at how few graduate degrees there are compared to Obama’s cabinet, I see Trump picking people who are smart and skilled and have actually accomplished things in their lives outside of academia. Trump has assembled (for the most part) a team of doers who have histories of being successful in the arenas they will be working in, or have demonstrated skills (beyond academic papers and theories) that will apply.
Trump has assembled his cabinet not to pay back political favors but as a team the CEO hires because he has confidence they will get the job done right, which will then reflect positively on him.
I believe Trump will primarily govern as a conservative because conservative principles and answers work. What Trump wants most, from his history, is to be successful and to be seen as successful, and history has taught us (and him, I think) that even “conservative” Republican leaders have been successful when being true to conservatism and have failed when they tried more liberal policies out of a misguided belief in “compassion,” compromise, or bowing to the loudest voices in the media and opposition.