Which dictionary definition of the word “conservative,” as either an adjective or a noun, applies comfortably to Donald Trump?
Is he “traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness”? (Please stifle your laughter).
Does he count as “cautiously moderate”?
Would he even describe himself as an individual who is “disposed to preserve existing conditions and institutions, or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change”?
Trump’s defenders insist that his flashy, shameless, non-conservative style will help him win support for his conservative substance. But where, exactly, do we find that substance?
His much-heralded hard line on immigration discards pragmatic reform policies favored by the two most popular conservatives of the last half-century, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Building a yuuuuge wall along the southern border hardly qualifies as a “cautiously moderate” approach, nor would uprooting 11 million current residents (and, presumably, millions more of their US citizen children or spouses) in the greatest forced migration in human history.
Even those who support Trump on the immigration issue will search in vain for his conservative policy prescriptions on other social, economic and security issues confronting the country. A desire to “make America great again” is an admirable aspiration, but not an agenda.
Worst of all, Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes which liberals have tried for decades to attach to their opponents. According to conventional caricature, conservatives are supposed to be selfish, greedy, materialistic, bullying, misogynistic, angry and intolerant. Those of us on the right find ourselves portrayed as privileged and pampered, reveling in the advantages of inherited wealth while displaying only cruel contempt for those less fortunate and powerful. The left tried to smear Ronald Reagan in such terms but failed miserably because none of the stereotypical traits ever applied to him. In contrast, Trump offers a living, breathing, bellowing and shameless representation of all the nasty characteristics Democrats instinctively employ to denounce the GOP.
And then there’s the uncomfortable, unavoidable issue of racism. Even those who take Trump at his word, accepting his declaration that he qualifies as the least racist individual in the nation, can imagine the parade of negative ads the Democrats are already preparing for black radio stations and Spanish-language television. Even if Trump won a crushing majority among self-described white, Anglo voters, he could hardly improve on Romney’s 59-39% advantage. The great Reagan himself, in his epic 1980 landslide against Jimmy Carter, got only 56% of the white vote –but whites represented 88% of the electorate that year. In 2016, whites will comprise at most 70% of the rapidly changing voting population so that Trump would need a significant improvement on Romney’s 24% of the non-white vote. Considering opinion polls showing him with record negative ratings approaching 90% in both black and Latino communities, this would be a tall order.
The problem goes beyond the certainty of losing one election and relates to the survivability of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. If Asians and Latinos come to reject Republican candidates as automatically and overwhelmingly as African-Americans do, the party will lose not only all chance of capturing the presidency but inevitably face the disappearance of its Congressional and gubernatorial majorities. The certain strategy for such self-inflicted wounds involves the nomination of a presidential candidate who exemplifies the most unpleasant—and un-conservative—characteristics that mainstream media and liberal pundits invariably impose upon the right.