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“A Deep Irony At Work”: Forget What You’ve Heard. Donald Trump Isn’t Really Challenging Conservative Orthodoxy

There used to be a standard operating procedure for Republican presidential candidates when they got asked about the Supreme Court. Avoid talking about specific issues you hope the Court will decide, don’t mention any specific people you want to put on the bench, and just offer some vague principles that sound good to everybody but are actually meant as dog-whistles to reassure your conservative supporters that they’ll get the kind of appointments they want. Your model justice would be an advocate of “judicial restraint,” who “won’t legislate from the bench” and who “respects the intent of the Founders.”

But as in so many things, Donald Trump doesn’t play by those rules. Instead, he just released a list of 11 judges from whom he says he’ll choose his Supreme Court picks.

In doing so, Trump demonstrated to conservatives why there’s almost no reason for them not to get behind him.

But that’s not because the list shows that he shares their perspective or will be ideologically reliable. It’s because it’s yet more evidence that when it comes to the things conservatives think are important, Donald Trump just doesn’t care one way or the other. And that means they can get almost everything they want out of a Trump presidency.

As our reporters Jenna Johnson and Robert Barnes wrote, “Trump’s picks looked more like a wish list of the nation’s conservative legal elite than the product of a political revolutionary.” And that’s because, I promise you, Trump just told somebody to put together a list, looked at it, and said it seems fine. He had previously said he’d let the Heritage Foundation assemble his list, while this one has some of their picks and a few others. But I’ll bet that if you asked him today who’s on his list, he couldn’t give you more than one or two names. Even though, as I’ve been arguing for the last couple of years, the Supreme Court may be the single most important issue in this election, there’s nothing to suggest that Trump much cares about who he puts on it. Which means conservatives get what they want.

Some people, myself included, argue that we focus way too much on personality in the presidential campaign (as interesting as personalities are), because what matters more than anything is the basic ideological distinctions between the parties. Yes, the individual characteristics each president brings to the office can make a difference; for instance, Barack Obama is extremely cautious about foreign entanglements, while Hillary Clinton is likely to be more aggressive when it comes to getting involved in hotspots around the globe. But on the vast majority of issues, what matters is whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the Oval Office. Any Republican will pursue basically the same set of policies as any other Republican, and the same is true of Democrats. Furthermore, they’re going to have to fill all those thousands of executive branch positions from the same pool of people. Each party has its own government-in-waiting when it’s out of power, cooling its heels in think tanks and advocacy groups and lobbying firms, waiting to move back into government when they win, no matter which contender from their party gets the nomination.

But there’s a deep irony at work with Donald Trump. He’s the least ideologically committed candidate we’ve seen in a very long time, at least since Eisenhower and maybe even before. To the broad public, he offers a Great Man theory of the presidency: don’t worry about issues, because with my huge brain, superhuman deal-making skills, and overall personal tremendousness, I will solve all our problems. Yet precisely because Trump doesn’t care in the least about any policy issues, conservatives may have no more to reason to fear that he’d betray them on policy than they would with a committed conservative like Ted Cruz.

How are things likely to proceed in his presidency? On the Supreme Court, he just takes a list from conservative activists. When Republicans in Congress craft legislation, is he going to stay up late at night going over each sub-section to make sure they reflect his beliefs? Of course not — they’ll pass it, he’ll sign it, and he won’t bother reading more than the title. Is he going to worry about who all his undersecretaries and deputy secretaries are, and make sure he agrees with the policy decisions they make? Not on your life. He’ll say, “Get me some fabulous people, really top-notch, the best” — and the Republicans around him will put the same people in those positions who would have served in any Republican administration.

Trump has said many things during the campaign that contradict conservative dogma. So what? If you’re a conservative worried about some policy stance Trump took today, you can just wait until the next time he gets asked about the same topic, and he’ll say something completely different. That may mean he isn’t committed to your position deep in his heart, but that doesn’t matter. If on a particular day as president he takes some policy stance that runs counter to conservative ideology, is he really going to care enough to pursue it, especially when the people around him are objecting? Or is he more likely to say, “Eh, whatever — what else is going on today?”

This has already been made clear on specific issues. As this blog has previously detailed, no matter how many times media outlets say otherwise, Trump did not actually signal that he might raise taxes on the rich or raise the minimum wage. All he has done was signal general vagueness born mostly of disinterest or lack of appreciation of policy detail, followed by clarifications that he would cut taxes on the rich and opposes the existence of any federal minimum.

There are a couple of exceptions, particularly trade, where conservatives are generally advocates of free trade and Trump seems determined to start a trade war with China. But even on what may be the issue most important to him, it’s hard to tell how his bombastic rhetoric would translate into actual policy decisions. So there too, the Republicans around him would have plenty of room to shape policy in their preferred direction. And yes, the fact that he’s so ignorant and erratic could have consequences that range from the problematic to the catastrophic. But that’s not an ideological question.

So if you’re a conservative, you can refuse to support Trump because he’s such a raging buffoon that there’s no telling what kind of damage he could do to the country. That’s more than enough reason to oppose him. But if what really matters to you is the substance of conservative ideology, you probably have nothing to worry about.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, May 19, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, GOP | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Currying Favor To Conservatives”: Be Afraid Of How Much Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Could Change America

It’s now been well over a month since the expiration of Donald Trump’s self-imposed deadline for coming up with a list of candidates from which he would choose Supreme Court nominees, including the one he would name right away to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia. When asked about the list, Trump said he thought it would be ready to be released before the convention.

This is not a promise conservatives are going to let him ignore perpetually, and conversely, there’s no particular evidence he cares enough about constitutional law to make this a serious bone of contention.

But, in fact, conservative fears about Trump’s lack of fidelity to their supreme value of limited government could lead to demands for truly radical Court nominees who embrace the idea that right-wing judicial activism is needed to restrain the executive and legislative branches alike.

We are already hearing arguments from conservative legal circles that an atmosphere of lawlessness associated with the Court’s failure to kill Obamacare has contributed to the frustration and extremism reflected in Trump’s successful drive for the GOP presidential nomination. And some of the same critics point accusingly at Trump’s long-standing support for widespread use of the power of eminent domain as showing his contempt for property rights and willingness to use government aggressively.

So it’s not enough to say that conservative legal activists don’t trust Donald Trump any more than other conservatives do: They actually believe he’s a prime example of a politician that judges need to restrain without the deference to the political branches of government that conservatives used to believe in (and that Chief Justice John Roberts exhibited in allowing Obamacare to survive).

And thus: Regular old-school “judicial deference” conservatives like Roberts will not be acceptable to a lot of conservative opinion leaders, particularly coming from Trump. You can expect more and more demands for Justices who share the “constitutional conservative” belief  in absolute property rights that permanently debar Congress and the president alike from enacting or administering social-welfare programs or business regulation. This was the philosophy supported by the Court during the early-20th-century period when a chain of decisions begun by Lochner v. United States stymied progressive legislation until FDR’s threat of court-packing and then turnover in justices forced its abandonment.

There’s now a powerful movement in conservative legal circles to bring back Lochner, and there’s probably no quicker route to its restoration than a Trump administration trying to buy favor with those on the right who fear the Donald’s tyrannical tendencies.

If and when Trump releases his SCOTUS prospect list — which he’s promised he will prepare in consultation with the Heritage Foundation — there are a couple of names to look for in particular. One is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet, an outspoken neo-Lochner advocate. Another is Utah Senator Mike Lee, who makes no bones about his belief that the New Deal was and is unconstitutional. And still another might be Lee’s best friend in the Senate, Ted Cruz, if he patches things up with Trump and decides the bench rather than the White House is his destiny.

For progressives, the thing to comprehend is that there are worse things that could come from Trump Supreme Court nominations than the expected fifth vote to restrict or overturn Roe v. Wade or to cripple public-sector unions, terrible as either of those things would be. Precisely because Trump is a loose cannon, he may be convinced to promise his new conservative friends what they really want on the Court: Justices who want to turn the clock back not just to 1972, when abortion was illegal in most states, but to the early 1930s when what we think of as the social safety net was considered a radical and unconstitutional idea.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 8, 2016

May 9, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Jim DeMint Looking Over His Shoulder”: Trump Made A Big Promise Aimed At Winning Over Nervous Conservatives

It sort of got lost in competing news about his efforts to seem a mite more normal now that he’s almost certain to head to Cleveland in July as the leader in delegates, if not the putative nominee, but Donald Trump made a very unusual and highly significant promise aimed right at the beating heart of movement conservatism:

Speaking at the construction site for his new hotel in Washington, D.C., Monday, Trump said he will make a list public in the next week of 10 conservative judges that he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court. If elected, Trump said, he would only pick from that list, which is being made in consultation with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

He first made that promise over the weekend in Florida, and he seems to want to make sure it’s widely heard. This means somebody is giving him good advice about how to address the concerns of conservatives about his ideological reliability.

Of all the things they fear about a President Trump, the most urgent is that he will throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape SCOTUS and constitutional law. And of all the temptations they have to hold their noses and support the man despite all of his heresies and erratic behavior, the most powerful would be the confident belief that at least he would position the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, protect Citizens United, overturn Obama’s executive orders, eviscerate regulation of businesses, inoculate religion-based discrimination, and maybe even introduce a new Lochner era of constitutionally enshrined property rights. This would be a legacy that might well outweigh the risks associated with a Trump presidency.

Promising to make his SCOTUS list public right now is smart, because otherwise it’s an empty promise, and involving the Heritage Foundation in developing it is key to its credibility. Not only has Heritage had a long history of vetting Republican appointees; its current president, Jim DeMint, is arguably the most reliable of “constitutional conservatives,” a man who believes conservative policy prescriptions ought to be permanently protected from the occasional liberal majority via a divinely inspired and unchanging Supreme Law.

Bonding with conservatives over SCOTUS makes some psychological sense for Trump as well. Nothing symbolizes the betrayal of the conservative rank and file — whose abiding exemplar is arguably the humble anti-choice activist staffing phone banks and licking envelopes to protect the unborn from “baby-killers” — by those GOP elites in Washington better than the long string of Republican SCOTUS appointees who have turned out to be traitors to the Cause, from Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun to the generally liberal John Paul Stevens and David Souter to the current Obamacare-protecting chief justice. If Trump can break that pattern with Jim DeMint looking over his shoulder, maybe he won’t be that bad for conservatism after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 22, 2016

March 23, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Jim DeMint, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Strategic Rift In Anti-Trump Coalition”: The Two Republican Establishments Are Split On Their Anti-Trump Strategies

The day after Super Tuesday, Mitt Romney (as the immediate past nominee of a nongoverning party, he would have once been called the “titular head” of the GOP) laid out the Republican Establishment’s game plan for stopping Donald Trump.

If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

Everybody outside TrumpWorld was onboard, right? Wrong. Especially following the March 5 caucuses and primaries, when he solidified his second-place position in delegates, Ted Cruz and his backers made it clear they believe the most efficient method of stopping Trump is for Republicans to unite behind his own candidacy. It’s Marco Rubio’s “anti-Trump consolidation” theory adopted by another candidate now that Rubio is struggling to survive. And thus with most of the Republican Establishment digging under the sofa cushions for funds to help Rubio beat Trump in Florida, Team Cruz was up in the air in the Sunshine State running anti-Rubio ads.

Was this a rogue action by a candidate not exactly known in the Senate as a team player? Perhaps. But more fundamentally, the strategic rift in the anti-Trump coalition is the product of two very different Republican Establishments: that of self-conscious movement conservatives, who find a Cruz nomination either congenial or acceptable, and the non-movement-party Establishment, which is as hostile to Cruz as it is to Trump.

The conservative-movement Establishment can be found in organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Club for Growth and opinion vehicles like National Review magazine. Their basic mark of distinction is that they view the GOP as a vehicle for the promotion and implementation of conservative ideology and policy position rather than as an end in itself. They are virulently anti-Trump (as evidenced by National Review‘s recent special issue attacking the mogul) for all the reasons most Republicans (and for that matter, Democrats) evince, but with the additional and decisive consideration that Trump has violated conservative orthodoxy on a host of issues from trade policy to “entitlement reform” to the Middle East. Members of this Establishment do not uniformly support Ted Cruz; some are fine with the equally conservative (if far less disruptive) Marco Rubio, and others have electability concerns about the Texan even if they like his issue positions and his combative attitude toward the Republican congressional leadership. But suffice it to say they are not horrified by the idea of a Cruz presidency, and many have concluded his nomination is an easier bet than some panicky Anybody But Trump movement that at best will produce the unpredictable nightmare of a contested convention even as Democrats (more than likely) unite behind their nominee. RedState’s Leon Wolf neatly expressed their point of view yesterday:

Maybe you preferred someone who is a better communicator than Cruz or who stood a better chance of beating Hillary in the general. Sorry, but for whatever reason, your fellow voters have ruled each of those candidates out, and Rubio’s collapse this weekend pretty much put that nail in the coffin. It’s now a choice between guaranteed loser Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who might actually win.

From the movement-conservative perspective, it’s not Cruz who’s going rogue but instead elements of the party Establishment (including the members of Congress who conspicuously hate Ted Cruz) that cannot accept that it has lost control of the GOP this year and is insisting on a contested convention as a way to reassert its control behind closed doors in Cleveland. Party Establishmentarians are often conservative ideologically, too, but are dedicated to pragmatic strategies and tactics at sharp odds with Cruz’s philosophy of systematic partisan confrontation and maximalist rhetoric. And they are highly allergic to risky general-election candidates.

But there’s a fresh crisis in the party Establishment after the March 8 contests in four states, wherein Trump won Michigan, Mississippi, and Hawaii, Cruz won Idaho, and Marco Rubio won — maybe, it hasn’t been totally resolved yet — one delegate in Hawaii and absolutely nothing else. And new polls of Florida are beginning to come in that don’t look promising for Rubio. Even as party Establishment and even some conservative-movement Establishment folk pound Trump with negative ads, there are signs of panic. Most shocking, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, normally the most reliable of party Establishment mouthpieces and a big-time neoconservative booster of Rubio’s foreign-policy positions, publicly called on the Floridian to drop out of the race and endorse Cruz in order to stop Trump.

We’ll soon see if the divisions between the two Republican Establishments will quickly be resolved by the surrender of party types like Rubin. Some may instead try to reanimate Rubin or switch horses to Kasich, who has a better chance than Rubio to win his own home state next week. Still others may make their peace with Trump, or resolve to spend the rest of the cycle focused on down-ballot races. The confusion of the Republican Establishments now does not bode well for their unity or effectiveness if they do somehow manage to force Trump into a contested convention.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 10, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | Conservatism, Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Challenge Of Being Paul Ryan”: He’s Been Anointed As A Savior, And Saviors Often Meet A Bad End

Paul Ryan had excellent reasons for not wanting to be speaker of the House. He’s a smart guy and knows that the Republican caucus he is about to lead is nearly ungovernable. He’s been anointed as a savior, and saviors often meet a bad end.

Moreover, the Wisconsin native (and ardent Packers fan) is still very much a work in progress. He was happy to stay away from the center stage as he mapped out the next steps of his life and the direction of his thinking. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he could pick his fights and choose the issues he wanted to highlight. As speaker, the issues will often pick him and he may well have to wage battles he might prefer to avoid.

Ryan has always wanted to be several things at the same time, and they have not been easy to keep in balance.

On the one hand, he is, from my experience, a genuinely nice and warm person who wants to be seen as thoughtful, wonkish and willing to delve deeply into policy details. He’s a religious man who knows that his faith teaches the imperative of compassion and the urgency of justice. He has repeatedly given speeches declaring his determination to alleviate poverty.

But he is also an ideologue — one reason the right-wingers in the House could accept him as speaker. He has said that the unforgiving libertarianism of Ayn Rand — whose books include one called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — inspired him to enter politics. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2011, he divided the world between “takers” and “makers” and spoke of government programs as creating “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency.” I doubt that poor people think they spend their lives swaying gently between the trees.

The budgets he has proposed over the years are his signature. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that is very careful about its numbers, repeatedly found that roughly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets came from programs for low- and moderate-income people. Take that, you takers!

Had Ryan not been pushed toward the speakership, he would have more room to refine his views and would not face constant pressure to appease the right. That pressure led him to criticize the process that outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) used to save Ryan from having to deal with impossible problems around the budget and the debt ceiling. Being Paul Ryan has just gotten even harder.

But let’s give Ryan a brief respite by focusing on his virtues. When he insisted that he would not take the speaker’s job unless he could protect his “family time,” he showed what kind of person he is and made a statement that could transform the debate about work and family.

I personally identify with Ryan because we were both 16 when our dads died and, like him, I have three kids. Time with my family has been a treasure for me, too. Good for Ryan for placing his family at the heart of his life.

Yet his statement brought him immediate and sharp criticism because he had voted against mandatory paid family leave. Rather than resenting his critics, he should take them very seriously by admitting that he enjoys a degree of bargaining power that so many Americans lack. And he should not pretend that the “flex time” proposals he has endorsed are the answer. They would merely undermine employees’ existing rights to overtime.

Ryan might take a look at a 2006 essay in the Weekly Standard by Yuval Levin, a conservative thinker I am sure he admires, acknowledging the tension between the market and the family. Levin noted that the market “values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life” and that “the libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.”

Sometimes, despite what Ayn Rand says, government action is essential to preserving individual rights in the marketplace and protecting the integrity of family life. Many families are under severe economic pressures. There are times when only government is in a position to relieve them, often through the programs Ryan would cut.

Thus a hope: Ryan could use the first days of his speakership to signal his intention of bridging at least some of the great ideological gaps in our country. A man who so honorably values his own family could start by changing his mind on family leave.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2015

October 31, 2015 Posted by | House Freedom Caucus, Ideologues, Paul Ryan, Speaker of The House of Representatives | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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