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Who Is a Conservative and What Are Conservative Policies?  
Raymond Richman, 2/8/2016

The National Review is considered to be a politically conservative magazine. Recently (January, 2016), It published a special issue that includes 20 pieces by persons it deems are proven conservatives. I am a fan and admirer of a number of them. But none of them defines what a conservative is. In my view, a political conservative is one who believes in a limited role for government, a strict construction of the constitution, fiscal discipline, and in the free enterprise system. All political conservatives are also social conservatives to some degree. Social conservatives oppose abortion, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, consider marriage to be between a man and a woman, and to hold some religious beliefs. Some believe that abortion is permissible early in a pregnancy, some believe that persons can be homosexuals but disapprove public manifestations of such relationships, some believe in divorce and others not, and some are atheists but hold some ethical values religions advocate. One can be politically conservative without being an ardent social conservative. Let’s take a look at why the following persons deemed to be conservative by the editors of the National Review do not consider Donald Trump to be conservative. Trump has never held public office so the views attributable to him are views he expressed as a private citizen. Let us analyze the reasons the writers give for believing Trump is not a Conservative. We believe that Trump is sufficiently conservative to be President.

GLEN BECK, a nationally syndicated radio host and the founder of TheBlaze,, writes: “Trump is not a conservative because he supported Obama’s measures to stimulate the economy, the auto bailouts, and the bank bailouts. He writes, “Trump’s past gives no indication that he is a conservative.” As an economist (Ph.D, University of Chicago and whose mentors included Milton Friedman), I do not believe that stimuli and bank bailouts are necessarily non-conservative actions. They may be bad policies but the banking system was stabilized. Most conservatives would favor tax reductions rather than increased government expenditures as economic stimuli, but economists are divided as to the sufficient conservative policy of tax cuts alone. Most economists probably opposed the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. Oddly, Beck makes no mention of Trump’s legislative proposals which meet conservative criteria: enforcing the law and expelling illegal immigrants, building a wall along the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration, balancing trade, restricting temporarily the immigration of Muslims until we get a handle on Muslim terrorism, etc. A number of the others do and condemn them as unconservative. We consider those authors to be progressive, not conservative, for reasons given below.

DAVID BOAS, executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Libertarian Mind, asserts that Trump has made “racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign.” He says, “Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant [italics mine] about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America.” What Trump has proposed is deporting those who have entered the U.S. illegally. Enforcing the law is a conservative idea. Trump noted that there have been numerous cases of crimes, including rape, by illegal immigrants. That is truth, not unconservative. Had Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim travel to the U.S. been put in place by Pres. Clinton after the first attack on the World Trade Towers, the 9/11 attack would have been avoided, three thousand lives saved, and enormous property damage avoided. Trump did not advocate building a wall around America; he advocated building a wall along the Mexican border. He said he would require Mexico to pay for it. Mexico has done nothing to prevent illegal emigration to the United States. Mexico was even facilitating it, for example, by allowing thousands of Central Americans, who under Mexican law could not immigrate to Mexico, to travel on Mexican trains to illegally enter the United States.  Trump never said he would close down mosques. He may have said that he would close down mosques that taught that terrorism in Allah’s name accorded with the Koran. Even worse is Boas' assertion, it is no more than that, that Trump would be a fascist president. No evidence of that! Hitler and Mussolini were socialists. There is no evidence that Trump is a socialist. Only Sanders and other socialists could be considered potential fascists. Shame on Boas and CATO.

BRENT BOZELL III, chairman of ForAmerica and the president of the Media Research Center, after calling McConnell, McCain, Hatch, Boehner, et al. charlatans, says “Trump might be the greatest charlatan of them all.” His evidence: “Trump’s publicly raising money for liberals such as the Clintons, championing Planned Parenthood, tax increases, single-payer health coverage, giving money to a Clinton controlled charity,  and demonstrating his allegiance to the Democratic party.”  These are pragmatic actions of a businessman. Bozell has endorsed Cruz.

BEN DOMENICH, writer and blogger who co-founded the RedState group blog, criticizes Trump’s support of Obama’s economic stimulus, the auto bailouts, and the bank bailouts as “something that has to get done.”  We dealt with these above. He asserts that if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government.

MONA CHAREN, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, engages in calling Trump names. She writes,  “We can talk about whether he is a boor,.. a creep .. or a louse.” According to Charen, Trump is a con-man. “But one thing about which there can be no debate is that Trump is no conservative," she writes, repeating a claim we’ve already dealt with.

ERICK ERICKSON writes “I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Many of the Republicans who have declared that they would never vote for Trump gave carte blanche to politicians who have been complicit in the growth of the government leviathan. These Republicans have ignored conservatism in the name of party politics, and their broken promises gave rise to Donald Trump’s candidacy... Nonetheless, I will not be voting for Donald Trump in the primary. I take my conservatism seriously. Donald Trump told Sean Hannity, 'I was [Obama’s] biggest cheerleader.' Trump donated to both the Clinton Foundation and Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, as well to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and other Democrats.'” These are pragmatic actions of a businessman. “Like the angels in heaven who rejoice for every new believer, we should rejoice for Donald Trump’s conversion to conservatism. But we should not put a new conservative in charge of conservatism or the country.” Why not? Could a new conservative do worse than the old ones? Trump has been reassuring us, thus far, by his positions calling for balanced trade, his proposal to deport those who are here illegally, his opposition to the flat tax which would eliminate the income tax’s progressivity, supported by conservatives in the past. His opposition to the federal government getting involved in primary and secondary education, state functions.   

STEVEN HAYWARD, author and columnist, “After Obama — after three generations of liberalism only slightly interrupted by the Reagan years — the conservative president we desperately need requires a paradoxical combination of boldness and restraint… his inclination to understand our problems as being managerial rather than political suggests he might well set back the conservative cause if he is elected, if not make the problems of runaway executive power even worse. Restraint is clearly not in his vocabulary or his character.” A President could use managerial skills. It is not a negative and has nothing to do with being a conservative.

MARK HELPRI, novelist, wrote “(F)orget trying to determine whether he’s a conservative… He is whatever he pleases to be at the moment, the only principle being the triumph of his will.” “He doesn’t know the Constitution, history, law, political philosophy, nuclear strategy, diplomacy, defense, economics beyond real estate, or even, despite his low-level-mafioso comportment, how ordinary people live.” Trump has a degree in Economics from Wharton School. None of the commentators except Sowell have economic degrees.

WILLIAM KRISTOL, the editor of The Weekly Standard, writes that that Donald Trump been a votary merely of wealth rather than of freedom, that he has been animated by the art of the deal rather than by the art of self-government. “In a letter to National Review, Leo Strauss wrote that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar. Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?” So being vulgar means one is not a conservative? The art of the deal is being pragmatic.  Being pragmatic is not a conservative attribute?

YUVAL LEVIN, contributing editor of National Review and editor of National Affairs, writes that Donald Trump “poses a direct challenge to conservatism, because he embodies the empty promise of managerial leadership outside of politics.”  Empty? He is a successful businessman.

DANA LOESCH, the host of a nationally syndicated radio program, writes “I know Donald Trump. He’s been a frequent guest on my radio and television programs, and I introduced him at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015. He has always been amiable and complimentary. I genuinely like him. But not as my presidential pick.... He wrote in his book The America We Deserve that he supported a ban on 'assault weapons.' Not until last year did he apparently reverse his position. As recently as a couple of years ago, Trump favored the liberal use of eminent-domain laws. He said that the ability of the government to wrest private property from citizens served 'the greater good.' Is that suddenly a conservative principle?” Eminent domain existed under the common law antedating the founding of American. As Trump said in a recent debate, without eminent domain new roads, bridges, and pipelines could not be built. It is a power granted by government for what it considers to be the public interest.

ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, a contributing editor of National Review and former chief assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted terrorism cases, writes:  “The presidency’s most crucial duty is the protection of American national security. Yet, interviewed by Hugh Hewitt months into his campaign, Donald Trump did not know the key leaders of the global jihad.” Neither do nearly all of us! “Donald Trump does not have a clue about any of this, careening wildly from vows to stay out of the fray (leaving it in Vladimir Putin’s nefarious hands) to promises that the earth will be indiscriminately scorched.”  But Trump believes that has said that fighting ISIS in the middle East could be done by taking away its oil, thus starving it of funds. A reasonable conservative position, it seems to us.

DAVID MCINTOSH, president of The Club for Growth, writes “For decades, Trump has argued for big government. About health care he has said: 'Everybody’s got to be covered' and 'The government’s gonna pay for it.' He has called for boycotts of American companies he doesn’t like, told bureaucrats to give him eminent domain to get him better deals on property he wanted to develop, and proudly proposed the largest tax increase in American history. Trump has also promised to use tariffs to punish companies that incur his disfavor. When did Trump argue for big government? He offers grand plans for massive new spending but no serious proposals for spending cuts or entitlement reforms.”  What massive new spending has he proposed? Trump says the poor have to be covered by health care. He requested the right of eminent domain arguing that his development project was in the public interest.

MICHAEL MEDVED, host of a popular daily radio talk show writes, “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 [sic!] 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 American-citizen children and spouses) in the greatest forced migration in human history.” “And then there’s the uncomfortable, unavoidable issue of racism. ..Democrats are already preparing for radio.” There is nothing racist about Trump’s proposals. Deporting illegal immigrants is not a racist act and preventing Muslim terrorism is not a racist act. Medved worked for Bob Kennedy in his campaign for the Presidency.

EDWIN MEESE III, who served in Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial and presidential administrations, condemns, as Reagan did, “personal attacks on your opponents.... The goal was to avoid internecine warfare during the primary, which could lead to defeat in the general election.” “Today, however, the political atmosphere is polluted by the vicious personal attacks that the Republican contenders have unleashed against one another. Heading the attackers, in both vigor and vitriol, has been Donald Trump.” Does that mean Trump is not a conservative?

RUSSELL MOORE, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, condemns Trump for his views on abortion, the sanctity of marriage, and religious freedom. ..All three goals would be in jeopardy under a Trump presidency.” And he has made money in the casino industry. So Trump is not sufficiently socially conservative. But he has the support of such well-known social conservatives as Jerry Falwell, Jr, and Sarah Palin.

MICHAEL B. MUKASEY, served as U.S. attorney general from 2007 to 2009 and as a U.S. district judge from 1988 to 2006. He has advised the Jeb Bush campaign on national-security issues. “For a hint of why a Donald Trump presidency would imperil our national security, consider just a couple of Trump’s suggestions for protecting us against Islamist terrorists. He would start with a 'temporary' ban on the entry of alien Muslims into the United States until 'our leaders can figure out what the hell is going on.'” This prescription overlooks that many people already have figured out precisely “what the hell is going on”—that we face a supremacist movement based in Islam that is intent on destroying Western civilization. As we noted above, Trump’s proposal, had it been put into effect by Bill Clinton, would have avoided the 9/11 catastrophe.

KATIE PAVLICH, editor of Townhall and a best-selling author, writes: “Donald Trump, [is] a political con man who sympathizes with hit man Vladimir Putin and 'Republicans' such as Charlie Crist.”  Deserves no comment.

JOHN PODHORETZ, editor of Commentary, writes: “Donald Trump is the apotheosis of a tendency that began to manifest itself in American culture in the 1980s, most notably in the persons of the comic Andrew Dice Clay and the shock jock Howard Stern.... Trump is an unbalanced force. He is the politicized American id. Should his election results match his polls, he would be, unquestionably, the worst thing to happen to the American common culture in my lifetime.” Does this show Trump is not a conservative?

R. RENO, editor of First Things, writes: “His public pronouncements over the last few decades give no evidence of consistent or coherent political views. By comparison, Hillary Clinton is a principled public figure. He made noises about running in 2000 and was serious in 2012, but the talk went nowhere. When he declared in 2015, we laughed again. Donald Trump? Absurd! Boy, were we wrong.... I suppose we should have known better. The Republican party has become home to a growing number of Americans who want to burn down our political and economic systems and hang our cultural elites.” Really? “And they suspect, rightly, that the Chamber of Commerce will sell them down the river if it adds to the bottom line. All true, but it’s sad that this frustrated cohort now fixes on Trump as its savior.” Again, no comment is necessary.

THOMAS SOWELL, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, esteemed economics professor and a writer of some great books, writes “In a country with more than 300 million people, it is remarkable how obsessed the media have become with just one—Donald Trump. What is even more remarkable is that, after seven years of repeated disasters, both domestically and internationally, under a glib egomaniac in the White House, so many potential voters are turning to another glib egomaniac to be his successor. A shoot-from-the-hip, bombastic showoff is the last thing we need or can afford.”  Are any of the others better?

CAL THOMAS, nationally syndicated USA Today columnist and a Fox News contributor, writes, “I wanted to like Donald Trump, much as I wanted to like Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew. Both men have said many things with which I agree. ..In Pensacola, Trump again drew wild applause when he repeated his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it.... He never says how he will force Mexico to pay.” Does that make him a non-conservative?

We consider ourselves conservatives. We favor a policy of balanced trade not free trade. We approve the government’s use of eminent domain for public purposes. We approve banning the travel of possible terrorists to the United States. We object to Obamacare for a number of reasons. We favor health savings accounts and private health care insurance and we approve public health services to people who are poor. We are against government subsidies to private enterprises, including NGOs. 

We need to reduce the size of the central government. It can begin with ending all subsidies to different forms of energy including fossil fuels,  wind and solar, bio-energy, and electric and hybrid automobiles, eliminating the Department of Education and Department of Housing and Urban Development. These are all functions of the States. We oppose creating any international environmental organization. We would like the government of the U.S. to withdraw from a number of needless international organizations but that is a matter left to another day.

We believe all of these policies enhance conservative principles.

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  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

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  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

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  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]