Who Is Conservative?

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People think they’re rational, but we’re not. For example, on many issues, Trump’s positions are almost identical to Ronald Reagan’s. When it comes to abortion, trade, taxes, foreign policy and the military, and entitlements like Social Security, you can’t fit a dime between Reagan and Trump.

So why do people see Trump as far to the left of Reagan?

Contrasts and comparisons.

Reagan ran against George Bush and John B. Anderson. Also-rans included Howard Baker and Phil Crane, John Connally, Harold Stassen, Bob Dole, Larry Pressler, and Lowell Weicker. That made Reagan the most conservative Republican by a wide margin. George H. W. Bush was an eastern seaboard Rockefeller Republican in 1979 and 1980. Bush didn’t became a conservative until after he became Reagan’s VP. John B. Anderson never became a conservative. Anderson ran as an independent to try to throw the election to Jimmy Carter. Bill Kristol is a lot like John Anderson. And in four years, Kristol will be forgotten just like Anderson.

Conservative is relative. I know conservatives tend to believe there’s no such thing as relativity, but they’re wrong about that. Conservatism is relative. I won’t bother with defining left-right or liberal-conservative or any other dimensions of political thought. They’re meaningless. But I will point out that all of the definitions I’ve seen are relative. A position is conservative or liberal only relative to other positions.

Nowhere does the constitution mention “conservatism.” And the modern concept of conservatism didn’t really exist at the time of our founding. America’s founders were pretty much all radical liberals for their time. They believed in liberty, and they were willing to overthrow their government to get it. That’s very radical and very liberal.

I think modern conservatism seeks to conserve classical liberalism. But that’s just my opinion. You are entitled to be as mistaken as me.

But let’s play pretend for a moment that there is a conservative absolute. If there were, Ronald Reagan would be the only absolute conservative president in the lifetimes of anyone now alive, would he not? Everyone agrees.

So let’s see how Trump compares to Reagan on some key issues and themes, okay?

Trump vs. Reagan
Issue Trump Reagan
Theme Make America Great Again Let's Make America Great Again
Trade 45% tariff on unfair imports from China 100% tariff on Japanese semi-conductors, 45% tariff on Japanese motorcycles
Abortion Opposes abortion except cases of rape, incest, or life of mother Opposed abortion except to save the life of the mother
Social Security Committed to preserving Social Security, eliminate fraud and waste, increase efficiency …ironclad commitment to Social Security, signed 1983 bill and encouraged every Republican to read it. "To be sure, we must reform it, root out the fraud, make it more efficient, and ensure that the program is solvent."
Taxes Cut taxes, overhaul tax code, flatten brackets  25% tax cut early, then overhaul tax system & reduce rates
Defense Build a military so powerful no one will dare bother us, avoid nation-building and open-ended wars of intervention Rebuilt the military and launched SSD to break the Soviet Union without a war
Illegal Immigration Build a wall, deport illegal aliens Granted amnesty to illegal aliens and reform immigration laws

Those are not the only issues, but they’re some of the leading issues of both Reagan and Trump. On some issues, Trump is slightly to Reagan’s left. On other issues, like illegal immigration, Trump is somewhat to Reagan’s right. Overall, there’s little difference between Reagan and Trump on many key issues.

Why does it feel like Trump is so far to Reagan’s left? Because memories are fluid. Memories are not fixed. They change over time.

When Reagan took office, we had very few conservative think tanks, few conservative magazines, and a handful of conservative pundits. Since then, conservatism has bloomed into an industry, Conservative, Inc. Tens of thousands of people make their living being conservative. That’s something new. And it’s made conservatism kind of weird. In fact, Conservative, Inc., has done for conservatism what the Civil Rights Industry has done for African-Americans.  That’s not a compliment to either corporation. Have you looked at African-American unemployment lately?

Plus, the internet came along after Reagan. The internet lets us all hide inside affinity bubbles–safe spaces where we can hide away from any ideas that we don’t agree with. In these affinity bubbles, we morph our memories to fit a narrative. We’ve made Reagan more “conservative” than he was. We’ve created Reagan in our own image and likeness.

That’s why so many Cruz fans lost their minds when Phyllis Schlafly endorsed Trump. A lot of Cruz supporters remember the Reagan years differently than they actually happened. That’s just the way the brain works.

I believe the Constitution, though flawed, provides the best government ever conceived for human flourishing. And I believe the best hope for Constitutional government lies in understanding how things really are and dealing with reality on reality’s terms. That’s why I formally endorsed Donald J. Trump for President.

If you can’t vote for Trump because he’s too liberal, you probably couldn’t have voted for Reagan, either. You just don’t remember.

And if you’re thinking about voting for Hillary or working against Trump, you’d probably cheat on your wife to punish your daughter for marrying a guy you don’t like.

  • JohnnaCal

    The religious zealots have hijacked the conservative label to be inclusive of only those who subscribe to evangelical ideology.

    It has resulted in alienation of voters and labeling of those who do not agree with their theological views as not being a “true conservative “.

    I am a Christian and an early supporter of Cruz but left supporting of him due to the attitude of a large percentage of his supporters casting him as chosen by God and unwillingness to look at his positions on illegal immigration, H1B visa increase and involvement in CFR.

    I fully support legal immigration. However, his shilling of H1B visas in 2013 and seemingly turning a blind eye to to abuses of the H1B visa program were a deal breaker. When I would bring this up to other Cruz supporters the response was to question my faith.

    • whennessy

      Thanks. Yes, supporters of political candidates sometimes become their own worst enemies.

  • gregzotta

    To all the anti-Trump #NeverTrump may I suggest you go to his site and learn about his positions on healthcare, the VA,veterans and the military, gun rights, immigration, tax reform, trade etc. and you might see these policies will Make America Great Again. BTW, when Reagan granted amnesty I was opposed to it then as I am now. If a law is not enforced, is it a law? Reagan did make us all feel safe and Trump will do the same. Trumps foreign policy revolves around AMERICA and their ALLIES first, which is the right policy. Then he wants to defeat our enemies, without handcuffing our military. He will put our military and country first.You need to ask yourself will the country be better off with Donald Trump, making America Great again, as president or Killary Clinton, who will continue on the path of destruction for the country with the DemonRAT’S policies. I will go with Trump! You and your friends should too.

  • Dave Schmitt

    Keep going, Bill. You’re firing on all cylinders now.

    • whennessy

      Thanks, Dave! This was a fun one to write. Tomorrow I’m taking a look at how Never Trump might cause the deaths of thousands of children. And no one can argue with that.