Who is the greatest president in American history? If you ask American conservatives this question, Ronald Reagan might get the most votes. Human Events, an influential conservative publication, ranked Reagan second behind George Washington in its article “Top 10 Greatest Conservative Presidents.”
If you ask those same conservatives whether it bothered them that Reagan was a liberal Democrat for a large part of his life and remained a Democrat until he was 51 years old in 1962, it’s likely that most of them would say ‘no!!’ Ronald Reagan remains a hero to American conservatives because of the decisions and speeches he made while he was a major political figure from the early 1960s through the end of his eight-year presidential tenure in 1989.
Will conservatives have the same affection for Donald Trump 20 or 30 years from now if he is elected president in November, 2016, and he reverses American policy on immigration, nominates conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court, signs laws that reduce taxes and curtail the power of government to regulate businesses, terminates Obamacare, terminates terrorist groups that threaten American freedom and world security, and (with the help of judges he nominates) saves millions of lives by ending the evil practice of abortion?
There is no question that the answer to the above question is “yes.” Conservatives are very principled, but they’re also very practical. They want results. Liberals don’t seem to understand that. Instead, liberals constantly point to this or that statement that Reagan made and claim that he is not a conservative by the standards of 2015 conservatives. He most certainly is.
Like Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump has also been a liberal in the past. He doesn’t deny that. The record is clear. His statements include:
* “I am very pro-choice,” Trump told NBC in 1999.
* “We must have universal health care,” he said in 2000.
* “I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun,” he said in 2000.
* “I would impose a one-time, 14.25 percent tax on individuals and trusts with a net worth over $10 million,” he said in 2000. “I object to the flat tax. It is unfair to the poor. Eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit (hurts) taxpayers at the lowest rungs of the ladder.”
There is no question that Trump WAS not a conservative. The question is whether he is now. Trump says he is — and conservatives seem to agree. As of Dec. 7, 2015, just two months before the first Republican Party’s first presidential primary and caucuses, Trump is the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, according to RealClear Politics average of recent presidential polls. Trump had an average of 29.5 percent of the polls’ votes while Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio were at 15.8, 14.8, and 14.3 percent respectively.
In addition, Public Policy Polling polls in late, 2015 show that Trump is very competitive among self-described “very conservative” voters. Nationally, these voters have him a close second behind Cruz nationally, first in New Hampshire, and a very close third in Iowa behind Cruz and Carson.
“I have evolved on numerous issues,” Trump told CNN on June 28, 2015 while answering a question about his longtime support of the liberal goal of a national single-payer health insurance system and explaining his current view. Trump has been particularly passionate about how he “evolved” on the abortion issue, explaining in a 2011 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that he became pro-life after a friend told him that he wanted his wife to have an abortion, but is glad she didn’t because his baby is the greatest thing that ever happened to him.
Of course, the fact that Trump said he has evolved into a conservative doesn’t make it true. Conservatives stung by decisions made by people such as President George H.W. Bush, several Supreme Court judges nominated by Republicans such as John Stevens and David Souter, and, to a lesser extent, President George W. Bush have every reason to be skeptical of Trump’s avowed conversion to conservatism.
Trump’s off-the-cuff campaign style feeds that skepticism. People who listen to him and his opponents are more apt to get the impression that he is saying whatever is on his mind than they are. Indeed that is part of his appeal. Besides that, his speeches are less specific on issues than his competitors’ speeches, he has issued fewer policy proposals than they have, and his website is sparse on policy details.
“Voters are drawn to Trump more for his I’ll-say-anything style than for his policy views,” reports the Politico article “Will the real Donald Trump please stand up.”
Liberals have pointed out, sometimes accurately, to statements that they say prove that Trump is not a conservative — and then claim that Trump is popular among conservatives because he is a racist and bigot whose conservative backers are also racist and bigoted. This article in the very liberal magazine Mother Jones cites 10 “liberal views” Trump has expressed in 2015.
Trump, the article reports, has said affirmative action is OK, favors a ban on assault weapons, opposes entitlement reform, favors a progressive income tax rather than a flat tax, doesn’t believe that tax cuts for wealthy people spur economic growth, and is for laws that prohibit firing people just because they are gay. “Even one or two of these (“liberal heresies”) would sink any other Republican candidate,” the article says.
All conservatives must decide for themselves whether those “heresies” disqualify Trump as a genuine conservative anymore than Reagan’s support of a bill that conservatives now cite as a crucial reason for a huge increase in immigration, his support of the Brady gun control law, and his negotiations with what he called the “evil empire” disqualify Reagan as a conservative.
Fortunately, there are relatively objective websites (that may or may not be part of the hated liberal media) that have compiled Trump’s positions on numerous issues. This website lists Trump’s recent and past positions on abortion, the budget and the economy, civil rights, corporations, crime, drugs, education, energy, the environment, families, foreign policy, free trade, government reform, gun control, health care, homeland security, immigration, jobs, Social Security, tax reform, technology, war & peace, and welfare.
OnTheIssues also has detailed webpages on many of these issues, including webpages on abortion, gun control, health care, and taxes. It’s clear from scrutinizing these webpages that Trump has become more conservative over the years and is now expressing conservative values on these issues, but is still not a traditional conservative because he sometimes still disagrees with conservatives on a relatively small but significant number of policies.
Donald Trump has a long way to go before he has the credibility with conservatives that Ronald Reagan had at the time he was elected president in 1980. Yes, Reagan was a Democrat until 1962, but he was hired by General Electric in 1954 to host the company’s weekly television drama series. His contract included a requirement that he give motivational speeches to GE’s employees 16 weeks per year. He made as many as 14 pro-business, conservative speeches daily to GE employees, according to The Washington Post’s obituary on Reagan.
One of Reagan’s most prominent statements was “trust but verify.” He meant that the United States had to do everything it could to make sure the Soviet Union was actually trustworthy after the two nations signed international agreements such as treaties. Conservatives need to treat Donald Trump the same way as they examine whether he is a genuine conservative.