It’s like something out of a Marvel movie. Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, assembles a squadron of writers from all over the world of conservatism — religious figures, radio personalities, President Reagan’s former aides. True, they might have had their differences in the past, but this time, they have all come together in one final effort to stop a powerful villain from destroying liberty and freedom before the Iowa caucuses in just over a week.
That villain, of course, is Donald Trump, the favorite to win the GOP presidential primary.
A good comic-book villain has a weakness. For Trump, many people think it’s that he is far too extreme to run as the nominee of a major political party — his opponents have called him a fascist, for example. And many think he is certainly too extreme to win a general election. They compare him to a stalwart conservative such as Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee whom President Johnson trounced in 1964.
Our heroes in the National Review don’t attack Trump by trying to exploit his extremism. On the contrary, in their view, Trump’s flaw is that he doesn’t go far enough. The refrain of the special issue that Lowry published this week is that Trump is not ideological, that he is willing to compromise, that he is not a true conservative.
“Is Trump a liberal? Who knows?” asks Mona Charen, one of Lowry’s contributors.
In other words, this special issue emphasizes an important but underappreciated fact about Trump. He might be brash. He might be eccentric. Substantively, though, he is a moderate by the standards of the Republican Party.
Take Trump’s call to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deport every immigrant currently living illegally in the United States.
These positions are not conservative enough for the editors of the National Review. It isn’t enough to take action against illegal immigration, in their view. They want a Republican nominee who will reduce levels of legal immigration as well.
“Trump says he will put a big door in his beautiful wall, an implicit endorsement of the dismayingly conventional view that current levels of legal immigration are fine,” the editors write in their statement of the magazine’s position on Trump.
As for the real-estate magnate’s promise to deport all undocumented immigrants, the editors view it as meaningless not just because they doubt the government’s ability to send nearly 11 million people to another country, but also because Trump has said he eventually would let many of them back into the country. Trump is waffling, the editors argue.
“Trump piles on the absurdity by saying he would re-import many of the illegal immigrants once they had been deported, which makes his policy a poorly disguised amnesty,” they add.
In the past, the National Review has served as a kind of “conscience of conservatism,” as Lowry called the magazine in an interview with The Washington Post, by forcefully rejecting conservative figures who have espoused racist and anti-Semitic views. In this case, though, Trump’s suggestion that many Mexican immigrants are criminals is not censured by the magazine’s editorial board. They do not even mention Trump’s proposal to ban foreign Muslims from entering the United States.
To be sure, several of the conservative writers contributing to the special issue do address Trump’s comments on these minorities.
“Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign,” writes the Cato Institute’s David Boaz, for example. “America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.”
A libertarian, Boaz has argued for greater legal immigration, a point of disagreement between him and the editors of the publication.
The writers contributing to the issue don’t always agree on what a conservative is when they argue that Trump isn’t one. They do agree, though, that Trump’s positions on trade count against him.
Trump has not only broken with GOP orthodoxy in favor of expanding trade agreements internationally, with his opposition to the bipartisan Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has also called for imposing tariffs on imported goods. Whether in the person of immigrants or laborers producing goods for the U.S. market in factories overseas, competition from foreign labor is bad for American workers, in Trump’s view.
The writers at National Review oppose tariffs, which economists generally believe are counterproductive.
“He floats the idea of massive new taxes on imported goods and threatens to retaliate against companies that do too much manufacturing overseas for his taste,” the editors write.
“These are not the ideas of a small-government conservative who understands markets,” writes David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth.
It’s not just tariffs. National Review’s contributors don’t trust Trump on taxes in general.
In 1999, Trump proposed a substantial levy of 14.25 percent on the net worth of taxpayers with more than $10 million in assets. That tax, he said, he would raise a whopping $5.7 trillion. It would have been a tax along the lines of what Thomas Piketty, the French economist and liberal darling, argues is necessary to restrict global economic inequality.
Conservatives haven’t forgiven Trump. McIntosh dismisses his wealth tax as “the largest tax increase in American history.”
“The hedge-fund guys are getting away with murder,” he said in August. “They’re paying nothing, and it’s ridiculous.”
On the other side of the federal government’s ledger is the money it spends, and on this question as well, Trump is violating the principles of conservatism. The National Review’s writers are frustrated by his promises to defend Social Security and Medicare, which they argue must be reformed if they are to remain solvent.
“They’re attacking Social Security — the Republicans — they’re attacking Medicare and Medicaid, but they’re not saying how to make the country rich again,” Trump said last April.
“He offers grand plans for massive new spending but no serious proposals for spending cuts or entitlement reforms,” McIntosh writes.
Trump also irked conservatives when praising President Obama’s stimulus bill, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote in the House and just three Republican supporters in the Senate.
“Building infrastructure, building great projects, putting people to work in that sense is also very good,” Trump said at the time. “It looks like we have somebody that knows what he is doing finally in office.”
A real conservative would have opposed the massive amount of federal spending authorized by the bill, argues Glenn Beck in National Review. “When conservatives desperately needed allies in the fight against big government, Donald Trump didn’t stand on the sidelines. He consistently advocated that your money be spent,” Beck writes.
Many economists believe the stimulus prevented the recession from becoming even worse.
Correction: An earlier version of this item misspelled the name of a contributor to the National Review and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is Mona Charen. This version has been corrected, and we regret the error.
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