Following the nomination of Donald Trump to be the Republican Party Candidate for President in the spring of 2016, a large number of traditional conservatives began describing themselves as “Politically Homeless.” The party to which they had long espoused loyalty was suddenly headed by a vile cretin who preached economic protectionism and government intervention, cozied up to anti-liberty dictators and openly disdained certain annoying Constitutional principles like “due process” and “equal protection.”
Some reluctantly supported him in the general election because they were good party soldiers, others resolved to simply sit out the Presidential race and work to bolster Congressional majorities to counter a Hillary Clinton Administration. Some even took the drastic step of supporting Clinton outright rather than stand by while we turned over the Presidency to an unbalanced toddler.
Then this really, really funny thing happened. Not funny like this, or this; more “funny” in the sense of being utterly terrifying. He managed to get more than two million votes less than his opponent but still win the election.
That presented a whole new and unforeseen problem for these homeless former Republicans. It is one thing to work within a party with which you recently became disillusioned as a counter to a rival party’s President, but how to approach that party when it is not an opposition party, but an unchecked majority?
For some, it looked like they may find new friends and allies in opposition on the left, a notion that was put to rest the moment that the Women’s March evicted pro-life groups (except for the cool Muslim pro-life groups). It turns out that losing has made the left no more willing to accept the intellectual validity of conservatives. They still think you’re a backward bigot.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t issues with which President Trump presents an opportunity for conservatives (and libertarians) to move forward on issues in which the left suddenly sees things their way. On some major issues – debt, executive creep, and expanding Federal powers – Trump provides a clear and understandable argument to the left of things that many on the right have argued for years. Libertarians may now find that Democrats who were fine with the overreach of the intelligence community in violating the civil liberties of Americans are less willing to ignore the fourth amendment now that Donald Trump is the guy doing the spying.
In doing so, conservatives can never lose sight of a point that Dan made very eloquently in this space last week: the left are not your friends. They will never be your political friends. They don’t like you, they don’t believe in your worldview, and they think you simple and bigoted. This isn’t about making friends, it is about using the left’s oscillating convictions to address issues that (some) conservatives care about regardless of who is in power.
Take debt, for example. If Republicans are, as Democrats like to accuse them of being, “Climate Deniers,” then Democrats have for eight years been “Debt Deniers.” They have simply refused to acknowledge the mathematical realities of perpetual borrowing (math is a field, I might note, that is much more well-understood than climatology). Now that a Republican is back in the White House, however, they are rediscovering their fiscal responsibility, sometimes in hilariously transparent fashion. There is an opportunity for fiscal conservatives to use the left’s newfound fear of deficits to make real progress on fixing our broken budget.
Will there be easy agreement? Of course not. Liberals will default to raising taxes, and Conservatives will default to cutting spending. But that disagreement is a marked improvement over the current state of affairs. Let Democrats sell the value of their programs to taxpayers who have to foot the bill this year, and let Republicans explain those programs’ faults and make voters decide whether that spending is worth their money, and not the money of their children and grandchildren.
Adherents to the Constitution have long lamented the growing power of the Presidency. For nearly fifty years now, Congress has abdicated its authority to the Executive Branch, resulting in a Presidency that looks much more like a Sovereign than was ever intended by the designers of our system of Government. In the starkest example, the Constitution explicitly vests in Congress the right to declare war, a power that Presidents have stolen and Congress has willfully relinquished. Congress made a half-hearted effort to reclaim that authority with the passage of the War Powers Act in 1973, but has never seriously enforced it. This is not an idea that is totally foreign to the left (Rachel Maddow wrote about it quite convincingly in between the Communist-apologia in Drift).
Other examples include the broad authority with which Congress allows executive agencies to enforce rules without judicial or Congressional oversight. When Cliven Bundy refused to vacate federal lands when ordered to by the Bureau of Land Management, part of his complaint (the small reasonable part wrapped up in a giant childish tantrum) was that there is little means with which a citizen can legally bring a challenge against this kind of order by a Federal Agency. Per the Constitution, Congress holds that power, but gave it away to the unelected bureaucrats of the massive executive agency complex.
Beyond the Presidency, the Federal Government as a whole has substantially more authority than it was assigned by the founders, and for the most part, this change has pleased progressives. After all, if a small circle of enlightened New Yorkers are to rule the great uneducated masses, they need to have pretty broad authority to do so. Never mind the great Federalist experimentation that is supposed to take place in the fifty states, the Council of Yalies will decide what is best for everyone!
Here, finally, is a shining example of the problem with centralizing power in a Federal Executive that progressives can’t ignore: that executive is occasionally going to be someone like Donald Trump. But for those on the right who have espoused a limited Federal government and weakened executive for decades, this dynamic is simply reinforcement of what was already obvious. Only now, the audience is much more receptive. When the President is Donald Trump, might the progressive busybodies here in Massachusetts, for example, like to go back to a time when we were responsible for our own health care system that provided nation-leading access and our own nation-leading public schools? Haven’t we learned that many of those ideas are unworkable nationally and that our fellow states have no interest in adopting things that work for us but won’t work for them? For Conservatives who have argued against these trends for years with little traction, the eyes of the left are briefly open, and this could be a welcome opportunity.
So, while conservatives can acknowledge that there are no political friends to be found on the left, they can certainly appeal to their newfound embracing of traditionally conservative positions. Now is the time to leverage support from the left to work to balance the budget and to rein in the Federal Government. It’s the time to restore powers back to Congress where they were intended, and minimize the importance of any President. Maintain your principles and let the opposition vacillate towards you. If conservatives really are better and more intellectually consistent than the liberals they criticize (and I am not convinced that they are), then this is the chance to show it and make real progress on some core parts of conservatism.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.