As Steve wrote today in connection with Donald Trump, it’s not a sin to change one’s political and/or ideological affiliation, provided that the change is genuine. Nor is it always easy to determine whether a conversion is genuine.
There are, however, a number of factors through which the authenticity of a conversation can be assessed. As we will see, if we apply these factors to Trump’s conversion to conservatism, it looks phony.
The first factor is suddenness. A full conversion from liberalism to conservatism (or visa versa) typically will not be sudden.
Often a single event — e.g., the Vietnam War or 9/11 — will trigger the conversion process. However, the full embrace of a new ideology across a broad range of issues usually takes a considerable amount of time, especially for someone who is no longer young.
For example, 9/11 might prompt a liberal immediately to become far more hawkish about foreign policy, but not to abandon liberal views on domestic policy immediately. That conversion may follow, but only gradually.
Trump’s alleged conversion to conservatism appears to have been pretty sudden. It’s not clear when he claims to have stopped identifying more with Democrats than with Republicans. We know, however, that during the mid-2000s he contributed mostly to Democratic candidates. And this was before he says he turned against Republicans for “crashing the economy” in 2008.
The “suddenness” factor thus weighs against viewing Trump’s conversion as genuine. However, without knowing more about the timing, we can’t say that it weighs strongly.
The second factor is the existence of an opportunistic motive for the conversion. Trump has an obvious one — his desire to seek the nomination of a conservative political party.
Trump could have sought the liberal party’s nomination. However, it was always clear that the GOP race would be more wide open.
This factor, then, weighs strongly in favor of viewing Trump’s conversion skeptically.
The third factor is the existence of good explanation for the conversion. Trump, to my knowledge, hasn’t presented one.
He has said that he moved towards the Democrats because the Republican president crashed the economy in 2008. The implication is that he’s a natural conservative and that his time as a Democrat was an aberration.
The fourth factor is the ability to talk honestly about the conversion. As we have just seen, Trump isn’t talking honestly.
The fifth factor is corroboration of the conversion. Yes, Ronald Reagan had been a Democrat. But when he ran for governor, he could point to years of service to conservatism, including a decade or more of preaching it on the “rubber chicken circuit,” as he liked to say.
By the time Reagan ran for president, he could point to a strong record of conservative governance in California. Obviously, his liberalism was a thing of the distant past.
What can concrete things can Donald Trump point to that confirm he’s a genuine conservative, rather than an opportunist phony? I can’t think of anything.
If Jeb Bush were completely to disavow his past positions on immigration and common core, would conservatives (like me) who are bothered by these positions trust that he truly had come around to their view? What if Marco Rubio suddenly advocated rounding up illegal immigrants for deportation on a large scale?
Conservatives would be highly skeptical of such sudden conversions that coincide with a bid for the GOP presidential nomination. They should be even more skeptical about Trump’s conversion because he has been a liberal, not merely a conservative who at times departed from conservative orthodoxy.
But let’s say, very generously and for the sake of argument only, that we can be 75 percent confident Trump really is a conservative. This level of confidence shouldn’t be sufficient for conservatives to support him, given that there are candidates for whom our level of confidence should be higher.
Orthodox conservatives wouldn’t favor the candidacy of someone who has a conservative record on 75 percent of the issues. That’s RINO territory by some folks’ reckoning.
By the same token, we shouldn’t support a candidate with no record who espouses conservatism on 100 percent of the issues, but as to whom they have only a 75 percent level of confidence (or less) in his sincerity.
Until recently, Donald Trump was a NERIN (not even Republican in name) or, if you prefer, a DINAPP (Democrat in name and policy preference). Now, unless you believe in the tooth fairy, he’s a RINO.
Once Republican voters realize this, his bid for the GOP nomination should falter and, one hopes, evaporate.