What is Donald Trump?

Chasing after the multiple vectors of Donald Trump’s stream-of-consciousness and often circular remarks can occasionally be rewarding when he reveals the unique instinct or calculation he brought to this presidential contest. For example, the big question from the beginning was whether Trump might run as an independent if he failed to win the GOP nomination. Did anyone consider that he might run as both?

The lead story in the New York Times this morning, “Trump’s Warning to Paul Ryan Signals Further GOP Discord,” contains an important clue:

“I’m going to do what I have to do — I have millions of people that voted for me,” Mr. Trump said on ABC’s “This Week.” “So I have to stay true to my principles also. And I’m a conservative, but don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party.”

Trump is on to something here. Nothing is more obvious of most Republican presidential candidates these days than to profess their allegiance to advancing “conservative principles,” just like Ronald Reagan. Except, if you go back and have a look, Reagan almost never used the word “conservative” in his speeches before general audiences. He would, of course, when speaking to CPAC, but not much otherwise. Instead he always spoke as if what he believed was the “common sense” that everyone believed.

Trump understands that lots of Americans aren’t ideological or “movement” conservatives, even if a plurality or possibly a majority have a preference for conservative governance in most areas. The rhetorical fealty to “conservative principles” of people like Cruz, Rubio, etc, likely puts off a lot of reachable voters—the kind Trump has harvested in large numbers.

So when you ask, “Is Donald Trump a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent?” or a “conservative, liberal, or moderate?”, the answer is—Yes. Trump’s comment, and much else from the way he’s come across over the last week, indicates that he plans to run with the Republican Party more than as part of it. Gives a whole new meaning to Republican In Name Only. Think of Trump as the world’s only Orange RINO.