What is American conservatism? Is it an attitude, an aesthetic and/or sensibility, an approach to living? Or is it a set of policy preferences — limited government interference in our lives, lower taxes, judges who don’t invent rights, a strong military, etc.?
For me it is both. But one’s opinion as to which of these strands predominates will likely determine one’s view of President Trump.
Conservatives who view conservatism as mainly a set of policy preferences will probably be quite pleased with Trump. He has lowered taxes, cut government regulation, taken on Obamacare, appointed conservative judges, and strengthened the military.
There are other conservative policy preferences Trump has not honored, must notably free trade. But it’s unrealistic to expect a president to adopt conservative orthodoxy up and down the line.
Conservatives who view conservatism as mainly an attitude, aesthetic, and approach to living are likely quite displeased with Trump. He’s vulgar and dishonest, among other character flaws. He respects neither tradition nor his office as traditionally understood. He loves to smash things, which is the antithesis of the conservative attitude.
It has always seemed to me that, for George Will, conservatism is predominantly an attitude. More than any other modern commentator I know of, he has the knack of making his aesthetic preferences seem like moral imperatives.
Thus, it’s not surprising that Will can’t stand Trump. Nor is it surprising that his hatred is so great that he wants Republicans to lose control of both chambers of Congress.
Their sin? They haven’t used their Article I power to thwart this president. Stated differently, congressional Republicans “have become the president’s poodles.” (Query: Is that worse than being a “lapdog,” as Will once described George H.W. Bush?)
One searches nearly in vain for discussion about policy in Will’s column urging a vote against the GOP this year. When one finds some, it doesn’t back his desire to see Democrats take control on Congress.
Will is unhappy that Speaker Ryan hasn’t pushed for entitlement reform. But Democrats don’t do entitlement reform. And many of the Democrats Will hopes to see become freshmen members of Congress are going to be around after Trump has moved on from office.
As for curbing presidential power, congressional Republicans have exactly the same attitude as congressional Democrats. They want to curb it when the other party holds the presidency, but not when their party does.
From a policy standpoint, then, there is no conservative case for wanting the Democrats to gain power at President Trump’s expense. That desire in a conservative can only be explained on aesthetic grounds.
Even in these terms, it’s not easy to explain. The modern Democratic party is a walking, talking rebuke to conservative sensibilities. But Will can argue that if Trump goes up in flames, the GOP might become more appealing to his.
What if one views policy and attitude as roughly equal in importance? In that case, one will likely support Trump, and his alleged poodles in Congress, without being too enthusiastic about it.
Congressional Democrats are poodles of the modern left. The modern left is as vulgar and dishonest as Trump. Lack of respect for tradition is its ideology. Smashing things is its passion.
That’s what conservatives get from Democrats these days. That, and left-wing policy. From Trump, we get conservative policy, or have so far.
That should be more than enough reason to induce mainstream conservatives to back congressional Republicans this year and Donald Trump in 2020.