Conservatives have welcomed Trump’s attacks on the establishment, have cheered his boldness, and have applauded his courage. He has taken on hitherto taboo issues like immigration enforcement, and has demonstrated the hollowness of what passes for conventional wisdom.
Trump has given voice to a widespread public feeling of alarm, frustration and anger over the direction our country is headed. For all of that conservatives are deeply grateful. America needed a loud, rude wake up call. No one else has done that, and that accomplishment is huge.
But let’s sober up and face it. Trump is not a conservative and has no conservative agenda. If elected President, he would not govern as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. So, conservatives should stop short of a coronation.
Trump certainly deserves a hero’s medal for his valiant war against political correctness and especially his willingness to take on the bully-boy enforcer of political correctness, the mainstream media. But Trump’s record over the past two decades is a record of support for progressive causes, and his financial support has gone more to Democrats than conservative crusaders.
To give one example from this week’s headlines. Trump in his rambling CNN interview has begun backpedaling on immigration enforcement, the issue that catapulted him to leadership in the polls. He is now suggesting that the millions of illegal aliens in the country can be legalized by going home and coming back legally. He hints that down the road, “who knows what will happen?”
He is open to citizenship for illegal aliens later, but not now.
Trump’s past record of opportunism and current flip-flopping do not instill confidence that he will champion conservative principles if elected to office, regardless of how many leftist icons he has trashed along the way.
Free market economists like to talk about the “creative destruction” inherent in capitalism. It’s not a box of chocolates; it is more like a box of firecrackers. Well, Trump is like that: he is a force for change and is definitely shaking things up, and we need that — and the Republican Party REALLY needs that. But Trump’s box of firecrackers should not be mistaken for a toolkit. We need a principled conservative to repair and fortify the fabric of constitutional government.
Should conservatives look upon Donald Trump as a bridge to a 2016 victory, but not the highway that will take us there? We need that bridge, but more than a bridge we need the highway, and they are different.
We can view Trump’s candidacy as a bridge to 2016 in many ways, not the least of which is exposing the embarrassing inadequacy of many other candidates who have been media favorites. Bush, Rubio, and Christie have disqualified themselves by their excessive pandering to Mexico, and Perry’s “cancer” speech demonstrated again his penchant for shooting himself in the foot.
Conservatives have so far avoided the grave mistake of the Rubios and Bushes in trying to evict Trump from the “Big Tent” that welcomes everyone else. Conservatives have the advantage of knowing how to debate each other on issues, principles and priorities, and that is where they should engage Trump.
By engaging Trump on issues and priorities, not personality, conservative candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) can win voters away from Trump and redirect the presidential contest in a positive direction. They will win those debates not by denouncing Trump’s “excesses” but by showing they have better plans and solutions — for protecting our liberties, our borders and our national security.
Donald Trump should be welcomed as a valuable partner, not shunned as an interloper. He has earned the right to compete in the race by raising vital issues for which the voters want better answers.
To win the White House in 2016, the Republican Party needs to keep Trump on the team. He’s not the right candidate to be the quarterback, but he is certainly one hell of a running back who knows how to score touchdowns. Only a fool would bench him or encourage him join a different team.
Tom Tancredo is the founder of the Rocky Mountain Foundation and founder and co-chairman of Team America PAC.
Tom represented Colorado’s sixth congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009, and he is a former presidential candidate.
He is the author of In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security.