When Donald Trump began his successful run for the White House, he was relatively new to American politics and to the contemporary labels that are often attached to American politicians. Nevertheless, he chose to characterize himself as a conservative Republican; and nearly two years into his presidency, he continues to call himself that.
What is a conservative today, and what politically is President Trump?
To my generation, the use of the word conservative, connotes the late, great Sen. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was famously the Republican nominee for president who lost in a landslide to President Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964.
In that race, and in his speeches and in his writings, Goldwater preached a Jeffersonian government at home and abroad, with the muscular use of the military only when American national security is directly at stake. He believed in low income tax rates, free trade with commercial entities in other countries, the right to carry a gun, maximum individual liberty, no government borrowing, the sanctity of private property, and a federal government that leaves the states alone and legislates or regulates only in the areas expressly given to the feds in the Constitution. He was also very supportive of law enforcement, and he often showered praise on the FBI and local police.
Arguably, his 1964 loss paved the way for later victories by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, both of whom claimed to be conservatives.
I never heard Nixon say, the Jeffersonian line that I love, "That government is best which governs least." But I heard Goldwater and I heard Reagan say it many times.
Now, back to President Trump.
A fair analysis of his presidency at its current mid-point gives rise in my mind -- and I suggest it should in yours -- to serious questions about his fidelity to any conservative principles. Trump is the president who attacks the FBI almost every day, borrows a trillion dollars a year to run the government, has tried to re-write immigration laws on his own, has imposed tariffs on household goods for which Americans must pay up to 25 percent more than they previously were paying, suggested he could shut down the New York Times and CNN, insults foreign leaders whose alliances with us are long and deep, bombed Syria without congressional authorization, sent troops to Syria then summarily ordered them home, threatened to reveal intelligence sources publicly, and continues to use drones to kill folks internationally.
So, is Trump a conservative? Is he even a Republican? What guiding principles, if any, does he follow?
Adapted from Judge Andrew Napolitano’s monologue on Fox Nation’s “Liberty File.”