[guest post by Dana]
Would it be surprising if President Trump still felt he was in a competition with his predecessor? It doesn’t seem like it would be, given how relentless he’s been at trying to best Obama. Perhaps this explains why Trump announced he will be running for re-election a full 980 days before the next presidential election. This makes his announcement historically early, and certainly far earlier than Obama’s announcement, which he came 582 days before the election. Or maybe the early announcement is to provide the President, who thrives on the applause and cheers of a live audience, the opportunity to rally loyalists sooner rather than later. Regardless of what motivated the early announcement last week, the President is definitely running for re-election:
With just 980 days to go until the next presidential election, President Trump said Tuesday that he would run again in 2020, an announcement that several White House advisers said simply meant the president would step up his preferred and much-missed activity of performing for an adoring crowd.
In effect, it continues the permanent campaign of a president who, from the time he took office over a year ago, has signaled his interest to run again and has kept holding campaign-style rallies. The president officially filed for re-election with the Federal Election Commission on Jan. 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration.
It was also a statement aimed at ending speculation among allies and critics that Mr. Trump, who has faced a series of personal scandals, and whose campaign remains the subject of an F.B.I. investigation into possible ties to Russia, might not run for re-election at all.
The President also named Brad Parscale as his 2020 campaign manager. Parscale was the campaign digital director for Trump in 2016. Clearly campaign work is already in motion: list building, putting together a finance team, putting together a campaign team of talent, pinpointing the battleground states and figuring out how to better reach those critical voters, etc., etc.
President Trump, who single-handedly tipped over the apple cart of the presidency with his unorthodox and erratic style, and lack of basic knowledge (and incuriousness) about the Constitution, history, or how government operates, referred to himself as the “commonsense conservative” back in 2016:
“I really am a conservative, but I’m also a commonsense person. I’m a commonsense conservative,” Trump said Tuesday. “We have to be commonsense conservatives, we have to be smart.”
When later asked about his governing philosophy, he said:
“I am a common-sense conservative,” Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Asked how he would label his governing philosophy, he replied, “It would be governing through strength — and governing also through common sense and governing through heart.”
Clearly, Trump was not wed to any political philosophy.
At the time, Jonah Goldberg fleshed out Trump’s re-defining of conservatism with his “commonsense conservatism.”:
…Trump argues for his own brand of strong-government conservatism grounded not in, say, Bush’s faith in God, but in Donald Trump’s faith in himself. He has never shown more than the briefest nod to traditional conservative concerns about limited government, personal liberty or the Constitution. Winning is his lodestar, and he will do what is required to “win” and he will proclaim that “common sense.” Democrats can’t see it, but Trump represents a massive victory for the left in so far as he’s the first major Republican figure to successfully reject libertarianism, even rhetorically.
If Trump is successful, liberty-oriented conservatism will be replaced by so-called common sense statism. And those who complain will be dismissed as “so-called conservatives.”
This has aged well.
Around the same time, we were informed that this shoot-from-the-hip approach to governing, while not based upon any particular principles or ideals, was one that Americans should consider a feature, not a bug. Certainly this latest iteration of conservatism lacked that which was familiar to long-time political watchers on both sides of the aisle, and that which actually defined conservatism. It soon became abundantly clear from GOP leadership, in spite of their repeated assurances of an eventual pivot was just around the corner, that it was conservatives who needed to adapt to this new-school “commonsense conservatism” because, it was now Trump’s GOP:
To many people in the party, Trump’s ideas lack intellectual cohesion, but together they reflect the instincts of a dealmaker. He arrives at positions guided less by philosophy than visceral reactions to problems of the moment.
“I don’t think he has an ideology,” said Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator who twice sought the GOP nomination. “He very much is responding to the realities that he has encountered and his natural reactions to them. It’s not some intellectual construct. He’s much more of an instinctive politician.”
There are now those that would robustly argue that President Trump’s unique brand of conservatism , or “commonsense conservatism” has been fully demonstrated during this past year, to the country’s betterment. This especially in light of his speech at this year’s C-PAC:
All of this puts into context Mr. Trump’s exhilarating speech this week at a Maryland meeting of CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, now the most visible advocacy group for conservative thought. This speech was a marvel of anti-progressive oratory. It turned the usual tropes on their heads, or, as used to be said of Marx and Hegel, stood them finally on their feet. It is the Democrats, for Mr. Trump, who are wrongly standing athwart history, yelling “stop,” because the conservatives, with whom Mr. Trump now proudly employs the zeal of a convert, have realized that the unfolding of history is the story of the revelation of timeless truths, which progressives somehow stubbornly continue to ignore.
Proudly proclaiming himself the leader of a conservative administration, Mr. Trump described his efforts: “We’re finally rebuilding our nation . . . And we’re restoring our confidence and our pride, all of us here today are united by the same timeless values. We defend our constitution and we believe in the wisdom of our founders . . . . We celebrate our history and our heroes and we believe young Americans should be taught to love their country, and to respect its traditions.” “Every child,” he elaborated, “deserves to grow up in a safe community surrounded by a loving family and to have a future filled with opportunity and with hope.” If that’s not an encapsulation of the best of conservatism, it is hard to know what is.
As he has done repeatedly when speaking on the stump, the president defined the “timeless values” he embraced. “Above all else, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are at the center of American life. We know that. Because in America we don’t worship government, we worship God.” This simple statement of faith must seem hopelessly naïve to Mr. Trump’s progressive critics, but his beliefs, are, of course, still shared by many, if not most Americans.
He proudly told the CPAC audience that, “For the last year with your help, we have put more great conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.” He then rattled off a list of such accomplishments in his first year, including the nomination and confirmation of conservative judges who “will interpret the law as written,” rather than seeking to implement their own policy preferences. He commented on the reductions in job-killing regulations, the promotion of energy production, and the achievement of the lowest levels of unemployment for all Americans, including the lowest level in history for African Americans and Hispanics, thus hitting hard at the core of the constituency of the Democrats.
In perusing post-CPAC commentary, this seems to represent a shared view of many.
Defining what it is to be a conservative in the Trump era has been debated and argued (ad nauseum, to some), with the dividing lines clearly drawn. And far too easily, the terms Republican and Conservative are interchangeably used with the mistaken assumption that being a Republican means you must be a Conservative, and that Conservatives are by default, Republicans. (While the latter is more likely to be true, given that the Republican Party once stood upon a set of specific principles and ideals that were the foundations of conservatism, with the ascendancy of Trump and his brand of conservatism, this is not necessarily the case now, given that many have left the Republican party as they believe it no longer represents their interests).
With that, I want to share with you a timely and thoughtful thread about this issue of being a conservative in light of the news that Trump has said he will seek re-election:
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)