The Pro-Life Art of the Deal: Can We Negotiate with Trump?
One of the things the voters find most attractive about Donald Trump is his vaunted success at making deals — at outbargaining, outwitting, and outmaneuvering the people with whom he negotiates, so that he comes out on top. Whatever we think of his business ethics, it’s undeniable that this is a man who knows how to come from behind, to put on a front, establish himself as a brand, and turn a truckload of rotting lemons into an Olympic pool full of lemon vodka — with supermodels swimming in it. Millions of Americans have turned to Trump in the hope that he will do the same thing for America. They are tired of all the Elmer Fudds whom the GOP likes to nominate, so they’re betting on Bugs Bunny — a fast-talking, scruple-free conniver with a rough-edged New York accent.
As pro-lifers and defenders of religious liberty, and citizens sincerely worried about the direction our nation is taking, we are faced with the question of how to deal with the triumph of Donald Trump in the GOP. Should we stand fast with the #NeverTrump movement, holding to the devastating criticisms which conservatives have made of Trump’s ideology, honesty, and character — and be ready to face the consequences if Hillary Clinton wins? Should we jump on the GOP bandwagon as fast as we possibly can, wagging our tails and panting for favors? Is the prospect of Hillary Clinton winning so terrifying to us that we will take any scrap of hope which the Trump campaign might toss us?
Here’s where we can learn something from Donald Trump himself. His most famous book, The Art of the Deal, is a kind of devil’s dictionary, predicated on the idea that any negotiation is finally zero sum: there’s a winner and a loser, and you want to come out the winner. Now in actual economics this isn’t really the case. When I pay the bill at a good restaurant, I usually feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth. So does the restaurant’s owner. The free market economy is based on the fact that human beings best cooperate by freely naming their price, and providing goods and services to those who are willing to meet it. In the long run, everybody benefits.
But in Donald Trump’s world things don’t work like that. There’s a fixed, limited pie of money, privilege, and status, and their distribution depends on who can grab the power. That need not be true of business, but it is part of the essence of politics. When you hold an election, one side really loses, and the winning side wields more power. If we let politics meddle in the economy, this zero-sum logic takes over our productive lives as well. The winners of elections, the donors who grease politicians’ palms, can gain a winning edge over their competitors. That’s how Trump has always done business, anyway. No wonder he wants the government reaching its fingers even more deeply into business. As a practicing crony capitalist, he was always more of a politician than a businessman, anyway.
And now each of us as conservative voters, and the movements that speak for our interests, are forced to negotiate with Donald Trump — one way or the other. That doesn’t mean we endorse him, or even vote for him. Walking away from the table also counts as negotiating. Some deals just aren’t worth making. But if our decision to do that is to mean anything at all, we will need to make a public case for it. And that case will be stronger if we are clear about exactly what we are doing.
Or maybe there’s a deal out there to be made. Like most of you, I find the prospect of a Trump presidency repugnant. Like most of you, I’m horrified by Hillary, and the damage she could do, especially through the courts. Trump is counting on our horror to overwhelm our repugnance.
In other words, he thinks he holds all the cards. He is sitting in Trump Tower, sneering as long-time critics such as Gov. Rick Perry slink over to endorse him, like whipped dogs pleading for mercy. He sees social conservatives such as Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, who endorsed him early on, as checks that he’s already cashed, and forgotten about. As for the rest of us, he waits for our terror of Hillary Clinton to wear us down and humble us, so we have to come to the Godfather to beg for some protection. (I recommend watching Godfather I and II as practical guides to this election.)
If we do it, we’re fools. Worse than that, we’re cowards. Pro-life leaders had some leverage over Trump early on in the campaign, and they managed to squeeze out of him a promise that he’d offer a list of judicial candidates, vetted by the Heritage Foundation. That was to reassure us after he talked about appointing his pro-choice sister to the U.S. Supreme Court. So where’s the list? Trump forgot about it, and so it seems has everyone else. He won enough Southern primaries, then moved on to the blue-state Northeast, so that promise went down the memory hole. Why on earth should he keep it now? Why offer any carrots when he wields an enormous stick: the prospect of four years of Hillary?
If we wince and cower at the sight of that stick, we have no hope of negotiating. It will mean that we are already bought and sold, at a piddling price. Then we would indeed see, as David Frum wrote in the Atlantic, pro-lifers and other social conservatives lose any clout we once had in national elections. If the Israel lobby, or the gun lobby, or any other organized political group behaved the way we do in elections, their causes would be lost. I saw from the inside of GOP politics how quickly, even desperately, pro-life leaders threw away their leverage and signed on with dubious leaders such as John McCain and Mitt Romney. We cannot afford to make that same mistake again.
I wrote once before, in “The Pro-Life Art of War,” that we must see our movement as a special interest group, whose sole concern is preserving the unborn by force of law. It’s our duty as prudent defenders of the helpless to fight hard on their behalf, and to fight smart. To do that, we must play hardball. And we still do have some leverage.
With Trump’s overpowering negatives among so many demographics, he relies more than most GOP candidates on a mighty conservative turnout. He really would be crippled by a potent third-party challenge. He needs to present the front of a mostly unified party. And so he will respond if we approach him with strength and integrity. Notice how he reacted when House Speaker Paul Ryan wouldn’t endorse him: he arranged a face to face meeting. How much face time does Chris Christie get with Donald Trump? How much influence will Rick Perry exercise?
Trump must know — because we know — that we’re free to walk away. If we see that a Trump presidency wouldn’t really be markedly better for unborn Americans than a Hillary win, but that we would have besmeared ourselves with all Trump’s other negatives, then we simply shouldn’t support him. We should count the presidential election as already lost — in Indiana — and pour every drop of blood, sweat, and tears into electing conservatives to Congress. We need to make Trump see that we are perfectly willing to do this. It’s the only way to deal with a man who prides himself on ruthlessness.