Trump Dumps All 3 Legs of Reagan’s 3-Legged Conservative Stool
Donald J. Trump has yet to build a border wall with Mexican money, but with a withering tweet against Dr. Russell Moore he has completed an act of de-construction that most would have thought impossible: Trump has won the Republican nomination despite offending each and every leg in Ronald Reagan’s three-legged stool. That winning amalgamation combined economic conservatives, national defense conservatives and faith-based social conservatives. In its place Trump promises entitlements and economic protectionism; praises Russian leader Vladimir Putin while aggravating allies; and trumpets an egotistical narcissism as his fundamental value.
Prior to pulling the pin on this Twitter grenade for Moore, Trump had previously employed a strategy of occasional pandering to religious conservatives — stumbling through “Two Corinthians” at Liberty University; almost tossing money on a communion tray in Iowa; showing off the pristine (unread?) Bible his mother gave him as a child; and uncharacteristically holding his counter-punches when Max Lucado questioned his faith and fitness for office. Moore, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is known to many as a bright, pro-life, pro-marriage, adopter of Russian orphans who builds bridges when he can but won’t compromise on core values. To Trump, though, Moore is “a nasty guy with no heart” and “truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for.” The “they” seems telling.
Earlier in the campaign, Trump told “the evangelicals” that “I will never let you down,” but fidelity to his word has not typically been a strong suit of the Donald. Just ask his numerous ex-wives, his past friends such as the Clintons, Bernie Sanders whom he recently agreed to debate before reneging, or the veterans’ groups that he publicly promised a million dollars months ago only to not pay up — despite vociferously claiming otherwise — until a dogged reporter shamed him into it.
The closest Trump has ever come to public office was his unofficial role as the self-promoting savior of Atlantic City. His name adorned multiple casinos and he expressed his “tremendous confidence” in the people there before later bragging that he had the “good sense” to file bankruptcy and leave “before it totally cratered.”
Social conservatives, like the people of Atlantic City, are now being asked to take a big gamble on Trump. The immediate prize is a vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and Trump has proffered a list of candidates that looks far better than anything Hillary Clinton could produce. Is this the rare piece of paper not colored green to which Trump will remain true?
With a majority of the nation negative on both Trump and Clinton, the prospects for a statistically relevant run from outside the two-party system are about as favorable as they could be. The Libertarians, whose ticket includes two former governors, seem poised to make a real run at respectability. Yet a vote for the “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” politics of their nominee, Gary Johnson — the pro-choice and pro-pot fan of the vehemently anti-Christian author Ayn Rand — raises as many, if not more, questions of conscience than a vote for Trump.
The hour grows very late and the odds are long, but there are still some of us hoping and praying that another viable option will take a seat at this high stakes table. Tom Coburn, the former Senator from Oklahoma, took his name out of the shadow running a few weeks back, a disappointment to those of us who had signed an embryonic “Draft Coburn” petition in the hopes that it would grow. So, the question now becomes whether Mitt Romney and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse will simply be content to receive positive press as the last of the prominent #NeverTrump holdouts, or will one of them (or perhaps another) take up the difficult task of bringing a more honorable option to a race that currently offers us a choice between the personifications of crassness and calculating dishonesty?
Sasse has, understandably, cited his own young children as a major reason for not throwing his hat into the ring. Such an undertaking would no doubt deprive them of their father for an extended period of time, but would a President Trump or Clinton deprive them of a recognizable America? For his part, Romney has long been a frustrating political shape shifter, but here he seems to have been legitimately motivated to speak out against Trump after his son asked what he would say to his grandchildren in the years to come if he did not. To his credit, he raised his voice and called for action. If none answer his call, will he raise his own hand and volunteer?
Reagan’s three-legged stool lies in pieces before us, and a disturbing number of Republicans now clamor to grab onto the coattails of its destroyer. Lest one forget the gap of character between these two men, recall that President Reagan kept a plaque on his Oval Office desk that read, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.” Contrast that with a search of Trump’s tweets for the phrases “Only I” or “I alone can solve.”
Unless some worthy candidate actually holds himself out as a rescue line, this Memorial Day may well mark not only the death of patriots past but the present demise of the Grand Old Party’s most politically successful coalition. Perhaps from the broken pieces something better will eventually come for the socially conservative voter. While our leg in the stool helped to win elections, those we elected gave us not only Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts but also Supreme Court justices in Souter, O’Connor and Kennedy that upheld Roe v. Wade and helped to usher in the age of gay marriage. It was an unbalanced stool at best, but that wobbly platform now gives way to an uncertain and potentially painful time of walking through the splinters.
John Murdock is a native Texan who worked for over a decade in D.C. He now teaches at the Handong International Law School, a Christian institution in South Korea, and his writing can be found at johnmurdock.org.