Looking to win the White House for conservatism after the wilderness years of Nixon and Ford and now amid what would be a disastrous Jimmy Carter presidency, Reagan said it was time at last for a principled politics for conservatives. They needed “to present a program of action,” one that included both social conservatism and economic conservatism. They needed to defend both the family and limited government, both faith and freedom, both the dignity of the human person and lower taxes. Each side—the social and economic—was half of a “politically effective” conservative whole that needed communicated, needed shared, needed boldly expressed, needed to be not afraid, so that Americans everywhere understood that conservatism provided a good and natural political home.
Reagan’s sense of conviction was legendary. From Tip O’Neill to Ted Kennedy, the widely perceived sense of Reagan’s sureness, of his grounding in certain fundamentals, was respected even by those who disagreed with his policies. The public understood where he stood. In 1986, independent pollster Gerald Goldhaber found that nearly 70 percent of the American people could name at least one of Reagan’s top four priorities. By contrast, such ratings for the LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations ranged from 15 to 45 percent.
This brings me to Donald Trump on cutting federal income taxes. Again, this is a policy area where I had believed that Reagan and Trump share some commonality. And yet, Trump a few weeks ago was already reneging. In a matter of minutes a few Sundays ago, from ABC to NBC, Trump took flight on taxes, soaring all over the studio, and seemingly reversing himself, at least momentarily.
This was and remains immensely frustrating, especially to Reagan conservatives. We watched Reagan spend eight years sticking to his principles on income taxes. Here, now, it isn’t even the convention yet and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee seems to already be shifting on taxes.
Frankly, I am hoping that as former Reaganite advisers counsel Trump on tax cuts, as they (including Art Laffer and Larry Kudlow) are reportedly doing, that they might be able to hold him to some consistency and accountability if he became president. But alas, if they do, such would be a testimony to their commitment to principle, not Trump’s. That is because, again, Trump lacks principles in a way that Reagan never did. On this, let’s let him speak for himself:
About three weeks ago on Fox & Friends, Trump said that everything he says is a “suggestion.” He was pressed regarding his comments about temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country, which he qualified as having been “just a suggestion.” “Yeah, it was a suggestion,” said Trump. “Look, anything I say right now, I’m not the president.” He stated emphatically: “Everything is a suggestion, no matter what you say, it’s a suggestion.”
This lack of principles from Trump should alarm those supporting him who claim to be principled conservatives. This political chameleon is one who ought to give them pause. He is a political animal who certainly bears no comparison to Ronald Reagan.
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