Recently, I was asked by a friend who likes Ted Cruz, why I support Donald Trump and not the Texas senator among the Republican candidates running for president. In partial response to that question, let me set down briefly my thoughts.
I think it is important to begin with a review of some essential history, a brief exploration of the evolution of what is now called “Movement Conservatism” and its symbiotic relationship to the modern Republican Party. Understanding this background is critical to comprehending what has happened and is happening, politically and culturally, to what remains of the American republic in 2016. The transformation of the intellectual brain trust for the Republican Party has fundamentally affected and influenced the successive evolution of the positions the Republican Party has taken over the past fifty years.
Before discussing this history, I think it is necessary that we recall that the GOP Establishment, in fact, never gave up its virtual control of the party structure, despite Ronald Reagan. And since Reagan’s departure it has controlled the party apparatus completely and uninterruptedly. Even under President Reagan, as a dear friend who worked in the White House in 1981 once remarked to me: “Reagan let the Bush establishment people control appointments, and their strategy was ‘Let Reagan speak like Reagan, but we will control appointments and policy’. And basically that is what happened.”
It was my mentor and friend, the late Dr. Russell Kirk, whose volume The Conservative Mind actually initiated what became the older, scholarly “conservatism” in the 1950s. “Conservatism,” as Kirk explained it, encompassed an inherent distrust of liberal democracy, staunch opposition to egalitarianism, and an extreme reluctance to commit the United States to global “crusades” to impose American “values” on “unenlightened” countries around the world. Conservatives should celebrate local traditions, customs, and the inherited legacies of other peoples, and not attempt to destroy them. America, Kirk insisted, was not founded on a democratic, hegemonic ideology, but as an expression and continuation of European traditions and strong localist, familial and religious belief. Indeed, Kirk authored a profound biography of Senator Robert Taft, “Mr. Conservative,” who embodied those principles.
Beginning in the 1970s into the 1980s there was an influx of former Leftist and ex-Trotskyite intellectuals and writers, who had become anti-Communists and who began to move to the right into the older conservative movement. These were denominated the Neoconservatives, or Neocons. At first the Neocons were welcomed as ex-Marxists “coming in from the cold.” The problem was, and still is, that the Neocons brought with them not only their welcomed and spirited anti-Communism, but also their intellectual template of across-the-board egalitarianism, internationalism, and an a priori liberal and global interventionist foreign policy, which has, as its underlying principle, an almost chiliastic belief in imposed “liberal democracy” as the “final stage” of human (and secular) progress. And it is that Idea of (irreversible) Progress, which means the destruction of older traditions, customs, and those things considered “reactionary” that stand in the way of Progress, that characterizes most of Neocon thinking. Such ideas, needless to say, run counter to traditional conservative principles.
With strong academic connections and financial sources, the Neocons soon took control of most of the older conservative foundations, think tanks, and publications, and they did so with an iron hand, reminiscent of older days, when their Marxism was readily visible. And, more significantly, through this control of most “conservative” institutions, especially those centered in Washington, D. C., they very soon began to provide experts and advisors to the national Republican Party and its candidates. Their dominance manifested itself in organs such as the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and in publications like Commentary, The Public Interest, and National Review (which shed its previous attachments to the older conservatism). The advent of the Rupert Murdoch media empire, with Fox News television, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and the New York Post as its notable voices, cemented this influence, which manifested itself abundantly in post-Reagan GOP policies and prescriptions.
With the triumph of the Neocons, conservatism soon no longer resembled what it once was. The principles which so characterized the Old Right were replaced with an ideological zeal for the very opposite of those principles. Older conservative icons such as John Randolph and John C. Calhoun, included prominently in Kirk’s pantheon of great conservatives, were, due to their opposition to egalitarianism, expelled from the Neoconservative lexicon, to be replaced by Abraham Lincoln, and later figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. (And Southerners like Sam Ervin, Harry Byrd Sr., Robert E. Lee, Wade Hampton, etc., were now uniformly condemned and rejected by the new “mainstream conservatives.”)
Lincoln, who was not included in Kirk’s pantheon, became the new and real “Founder” of the American republic, as the editor of the post-William Buckley National Review, Rich Lowry, contends. The civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, with its far-reaching and radical court decisions, was pronounced to be “conservative,” and, at the same time, Southern conservatives, such as the brilliant Mel Bradford, and anti-egalitarians, such as Dr. Samuel Francis, were purged out of the “movement.” Scholars such as Bradford, Joseph Sobran, and the internationally-recognized political scientist/historian, Paul Gottfried, had their careers attacked, were denied well-deserved professional positions, and were banished from formerly conservative publications and access to the largesse of formerly conservative foundations.
Libertarians, too, were shown the door. Never a good fit within the older conservative movement of the 1960s, their exit began long before the triumph of Neoconservatism, with prominent advocates associating at such foundations as the Ludwig von Mises Institute or congregating in certain college economics departments, writing via sites such as LewRockwell.com, and publishing scholarly works by the Liberty Fund. Politically, their most significant leader in recent years has been Ron Paul, but his prescriptions and views were dismissed just as firmly as were those of the Old Right, or paleoconservatives, as they were sometimes called.
No one was allowed to violate the new orthodoxy without severe consequences. But more revolutionary, the logic of Neoconservative egalitarianism, when carried out to its fullest extent, has meant that very many of those now-termed Mainstream Conservatives presently endorse, either openly (e.g., Jonah Goldberg, the National Review magazine, etc.), or tacitly (e.g. George Will, Charles Krauthammer at Fox, and a majority of national mainstream conservative “opinion leaders”), such aberrations as same sex marriage and feminism, and various absurdities under the rubric of civil rights. And at the same time they push zealously for “regime change” internationally everywhere (which also means eventual control by Wall Street). This has meant American misadventures in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Thus, in a very real sense, what is commonly termed “conservatism” today has not been truly conservative in the traditional sense for probably three or four decades, at least. Indeed, political scientists and historians such as Gottfried, Claes Ryn (at Catholic Univ), Gary Dorrien (in his study, The Neoconservative Mind), and others have examined this transition in some detail.
Turning to current Republican politics, for the first time since 1992 and the Pat Buchanan campaign, there is actual opposition, if a bit amorphous, this year to the reigning Neoconservative template that has dominated Republican policy thinking. The campaign rhetoric and views of Donald Trump, I would suggest, represent a potential break with the regnant Neoconservative orthodoxy. Perhaps more importantly, none of the GOP candidates, save Trump, is really capable of challenging the Neoconservative template, and this is precisely why most of the GOP and Neocon elites despise him so much. Thus, while the Neocon and GOP Establishment heartily dislike Ted Cruz, they actually fear and loathe Trump. Trump, is not a “movement conservative,” that is, he is not a Republican candidate schooled in the narrative of Neoconservatism (while Marco Rubio wallows in it). In the current political context, the term “conservative” is used so cavalierly that every GOP candidate now claims the mantel: Jeb, Kasich, Christie, Rubio, and so on: all claim to be “movement (or mainstream) conservatives.”
Trump is the candidate who has been bold and farsighted enough to raise the real issues that are affecting every day Americans, not just “movement conservatives.” Most importantly, there is the supremely significant issue of illegal immigration. Consider, for example, what has happened to California, that up to the 1980s was considered a reliably “conservative” state, but after the 1986 Immigration Act, and three-to-four million new immigrants from Latin America, most illegal, will no longer ever vote for a Republican, much less any kind of conservative. The question is: do we want this to continue to happen? Who will be the candidate who will actually stop—and reverse—this?
Then, there is the issue of Muslims coming to America. Trump’s plan to temporarily bar them coming in until a proper and secure screening system is put into place, is not only logical, it is completely constitutional and legal. Various legal experts and historical and judicial precedents confirm Trump’s proposal; indeed, Professor Jan Ting has mined the archives to discover ample support for Trump’s pledge, including rulings by the Supreme Court, the Immigration and Citizenship Act of 1952 (U.S.C. Title 8, Section 1182), and actions by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and others; also, No other candidate, including Ted Cruz, has advocated the same program, and several have mindlessly attacked him for it. But does anyone doubt that Trump would do it?
It is Trump who, on the issue of militant Islam, inspires both the hatred and fear of politically-correct multiculturalists, not just in this country, but around the world. In Britain a petition has been pushed by the political Left to ban Trump’s entry into the United Kingdom. Signed by more than a half-million people and endorsed by the usual assortment of far left and communist organizations, it has actually been debated in the English parliament (January 18, 2016). And although the Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned Trump’s proposal as “divisive, stupid and wrong,” he has stopped short of endorsing a ban of Trump’s entry; Ted Cruz has not been the object of similar attacks. The internationalist politically-correct elites recognize their primary foe.
And the Leftist Hollywood elites are lining up against Trump. Notorious Vietcong supporter Jane Fonda has organized a committee to “Stop hate dump Trump.” Including such old school pro-communists as Harry Belafonte and leftists like Jonathan Demme, the committee has boasted that it has 1,200 supporters, and has condemned Trump, declaring: “We are offering Americans a chance to be heard and engage in action, as Trump’s campaign gains momentum even as he increases his hateful and divisive rhetoric.”
At almost every Trump rally there are demonstrators, from Black Lives Matter, from various pro-illegal immigration groups, and those representing an assortment of Marxist organizations. After recent protests in North and South Carolina, immigration lawyer, Marty Rosenbluth, speaking for a network of such groups, declared: “Let’s just say if Mr. Trump comes back to our neighborhood, we might pay him a visit… He is the real enemy of progressives this year.” [http://www.aol.com/article/2016/01/11/muslim-womans-silent-trump-protest-was-far-from-spontaneous/21295624/?icid=maing-grid7%7Chtmlws-main-bb%7Cdl21%7Csec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D-1343401184] It is clear that the Left and the Establishment know who is their real enemy in 2016.
The case of Ted Cruz is mixed. He has on the Senate floor, opposed some of the measures pushed by the GOP Establishment, and he is not a member of the exclusive congressional “club,” but he is still part and parcel of the GOP/ Neocon “movement” fabric. The problem here is that the GOP ceased years ago to be a true vehicle for traditional conservatism nationally. Rather, its fundamental ideological praxis and its basic progressivism are shared by its supposed enemies over on the Left. Accordingly, as we have seen in so many practical applications, this leads only to continued surrender and the ongoing slide of this country into the morass of inevitable politically-correct progressivism, which most all of the GOP candidates buy into.
Certainly, Ted Cruz is disliked by many of the elites, looked down on as a parvenu, but the Establishment would, if very reluctantly, prefer him (holding their collective noses, perhaps) to Trump, and the reason—if you read what they have written, or listen to them on the air—is that they instinctively realize that Trump would very likely re-shape the Republican Party and dislodge the corrupt, establishmentarian Mainstream Conservatives/Neocons and GOP elites who have enjoyed their rich sinecures and positions for so many years, all the while the nation has continued to descend into what John Milton called “the slough of Despond”—decay and corruption galore.
Neoconservative publicists and thought-shapers, like Bill Kristol and George Will, literally hate Donald Trump. Will, especially, has written with a venom and unrestrained passion that even for him is unaccustomed. His latest anti-Trump philippic appeared in the National Review on December 23, 2015. [http://www.nationalreview.com/article/428906/donald-trump-threat-republican-party ]. Weekly Standard editor Kristol has suggested that if Trump were the GOP standard bearer in 2016, the Establishment might launch a third party effort. As the editor of the Neocon organ tweeted out on December 21, 2016, “Crowd-sourcing: Name of the new party we’ll have to start if Trump wins the GOP nomination? Suggestions welcome at email@example.com.”
Trump has continued to lead the Republican pack, even pad his lead in the polls. Thus, one of the latest desperation tactics in this power politics game on the part of a few members of the GOP Establishment was evident on Fox News’s “Special Report with Bret Baier,” Thursday night, January 21, as panelists, including Charles Krauthammer and Nina Easton of Fortune magazine whose utter contempt for Trump was so readily visible recently, now appear to want to cozy up to the New York billionaire, and criticize Cruz. The immediate hope was clearly to rattle some hard core, anti-Establishment Trump supporters, cast some doubts, and peel them away over to Cruz, and thus strengthen the second-place Cruz to the point that he could neutralize Trump’s strong lead. The strategy here was simple: destroy your real enemy by appearing to embrace that enemy. That way, a Marco Rubio, or perhaps a Chris Christie, or even Jeb or Kasich, might slip through and become a real player. After all, these latter four are their real candidates.
But just as this strategy seemed to blossom, Rich Lowry’s National Review assembled a group of twenty-two Neocons/GOP Establishment writers to launch a massive, multi-focused, and vicious attack on Trump and his lack of what they termed “conservative” credentials, at least as they see it. Among the writers we find the usual zealous globalist and egalitarian advocates, including Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz (these two, sons of two of the ex-Marxist founders of neoconservatism), Andrew McCarthy, Cal Thomas (the Neocon Evangelical), and the George Soros-supported Southern Baptist Russell Moore. Each author penned a short assault on Trump and his lack of “conservative” orthodoxy, reading him out of “movement conservatism.” Moore summed up much of their charges, condemning “Trump’s vitriolic–and often racist and sexist–language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others…” (January 21, 2016). That such leftist-sounding language should appear in what was once considered the premiere conservative magazine in the United States, should come as no surprise. After all, under Lowry and his team at National Review has endorsed same sex marriage as “conservative” and no longer resembles the journal began by William F. Buckley. Clearly, the strategy to stop Trump involves both attacks by some neocon thought-leaders on his conservative bona fides, while others seem to accept his inevitability. And, equally evident is that the real intended recipient of these double-edged initiatives would be a Marco Rubio, or perhaps a Christie or even Jeb Bush.
In some ways, their attempt to expel and silence Trump is reminiscent of earlier efforts to rid their movement of any elements that they deemed undesirable or that dared suggest that Neocon dogma is the only acceptable version. It is exactly what they did to members of the older conservatism. They continue to fail miserably to understand Donald Trump’s strong appeal, not just to those who think of themselves as grass roots conservatives, but to a broader, more populist and nationalist cross-section of Americans.
The leaders of the neocon/mainstream conservative movement believe that even if Cruz is dangerous and not “one of them,” the financial and political links they have and would extend, would make him more amenable to their influence. That, in itself, is a major fact that must be considered this year.
It is true that recently Ted Cruz has sounded in his campaign much like the non-conformist Trump, that is, he appears to have copied or taken some of the issues that Trump has raised and attempted to make them his own. I applaud this, but I also have some serious questions about his sincerity.
As a movement conservative purist, Cruz could fit comfortably within the Mainstream Conservative institutions as they already exist. Indeed, these institutions are basically designed to handle naive “evangelical Christians” that the Neocons actually despise. That Cruz represents this group, far from threatening the Neocons, reassures them of a basic institutional compatibility (despite their personal loathing for Cruz and general contempt for evangelicals). It is less clear that the existing Mainstream Conservative apparatus (think tanks, publications, institutes, etc.) would so smoothly accommodate a Trump presidency. It would require a far more significant alteration than a Cruz presidency, and pose more of a threat to the entrenched power and interests behind these institutions.
A fascinating case of this Establishment “choosing the lesser evil” occurred on Thursday, January 14, at the Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, South Carolina. It was reported by Rush Limbaugh on his radio program on January 15:
“I have an incredible story here last night — and, by the way, just to give you a little bit of inside data, if you watched the debate last night, did you hear a lot of boos for Trump? Did you wonder about that? Well, you knew where it was coming? Where was it coming from? (…) It might have been the Bush camp, but I’ll tell you where the boo-birds were coming from. They were coming from North Carolina. The North Carolina state GOP bused a bunch of people down there and their express purpose was to try to show that there is no massive support for Trump. They wanted to do some damage. They are grudgingly accepting Ted Cruz now. But can you go back just maybe three, four weeks? How many of you remember the Republican establishment embracing Ted Cruz, promoting Ted Cruz, thinking Ted Cruz would be the solution? I mean, it didn’t happen, did it? But it has worked out that way.” (emphasis added)
Another example of this “lesser evil” opting for Cruz came on ABC’s Sunday This Week, January 17, 2016. After panelist E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post recounted that the Republican base was greatly disillusioned with the Establishment and its abject failure for so long to oppose the Left, George Stephanopoulos turned to well-placed Republican consultant and senior Jeb Bush strategist, Sara Fagen:
“STEPHANOPOULOS: But so let me put that question to you. As I said, you did work for President George W. Bush. As you talk to your colleagues, your former colleagues, people in the top of the Republican Party, if they’re forced to choose between Trump and Cruz, who do they choose? FAGEN: Well, I think they would, I think, support Ted.”
And who can forget South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s personal attack on Trump for his “divisive” politics and the need to resist the “siren call of the angriest voters” as central to the Republican “response” to President Obama’s State of the Union address? Haley spoke for the GOP/Neocon Establishment in singling Trump out for specific criticism. As a revealing essay published by The Hill details, “Trump has been at the center of the storm.” [http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/265835-gop-front-runners-defy-autopsy-of-party-defeats]Haley was selected for her role by Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator Mitch McConnell, and no doubt her remarks were vetted by them and their staffs prior to their delivery. Despite their disdain for Cruz, the real enemy of the Establishment is Donald Trump.
I am aware of Trump’s history, his checkered past, his divorces. But the fact remains, Trump is the only candidate who is not actually controlled by a lobby or pressure group. His campaign is self-financed. Indeed, he knows, in many cases personally, many of the major money-bags, hedge fund magnates, and heads of those pressure groups, and he publicly rejects their contributions…and their direction and advice. For me, this is an extremely important development and a signal issue in 2016. I think a large group—millions—of Americans really do want someone who is not beholden to such Super PACs, pressure groups, and lobbies. Trump is, in fact, the only such candidate who comes close to that qualification this year.
Cruz has raised the issue of “New York values” and implied that Trump is tricking voters and that he actually espouses liberal views, citing an interview given back in 1999. Ted Cruz’s campaign has launched a series of TV ads in Iowa of accusing Trump of being, in fact, a “liberal Democrat,” and, for proof, dredging up an interview that the Donald gave back seventeen years ago, in which he expressed views which would certainly be anathema to any traditionalist conservative. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Seventeen years ago? How many of us have not changed, at least to some degree, our views on various topics in seventeen years? Remember Ronald Reagan? For most of his life he was a New Deal-Roosevelt Democrat, but by 1968 he had altered his philosophy. Conversions are, indeed, possible, and, in fact, the Christian faith not only lauds them, but teaches that they happen all the time. Indeed, if “the abortion doctor,” Bernard Nathanson—a co-founder of NARAL–can come full circle on the right-to-life, cannot Donald Trump? And if (former) Democrat loyalist Ronald Reagan can become standard bearer for conservatives, why deny the possibility of conversion to the Donald?
In reality, both Trump and Ted Cruz state their opposition to “liberal” New York values, and both say as much on the campaign trail. Trump has been very open about his change of heart, his conversion. He admits that his life is an open book, that he now disavows some things he previously believed, while Cruz offers himself as a true-blue, consistent champion of grass roots conservatism. But is that narrative completely valid?
Let’s take a closer look at Cruz’s effort to grasp the mantle of Christian knight-errant, unstained by “New York values.” The fact is that Cruz depends on some heavy-hitting Wall Street donors, who will assuredly gain open access should he be elected. Can he, then, be truly independent of their wishes and eventual demands should he enter the Oval Office? Also very worrying is whether domestic lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, foreign policy lobbies connected to the Middle East, or other powerful interests, will exert their pound of flesh should he reach the White House. He has, for instance, heavily courted the Las Vegas gambling kingpin and zealous Zionist, billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is a high-powered Wall Street investment banker, a manager with Goldman Sachs, and Cruz has strong on-going financial connections with Wall Street, as well. His Super PACs have received substantial political contributions from Wall Street and Establishment elites, including $11 million from hedge-fund kingpin, Robert Mercer. [See detailed expose’ by Francis S. Sellers in The Washington Post, Oct. 6, 2015, How a reclusive computer programmer became a GOP money powerhouse]. And he continues to mine the New York financial elite for financial support. His top financial donors between 2011 and 2016 include Goldman Sachs, Woodforest National Bank, and Morgan Lewis LLP. Indeed, he received in direct contributions $2.5 million from corporate oil, gas, and investment and security interests.
Not only that, but recall that Ted Cruz has emphasized his opposition to such targets as same sex marriage and “the gay rights lobby.” Yet The New York Post [by Robert George, Jan. 18, 2016] and other sources have reported that he has solicited large campaign contributions from prominent gay figures who form and shape precisely those “New York values” he so resolutely condemns and rails against in his campaign. Indeed, he promised prominent gay New Yorkers that, if elected president, he would not push opposition to same sex marriage. [Ted Cruz Is Guest of Two Gay Businessmen, by Maggie Haberman, New York Times, April 23, 2015] Does not Cruz’s present line of attack strike us as a bit hypocritical? Does it not remind us of those garden-variety politicians who solemnly promise one thing to a Tea Party audience, but then assure more socially liberal big donors “don’t worry, it ain’t gonna happen.”
Thus, I submit, Cruz’s attack is bogus and, in some ways, dishonest. Trump has steadfastly affirmed a Rightist agenda, on gun rights, on right-to-life (and defunding Planned Parenthood), on same sex marriage, on illegal immigration (and ending birthright citizenship for illegals), on repealing Obamacare, on halting unfair trade/giveaway deals with China (and other countries), on halting Muslim immigration until we fix our broken immigration system, on talking man-to-man to President Putin and finding a real solution to problems in the Middle East, and much more. In so doing he goes beyond the accustomed narrative of “mainstream conservatism.” He has connected with millions of formerly tuned-out voters and new voters with a more populist and nationalist vision, and any true conservative renaissance desperately needs that if things are to begin to turn around, and if the smelly Augean stables of the GOP “Mainstream Conservative” Establishment can be cleaned out.
Certainly, on a personal level Trump was not the candidate to whom I was at first attracted. Yes, he supported Democrats in the past, indeed, he contributed to some of them. But, he was part of that culture back then, and he was playing, necessarily, their game and by their rules. And it is precisely that knowledge of who those folks are and how they operate, what they have done to this country, and how they play the influence and power game, that gives him much better insight and a real sense of what must be radically undone if any part of this country be salvaged.
The essential question for me is this: as much as I might respect Ted Cruz’s senate career, I sincerely don’t think he would be able to withstand or take on the powerful Establishment in the same no-holds-barred and independent manner as the Donald. I don’t think Cruz would dislodge the Neocon intellectual stranglehold over the GOP policy; I think he would end up accepting and confirming it.
Other objections to Trump imply that he is ignorant, or doesn’t know what he’s doing, or lacks the good graces to be president. Simply put, any man who has created business enterprises in dozens of countries worth tens of billions of dollars, who has created thousands of good paying jobs (with only four chapter 11 bankruptcy re-organizations for his many operations over thirty years) has got to have some intelligence and savvy. Yes, he gained degrees at the Wharton School and an Ivy League education.
What is needed in this nation now is dramatic, even radical change. What is needed is not someone who will simply raise Hell, but someone who will be more like a bull loosed in a terrified china shop. Half measures and regular politicians, “mainstream conservatives” like Ted Cruz, I don’t think can pull it off. Trump, I believe, just maybe can.
I certainly realize that various folks will differ in their appraisals, for various reasons. A goodly number don’t like Trump’s history or his persona (or his, at times, salty language). Others think Cruz is a better “conservative” or a more sincere “Christian,” but I would posit that the old conservative movement that we grew up with has basically become nugatory, run aground and corrupt. Present day “Mainstream Conservatism” reminds me more of a Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, transforming itself into something that upends what was once its essential nature.
And, lastly, regarding support for a straight-down Christian: lest we forget, God may use any vessel, even an imperfect one, should He choose to effect change. Don Juan of Austria, who vanquished the Muslims at Lepanto and saved Europe from Islamic invasion for one-hundred years, was not a saint, but who would not say that he served God’s purpose as champion of Christendom in forcing back the massive Islamic wave of 1571?
So, I repeat: what we need this year, a year critical to the very fragile existence of what is left of the republic, are drastic measures by someone who is truly outside the tweedle-dee/tweedle-dum kleptocratic duopoly that has dominated American political discourse for decades.