Donald Trump won fair and square and, as Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, is owed an open mind and a chance to lead. So, conservatives like me who have been critical of Trump must think of how to make a success of the coming years of Republican rule.
It begins by recognizing Trump’s great political instincts. As Paul Ryan said in his morning-after olive-branch news conference, Trump heard “a voice out in this country that no one else heard,” a working class ruined by rapid technological and economic change.
One of the principal tasks for the now-dominant GOP is to craft a governing agenda that alters their lives and prospects. It was those left behind by the globalized digital economy that delivered Trump the presidency.
But this election was not just about the social/economic divide. It was also about the ideological divide between left and right. The most overlooked factor in the election is the widespread dissatisfaction with Obamaism.
It tends to be overlooked because President Obama is personally popular. A charismatic campaigner, he wins when he’s on the ballot. But when he’s not – 2010, 2014, 2016 – Democrats get shellacked.
The problem is not with Obama, but with his policies. Before each losing election Obama said his name wasn’t on the ballot but his policies – and now legacy – were. The voters showed what they thought of his policies and legacy.
From his presidency’s start, Obama overreached ideologically, most of all with Obamacare. The spike in Obamacare premiums and deductibles two weeks before November 8 proved a particularly damaging reminder of Obamaism’s failures.
Hence the other main task for the GOP: Undo Obamaism – first his executive orders, then his legislative work, starting with Obamacare.
The promise of a Trump presidency is that, if it can work with a GOP Congress, it could turn Obamaism into a historical parenthesis. Republicans could enact a Reaganite agenda that has been incubating while in exile from the White House.
Beyond undoing, there’s now the prospect of doing. Serious border enforcement, including a wall, for example. That’s not only good in itself, it would offer leverage in a grand bargain that would include eventual legalization of resident illegal immigrants, an idea supported (according to exit polls) by over seven in 10 voters.
Another given is a reshaping of the rudderless Supreme Court with the nomination of a conservative justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia.
During the campaign, Trump’s populism often clashed with traditional Reaganism. The key to GOP success is to try to achieve an accommodation, if not a fusion. Onto the ideological Reaganite core of smaller government and strict constitutionalism must be added a serious soecieconomic concern for the grievances of the the long-suffering, long-neglected working class.
If Reaganite conservatives want to head off wrongheaded solutions – such as massive tariffs and trade wars – they must accept such measures as federal wage subsidies and targeted restraints on trade. This involves giving up some economic efficiency. But the goal is to achieve a measure of social peace and restore dignity and security to a stressed, sliding working class. Some might even call it compassionate conservatism.
The key to a Trump presidency’s success is for the party’s Reaganite and populist elements to be willing to advance each other’s goals even at the cost of ideological purity. This will require far-reaching negotiations between the White House and Congress. Republicans have gained control of all the political branches. They have the means to deliver. They now have to show they can.