Why Republicans Stick With Trump

It’s all the things he hasn’t done. On key issues, the president has come around to conservative positions.

393 Comments

 

The president and former rival Sen. Ted Cruz, June 5, 2017.
The president and former rival Sen. Ted Cruz, June 5, 2017. PHOTO: MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES

With each new controversy, Donald Trump’s opponents plead with Republicans to denounce him. Hasn’t Mr. Trump broken from GOP orthodoxy on free trade, immigration and entitlement reform? Not to mention the personal scandals and the never-ending tweets. Why do Republican leaders hesitate to rebuke him?

A shallow answer is politics: Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker both tangled with Mr. Trump, and it turned out to be political suicide. But to get a deeper answer, it’s instructive to examine what Mr. Trump hasn’t done. Since the campaign, Mr. Trump has abandoned many of his previous positions and embraced traditional conservative views.

• Spending and taxes. During the election, Mr. Trump promised a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Some Republicans feared his first initiative on taking office would be a pork-laden spending package reminiscent of Barack Obama’s stimulus bill. They also worried he would cut a deal with Democrats to raise taxes. “I am willing to pay more,” Mr. Trump said in May 2016. “And do you know what? The wealthy are willing to pay more.” Instead, the reverse happened: There’s no infrastructure plan in sight, except for the border wall, and Mr. Trump signed a sweeping bill to reduce personal and corporate taxes.

• Court nominees. In 2015 candidate Trump said his sister, a liberal federal judge, would be a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice, though he claimed he had been joking. After Justice Antonin Scalia died, Mr. Trump decided to release a list of potential replacements. This was a central reason many conservatives voted for him. In appointing Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump made good on his promise. Since then, constitutionalists have cheered the quality and sheer quantity of his appointments to all levels of the judiciary.

• Abortion. In a successful effort to win the Iowa caucuses, Sen. Ted Cruz attacked Mr. Trump’s “New York values.” A Cruz TV ad showed Mr. Trump years earlier calling himself “pro-choice in every respect.” Yet President Trump has reinstated Reagan’s “Mexico City policy,” which prohibits federal funds from going to international groups that provide or promote abortions. Mr. Trump is also moving to require a hard division between abortion providers and clinics that take federal Title X funds, which would be a significant hit to Planned Parenthood.

• Israel. In February 2016, Mr. Trump claimed he would not take sides between Israel and the Palestinians, saying he would be “sort of a neutral guy.” Sen. Marco Rubio labeled this “an anti-Israel position.” Yet in December 2016, when the United Nations considered a resolution calling for an end to Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, Mr. Trump said it was “extremely unfair to all Israelis” and pressed the Obama administration to veto it. Then this year Mr. Trump made good on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. Time and again, he has proved to be a reliable ally for Israel.

• Guns. In a 2000 book, Mr. Trump wrote: “I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., earlier this year, President Trump did briefly suggest expanding background checks and raising the age limit to buy certain guns. But he quickly reverted to strong Second Amendment rhetoric, while saying that massacres could be prevented by fixing mental-health services and arming teachers.

• Health care. In 2015, candidate Trump told “60 Minutes” that his plan would provide universal health coverage paid for by the government. “I am going to take care of everybody,” he said. Campaigning in New Hampshire a few months later, he said Medicare could save an unrealistic $300 billion if the government negotiated with drug companies to lower prices. But as president, Mr. Trump has pursued more-conventional Republican policies, such as adding work requirements to Medicaid, expanding short-term insurance plans, and broadening association health plans.

• Defense. In a 2013 interview, Mr. Trump seemingly supported the sequestration cuts to defense spending—only complaining that, as “a very small percentage of the cuts that should be made,” sequestration wasn’t big enough. In 2015 he suggested, unworkably, that by eliminating waste he could strengthen the military while still reducing spending. Yet in his first address to Congress as president, he proposed a 10% increase to the Pentagon’s budget, which he later called “historic.”

It isn’t unusual for a politician to change positions. Unsurprisingly, voters tend to be more forgiving of flip-flops when they agree with the final result. This explains why Mr. Trump is forgiven for abandoning Republican orthodoxy on free trade and entitlement reform: those convictions were always held more by donors than voters. The same is true of support for “comprehensive immigration reform.” If he were to cross his party on issues like taxes, abortion or guns, it would be quite another story. But in the meantime, begging Republicans to ditch Mr. Trump is a waste of time.

Mr. Jindal served as governor of Louisiana, 2008-16, and was a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.