It’s always been tough to define conservatism.
Often, when candidates pledged a conservative agenda, that would be enough – to contend.
For instance, Sen. Mitt Romney characterized himself in 2012, when he ran against Barack Obama, as a “severely conservative” candidate. Severely conservative? That’s what he said. It didn’t work.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain, running again against Obama, also called himself conservative. He even chose as his vice-presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to bolster his ticket’s conservative credentials. Again, it didn’t work.
President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were all characterized, fairly, as neo-conservative – “neo-cons.”
The one exception during those decades was President Ronald Reagan, who won landslide victories in 1980 and 1984. He was genuinely conservative.
Donald J. Trump fully embraced Reagan – and Trump won the 2016 presidential race.
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Yet Trump did something different from Reagan. He didn’t embrace Reagan’s advice to “never speak ill about a fellow Republican.” He spoke ill about all of them. And it worked for him.
But was that the difference? Hardly.
At first, Trump seemed like an unlikely candidate to redefine conservative politics. In 2016, he was pilloried as insufficiently conservative by some quarters of the GOP after supporting tax hikes on the wealthy and pledging to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Voters didn’t think of Trump as particularly conservative.
But Trump was a very different kind of candidate. And he had a much different kind of agenda.
What was that? For one thing, he openly spoke ill of most Democrats – especially his opponent, Hillary Clinton, who acted like her victory was inevitable, a fait accompli. This attitude changed the political dynamics of the campaign. It gave Trump a chance to win and show America what he could do as president.
And then all hell broke loose.
After delivering the most blisteringly conservative inaugural speech on Jan. 20, 2017, Trump left former Republican President George W. Bush whispering in former Democrat first lady Michele Obama’s ear, that “was some weird sh–.” That speech was the turning point.
What did he say? He was brutally honest.
“Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump said.
He continued: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government, while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs, and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment – it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today, and everyone watching, all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.”
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country, will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens a different reality exists. Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
You should read the speech. It’s truly and radically conservative.
This is the day Trump redefined what it means to be a new kind conservative for a new age.
He was taking on Democrats and Republicans – that’s what Bush recognized in his barn-yard slur.
Trump went on to accomplish so much in his first term. Then the Democrats made a tragic error for the country, virtually turning us into a tin-pot dictatorship – cheating massively in Trump’s re-election bid in 2020. They also turned him into a nearly unstoppable force in 2024. No one will believe it if Joe Biden “wins” the next election.
There will be many Republicans running. But the American people are solidly pro-Trump. America is a much more conservative nation now – just as Trump redefined it.
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