Democrats and never-Trumpers keep warning that if President Donald Trump wins reelection, he will only grow more dictatorial. The more realistic risk is that he will shift leftward, or as the pundit class puts it, “grow in office.” The two announcements he made in the past week are a worrisome sign.
“Growing in office” is always the concern when a conservative spends too much time in Washington. Eventually, the nonstop pressure to conform to the government-centered swamp tends to overtake even the most rock-ribbed conservatives. Once they give in, they’re treated like the prodigal son. All grown up.
For example, when asked in early 2018 if Trump had grown in office, Sen. Susan Collins, a textbook establishment Republican if there ever was one, responded by saying: “I believe he’s moderated his position on a few issues.”
Which is why we took solace when Barack Obama said in his speech at this year’s Democratic convention that “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
We can only hope that Obama is right. So far, Trump has been remarkably immune to “growing in office.” If anything, he has become more conservative since winning the election – something practically unheard of in modern history.
Remember, Trump was hardly a movement conservative when he announced his candidacy. This is a guy who once said “I am pro-choice in every respect,” “Hillary Clinton is a terrific woman,” and “I’m very liberal when it comes to health care.” He’d given truckloads of money in the past to Democrats such as Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, Rahm Emmanuel and Charlie Rangel.
During the primaries, he slammed conservative efforts to reform entitlements, saying “I will also defend Social Security and Medicare from the efforts of the Republicans to privatize both.”
At one point in the 2016 primaries, Trump called himself a “common-sense conservative” – a phrase alarmingly similar to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservative.”
National Review complained that Trump was “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist.” Investor’s Business Daily editorialized that “Judging by his past — embracing Big Government and high taxes, giving cash to Hillary Clinton — Trump is a liberal non-Republican.”
But as president, Trump has scored more wins for conservatives than even President Ronald Reagan.
On the economy, his Reaganesque tax cuts and deregulation turbocharged an economy that every expert said was on a declining path. He’s appointed more conservative judges to the bench – 205 – in less than four years than Reagan or W. each did in eight. On the environment, Trump ditched the terrible Paris Agreement and cut back Environmental Protection Agency regulations. On immigration, he’s been building his wall, while taking smart steps to eliminate loopholes that incentivize illegal border crossers.
Where George W. Bush lamented our “addiction to oil,” Trump unapologetically championed oil and gas development, turning the U.S. into the largest crude oil producer in the world. He stood firm with Israel and did what other presidents only promised – move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
While Republicans lost their nerve on repealing ObamaCare, Trump continues to argue in court for its undoing, while working at the edges of the health care law to provide families with more low-cost insurance options.
The Family Research Council praised Trump on social issues, saying he’d taken “significant action on issues of concern to social conservatives – life, family, and religious liberty.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, summed up the president’s record this way: “Trump’s successes in reducing the cost of taxes and regulations, rebuilding our military, avoiding wars of choice and changing the courts rival those of all previous Republican presidents.”
The fact that supposedly conservative never-Trumpers refuse to acknowledge any of this, or dismiss it as immaterial, is truly bizarre. That is until you realize how much they’ve “grown.”
What worries us isn’t that a second Trump term will live down to the mindless fears of the left or these never-Trumpers. It’s that Trump will, over the next four years, start “growing in office.”
We are seeing some signs of that already. In just the past week, Trump made two big announcements that should worry conservatives.
Last Thursday, he signed an order extending the moratorium on offshore drilling and extended it to Georgia and South Carolina.
This runs directly contrary to plans he announced in early 2018, which would have vastly expanded offshore drilling in areas off the East Coast that had been off-limits to energy producers for decades.
Back then, Trump was arguing, correctly, that “Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources including abundant offshore oil and natural gas resources, but the federal government has kept 94% of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production. This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in wealth.”
When he announced plans to reverse course last week, he said the drilling ban “does so much for the state of Florida. It’s an order that I’m so proud to sign,” declaring himself “a great environmentalist.”
Then on Sunday, Trump signed an executive order requiring Medicare to consider prices paid by other industrialized countries – most of which have socialist health care systems – when setting the prices it will pay for pharmaceutical drugs.
Dozens of free-market conservative organizations – from Norquist’s group to the American Conservative Union to FreedomWorks – signed a letter blasting Trump’s order, saying that it adopts “the same socialist health care policies that you have promised to fight against” and that importing price controls from these countries “will slow medical innovation, threaten American jobs, and undermine criticism of single-payer systems.”
We can only hope that these recent decisions were driven by campaign consultants who think they will boost Trump’s reelection chances, not an indication of things to come. Trump did, after all, lay out a second-term agenda during the Republican convention that reads like a conservative wish list.
Still, assuming Trump wins – and God help us if he doesn’t – conservatives will need to make sure he doesn’t prove Obama wrong over the next four years.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board