The conscience of a conservative in the age of Trump


Eric Cunningham

Like many people, I didn’t support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, however, unlike most of them, I’m a conservative and a registered Republican.

I am not even particularly moderate either, especially when it comes to fiscal issues. I fall well on the right end of the political spectrum, perhaps even beyond what many in my party would want.

However, to people like myself, from the very beginning it was apparent that Trump wasn’t what we needed in a president.

His policy positions ranged from the bizarre, such as Mexico paying for a wall on the southern border, to downright cruel, such as suggesting the killing of families of terrorists.

He spread conspiracy theories such as birtherism and anti-vaccination, as well as admiration for dictators such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the few issues you could find a coherent stance on, it was obvious that he wasn’t conservative: he opposed free trade and supported universal healthcare.

The latter stance was something that John McCormack of The Weekly Standard noted Trump defended during the first Republican presidential primary debate.

I assumed that Republicans would select any of the other candidates who were more qualified and had a record of advancing conservatism, as opposed to Trump’s bizarre history of being, at various points, a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent and even a member of Ross Perot’s short-lived Reform Party.

Unfortunately, I was wrong, and watched as the unthinkable happened and he was elected president.

This leads us to today, to Trump’s recent rally in Phoenix, Arizona. Bryan Logan of Business Insider said that Trump targeted both senators from Arizona, specifically Senator Jeff Flake, and said he was “weak on borders [and] weak on crime.”

This criticism is no surprise due to Flake’s frequent criticism of the president, yet to conservatives like myself it is just another disappointing action in a presidency that has been worse than we assumed.

The effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, while Trump stood on the sidelines doing nothing to either improve the bill or get more senators on board.

Tax reform has gone nowhere and Trump’s stated opposition to entitlement reform and support of more military funding means we likely won’t see anything close to a balanced budget.

Venezuela is approaching dictatorship, Russia is working to destroy the West and North Korea is nearing the capacity to conduct a missile strike on the mainland.

While Trump can find the time to attack people like Flake, a stalwart conservative graded highly by most conservative groups, he can’t seem to, without equivocation, condemn white nationalist groups unless he has it on his teleprompter.

Trump is an embarrassment for someone representing the party of Lincoln, and a disgrace to the legacy of Republican leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole, who in their time condemned the types of groups we saw in Charlottesville.

During Reagan’s address at the NAACP’s 72nd Annual Convention, he called the beliefs of hate groups “senseless” and “perverted” and threatened to prosecute them if they engaged in violence or intimidation.

The Trump administration is clearly, by any measure, a disappointment to all but the most cynical on the right: the people who don’t care what the president does as long as he angers their political opponents.

So, what is the way forward for conservatives?

It is led by individuals such as Senator Flake, a decent man who unapologetically advocates conservatism without hate and vitriol. On his personal Twitter, Flake pointedly said, “We can’t claim to be the party of Lincoln if we equivocate in condemning white supremacy.”

It is in looking back to the legacy of our party’s first president, as well as the Enlightenment values our nation was founded on: the natural rights of all individuals, regardless of color or ethnic heritage.

While our country has been less than perfect in our embrace of these ideas, they have driven the best aspects of our history and we should use them to make our great country even better.

It is in following the example of William F. Buckley, who Alvin Felzenberg of National Review noted expelled the paranoid, nativist John Birch Society from the emerging conservative movement.

It is in presenting a positive vision for the future rather than one driven by fear or hate and presenting an agenda rooted in fact-based arguments rather than hysteria, and one that recognizes and embraces our history while acknowledging the need to grow and change policy as time goes on.

In other words: conservatives need to reclaim our legacy before it is too late.

Eric Cunningham is a senior journalism major, from Hickory, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @DEricCunningham.