In my frequent battles with anti-Trumpers, I have noted two distinct lines of argument. One is that Donald Trump is really just a big government liberal whose policies are barely distinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s. The other is that Trump is so far outside the mainstream that Hillary is closer to traditional Republican thought. The remarkable thing about these competing arguments is that they are often made by the same people or outlets. Well, which is it? Is Trump a typical big government liberal, or is he radically outside the mainstream? I suspect that many rank and file NeverTrumpers believe the former, but the leadership fears the latter.
One of my frequent online foils, a self-described libertarian Republican, recently argued that Hillary is closer to traditional Republicanism (capital R) than is Trump. I agreed with him. The elites of both parties are basically status quo globalist neoliberals - pro-international trade agreements and the existing global economic order, pro-immigration and internationalist/interventionist on foreign policy. They argue around the edges, but they don’t fundamentally challenge the reigning bipartisan elite consensus. Trump is not a globalist neoliberal. He is an American economic nationalist, and has been for decades, and despite tough talk on Iran and ISIS for the GOP base, may be more of an America firster on foreign policy than he currently presents. The two positions would seem to logically flow together. In a very real sense, Hillary is actually closer to Mitt Romney, for example, than she is to Trump or than Trump is to Romney.
The same foil then argued days later, in the context of a libertarian Republican advocating for Gary Johnson, that there is no meaningful difference between Trump and Clinton. Well OK, although Johnson is very far from a plumb line libertarian, his implication was that on issues such as the security state, the drug war, taxes, spending, the minimum wage, entitlement reform, etc. that both are for “big government.” It’s true that Trump is not an ideological “small government” conservative or libertarian. He seems to have gut level instincts that actually coincide pretty closely with the mean position of the American electorate on many issue. There is a very real sense in which Trump is actually a manifestation of the radical center, which meshes with his flirtation with the Reform Party nomination in 2000, but the centrality of identity politics for much of the modern left only allows them to see a right-wing wrongthinker.
So depending on what dimension you are looking at it from, economic nationalist vs. globalist neoliberal or “big government” vs. “small government,” there is potentially some truth to both NeverTrump critiques, but intellectual honesty requires that you make which dimension you are evaluating from clear and, ideally, that you stick with one or the other. Picking and choosing which critique to use depending on which one best serves your purposes at the time is disingenuous.
So make up your mind NeverTrumpers. Is Trump a big government liberal who is going to govern in much the same way that Hillary would, or is he a radical nationalist who is going to wreak havoc on the ruling elite consensus global financial and foreign policy order? I am firmly convinced that the “thought leaders” of NeverTrump, who are clearly rooting for a Trump defeat whether they admit it or not, fear the latter, not the former. Fine, if they want to make the case for the reigning globalist neo-liberal paradigm, then make it, but make it honestly. They should spare us all the pretext of their concern about the small government conservative or libertarian agenda.