Donald Trump: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown

It’s still early, and despite his current lead in the polls, there’s a long and arduous row to hoe if Donald Trump is to make it to Cleveland in 2016. 

But at this point, what can we really make of the man?

The Good

It’s easy to understand why many conservatives are excited about Trump.  First, he’s something of a Washington outsider, and that certainly helps when Congress has a 15% job approval rating.  Second, he’s perceived as a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of guy who doesn’t mince words or take any guff from the PC attack dogs in the media.

Conservatives are sick to death of the manner in which the left barricades itself in a bastion of political correctness to escape legitimate criticism.  Trump’s brash rhetorical salvos have certainly had the positive effect of damaging that stronghold, however ungraceful one might deem his efforts. 

Consider the following scenario in which the media, in a standard sort of fashion, sets him up for self-immolation on the PC pyre.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” weeks ago, he was delivered a typically left-laced question: “Hillary Clinton released her tax returns, and it was revealed that she paid almost 40% of her income in taxes.  Are you going to release your tax returns, and what do you think that percentage will be for you?”

Without missing a beat, Trump responded to the loaded question:

Well, I may very well tie that to a release of Hillary’s [potentially criminal] emails, I may very well do that.  […]  I fight like hell to pay as little as possible for two reasons.  Number one, I’m a businessman.  And that’s the way you’re supposed to do it, and you put the money back into your company and your employees, and all of that.  But the other reason is that I hate the way the government spends our taxes.  I hate the way they waste our money.  Trillions and trillions of dollars of waste, and I hate it.

Republicans tend to shrink and offer babbling defenses when accused of not giving their fair share to finance a redistributive welfare state.  Trump’s response here, on the other hand, is perfect.  Rather than highlight and lend credence to the manufactured assault on his own character, Trump took the opportunity to highlight the doubtful character of the Democrats’ current frontrunner, which is obvious to millions of Americans. (This is a largely the source of Democrats’ current woes.)  He then reiterated something that most Americans know is true -- government squanders trillions of our dollars, along with our grandchildren’s as-yet-unearned dollars, to finance political gambits meant to expand government’s role in our lives.

Trump speaks the conservatives’ disdain for the Washington status quo in plain terms.  Throw in that Trump heavily invokes the need for Obamacare’s repeal and staunch border defense, the two primary issues which won Republicans control of both chambers of Congress in 2014, and there’s a lot for a conservative to like there.

The Bad

Does Donald Trump’s past, or the character that his past suggests, matter at all in the context of the fact that people really seem to like some of the things he’s saying, and the way that he says it? 

If the answer to that question is no, it presents a bitter irony that may not reflect well on Trump’s staunchest conservative supporters.  We conservatives have spent years citing various facts about Barack Obama’s dubious past as proof positive that he is unfit to lead this country, and we did it long before his presidency proved that fact.  His upbringing by devout socialists, his association with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, his spiritual tutelage under black supremacist and deeply anti-Semitic Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his professed devotion to a single-payer socialist healthcare system, his closely-knit associations with terrorist supporters and jihadi apologists, and his defense of abortion to such an extent that he argued in the Illinois Senate that post-birth abortion, aka infanticide, aka murder, should be nice and legal.

Donald Trump is by no means comparable, at least in a conservative’s eye, to this horrific evidence we witness in Obama’s past.  But we can verify that his previous positions on amnesty, abortion, gun control, and healthcare were quite different than his current stances, and that he was a donor to the Clinton family and Democrats in general, to the tune of over $500,000.  He was an opportunist who sought personal gains by buying political favors.  He unabashedly admits this fact. 

Are we to believe that he is so incredibly different now?

The point is, all the historical evidence suggested that Barack Obama was a self-centered rabble-rouser and community organizing internationalist with very little political experience.  We got what we should have expected of him.  A divided nation, weapons-grade uranium in the Middle Eastern powder keg, and the most flaccid economic recovery since the New Deal. 

If all the historical evidence suggests that Donald Trump is a celebrity businessman with vacillating personal values on key social and political issues like abortion, immigration, gun control, and even taxation of personal wealth, should we expect anything more than an opportunist politician who will vacillate in the future on these core issues we conservatives hold as vital?

The Unknown   

The truth is, there is very little clarity about Trump the candidate, or about his specific policy ideas beyond his trademark rude braggadocio, a few compelling things he’s said recently, and the fact that his past doesn’t paint him anywhere near the bullseye candidate that a conservative voter might like.

Farcical “debates” like the recent Fox sideshow do little to enhance our understanding of the man.

We can only hope that the reality TV style coverage of Trump’s candidacy subsides, and that Americans are able to honestly observe, give honest criticism, and thereby select a candidate of their choosing.

But the scary thing is, Trump’s supporters don’t seem to like hearing honest criticism of their guy.  In the Trump faithful, there appears to be a frightening devotion in place of what should be looming questions.

But I fervently believe -- I have to believe -- that conservatives are not star-struck simpletons who will vote for a candidate on the grounds of celebrity status and some pleasant sounding rhetoric.  I have to believe that, because I have to believe we are better than the sad gaggle that voted for Obama on nothing more than those very grounds.

Trump will seal his own fate, with or without the media circuses that will ensue as networks look to capitalize on his celebrity.  But ultimately, if we can continue to do no better than elect a guy who loves the media limelight, who is all the while being given airtime by the media for its own purpose of promoting his celebrity, the republic will be truly lost.      

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.