In evaluating Trump one needs to look at both the negatives — and the positives; both are necessary for making a proper evaluation. Even on many of Trump’s negatives, Trump is mixed.
Take the claim that Trump is “anti-science.” The Trump administration’s policies are not anti-science in regards to energy or the “settled science” of climate change. For example, in the domain of energy, according to Alex Epstein, Trump is the pro-energy candidate, and Biden “will destroy American industry, impoverish American consumers, and jeopardize American security.” As far as I am aware, Trump also dropped out of any UN/EU climate change programs. As a policy that is “pro-science.”
Take immigration: Trump is morally wrong to carry out the traditional Democrat policy of restricting immigrant visas to “save American jobs,” but he is right to secure the borders (see Amy Peikoff “Immigration, Borders and Screening under Capitalism“), and he is right on the importance of enforcing the law, as Harry Binswanger writes:
Selective enforcement of the law amounts to no law. Hitler could have killed all the Jews by announcing that he would not prosecute anyone who murdered a Jew.
Take trade and IP: One of Trump’s worst policies economically is tariff protectionism, as Raymond Niles correctly points out in President Donald Trump is a Classic Mercantilist:
Trump is a classic mercantilist. A mercantilist favors exporters over importers and the use of government tariffs to promote (or “protect”) less efficient, but politically favored “national champion” companies against their foreign competitors.
Interestingly, one implication of this insight into tariffs is that a country is better off if it unilaterally reduces tariffs on goods even if its trading partners do not equivalently reduce tariffs and instead maintain them at a higher level.
The United Kingdom followed this policy when it unilaterally lowered and eliminated major tariffs in the 19th century even when its trading partners often did not. The result was prosperity across the world as global trade expanded.
Keeping Nile’s arguments in mind, one insight to Trump’s perspective, according to free-trade “supply-side” economist Laffer, is that Trump sees tariffs as the only “bargaining chip” to force Communist China to open its borders to U.S. goods. According to Laffer:
“He’s said to me personally that he has very little leverage except by threatening tariffs and I have to trust him that he’s telling me the truth….I believe deep down that he’s a free trader….Any owner of an international business has to be a free trader if they know how to do business and he does.”
Trump also used this as a bargaining chip to stop the violation of the rights of U.S. patent holders. (One counterpoint argument is that certain national industries need protection for national security. I think that is a legitimate issue, but I do not believe tariffs are the way to handle it.)
Take the media: According to C. Bradley Thompson, Trump’s attacks on the “Deep State” — which includes the media — are of major historical importance. Another positive “Trumpian” policy is increasing freedom in schools and education. Schools are the Regressive Left’s dominant source of intellectual power — Trump has broadsided them with his support for educational alternatives that increase liberty, ranging from charter schools and school vouchers to tax credits.
As for “save the welfare state for Americans,” opposition to the welfare state politically would be political suicide — unless everyone in America reads and grasps Atlas Shrugged and Don Watkin’s excellent Rooseveltcare: How Social Security Is Sabotaging the Land of Self-Reliance.
And let’s not forget the Supreme Court. Writing in The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit” on why Ayn Rand supported Nixon:
“There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his faults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.”
Trump does not exist in a vacuum. What Americans have are two package deals. The choice is not Trump or John Galt; it’s Trump or the “Harris Administration with Joe Biden as President.”
Trump may not be a laissez-faire capitalist. He may be an ogre. But many Americas do see him as representing the side of Americanism and Capitalism. Trump supporters use the words “Americanism” and “capitalism” as something to aspire to even though many of them do not fully understand the full impact of their meaning. Democrats use these words as curses or at best in apologies.
In the present climate, a Trump loss might only be seen as a broadside for Americanism, individualism, and capitalism by a tiny minority of “Never Trumpers.”
It will not necessarily be seen as a broadside against the vices mentioned above.
It will not necessarily be seen as a broadside against “foreigners-taking-our-jobs” as Democrats want the union vote.
It will not necessarily be seen as “saving the welfare state for Americans,” as Democrats will do the same and double down on it.
It will not necessarily be seen as against “spend, spend, spend,” as the Democrats will reward every (mostly Democratic) governor, city, and state that has enforced lockdowns and enabled rioters.
It will not necessarily be seen as defending “Tech companies and the media because they are biased,” but will further strengthen the Democrats’ control of the leash.
It will be seen as a win against the policies of Trump that are virtues.
For a large number of people, it will be seen as a victory against Americanism (however poorly understood), individualism (however poorly understood), and Capitalism (however poorly understood).
Many of the better Republicans support Trump not because they approve of the “Trumpism” described above, but for the reasons “Never Trumper” Daniel Pipes states in “A Reluctant but Unhesitating Vote for Donald Trump“:
I signed an open letter committing to “working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted” to the presidency and wrote many articles lambasting Trump. I left the Republican party on his nomination and voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson in the general election. After the election, I hoped for Trump’s impeachment and President Mike Pence.
Nearly four years later, Trump’s character still troubles and repels me. If anything, his egotism, disloyalty, and bombast exceed those vices when he was a mere candidate.
But, to my unending surprise, he has governed as a resolute conservative. His policies in the areas of education, taxes, deregulation, and the environment have been bolder than Ronald Reagan’s. His judicial appointments are the best of the past century (thank you, Leonard Leo). His unprecedented assault on the administrative state proceeds apace, ignoring predictable howls from the Washington establishment. Even his foreign policy has been conservative: demanding that allies contribute their fair share, confronting China and Iran, and singularly supporting Israel. Ironically, as David Harsanyi notes, a potential character flaw actually works to our advantage: “Trump’s obstinacy seems to have made him less susceptible to the pressures that traditionally induce GOP presidents to capitulate.”
(Economic performance drives many voters to support or oppose a sitting president, but not me. Partly, because the president has only limited control; partly, because it’s a transient issue that matters much less than long-term policies.)
Of course, I also disagree with Trump: protectionism, an indifference to public debt, a hostility toward allies, a soft-spot for Turkish strongman Erdoğan, and those dangerous meetings with Kim Jong-un. His unrestrained behavior interferes with proper government functioning. The tweets are a protracted liability.
But we all disagree with some of what every president does; more surprisingly, I agree with about 80 percent of Trump’s actions, a higher number than any of his predecessors’, going back to Lyndon Johnson.
I have come to understand the wisdom in Salena Zito‘s September 2016 witticism about Trump that “the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Or, as Daniel Larison notes, “We need to judge Trump by his actions and not his words.” I also agree with James Woolsey that Trump would be a much better prime minister than president.
Slowly but inexorably over the past three years, my approval of the policies has outbalanced my distaste for the person. Finally, knowing that Joe Biden will represent the radicalized Democrats in November, I conclude that I will do my small part to help Trump get re-elected by writing, giving, and voting.
I reached this conclusion reluctantly but unhesitatingly. Emotionally, esthetically, and intellectually, I would prefer to keep my distance from Trump and inhabit a neutral space between the parties, as in 2016. But I will vote for him as the politician who represents my conservative views. I urge other reluctant conservatives to do the same.
Whatever the flaws, based on my observations, I think Daniel Pipes’ assessment of how he views the election is viewed is a better representation of how a large segment of the population will interpret the election results.