Trump's Success Reveals Hypocrisy and Undoing of the Political Right

The real prospect of Donald Trump emerging as the Republican standard-bearer this fall is edifying on many levels. In so many ways, Trump's unexpectedly successful candidacy reveals a deep-seated hypocrisy and moral decay within America's modern conservative movement that Ronald Reagan, the father of that movement, would never condone.

While Reagan benefitted from the votes of working class white Democrats, evangelicals and social conservatives (as Trump has), a close reading of the record underscores that the former president never endorsed the kind of xenophobic, divisive or unbending positions Trump and much of modern conservatism has embraced.

Reagan, clearly a committed conservative, customarily refused to impose ideological litmus tests on public policy. While the California politician never supported a woman's right to choose where abortion was concerned, neither did he invest any real political capital to deny that right.

Reagan also showed capacity to compromise on important issues in order to advance the larger public interest. For example, he joined with then-Democratic House Majority Speaker Tip O'Neil in 1986 to pass the nation's last comprehensive immigration reform package. And Reagan, to his great credit, also never endorsed hate as a legitimate basis of government action. When then-presidential-candidate Reagan had the opportunity to endorse a 1978 California ballot proposition to "legalize" employment discrimination against gay teachers, he actively opposed the measure.

On the world stage, while Reagan was ardently anti-totalitarian, he nevertheless worked hard behind the scenes with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to substantially reduce both superpowers' nuclear arsenals.

He also never advocated military aggression against America's other most significant adversaries: China, Cuba, Iran or North Korea. By contrast, Trump speaks often, if absent specifics, about the many ways he would compel those nations to comply with American will, often hinting irresponsibly at armed conflict or trade wars as appropriate instrumentalities in these connections.

Finally, Reagan's ultimate gospel imperative to his own Republican Party leaders and candidates was never to speak ill of one another in public discourse.

Donald Trump's positions on issues ranging from immigration to women's rights, and his utter and very public disrespect for his fellow Republican presidential candidates, demonstrates a kind of world view that Ronald Reagan would find offensive and not in his party's interests, were he alive today.

Indeed, Trump's emergence as the Republican Party front runner reflects a vast departure from the essence of Reagan's Revolution. It also reveals a large dose of hypocrisy within the Republican Party's traditional evangelical and libertarian bases.

Ironically, Trump has found support among many Christian and social conservatives, despite the man's clear disassociation from the core values of these groups in his own personal history and public life, and the highly questionable morality of his policy positions. The candidate's not-so-subtle endorsement of racism, sexism and hate in our nation's public policy is a disturbing reminder of the kinds of sentiments that led an otherwise advanced German society to embrace Adolph Hitler in the early 1930s. To establish that truth, one need only look to the recent public endorsements of Trump's candidacy by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and far right French National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Trump's ascendance as a "serious" presidential aspirant speaks volumes about how far from its moorings the Republican Party has strayed in recent years. By endorsing bigotry and exclusion, and by generally embracing extremism in American political life, Trump and his large constituency of supporting Republican voters are taking us down a dangerous and unprecedented path.

None of what the Republicans offer today can ultimately be good for America, especially if Trump turns out to be their official response to our nation's changing demography and realities. In fact, if Trump is finally Republicans' choice to become the nation's chief executive, it is unlikely conservatives will prevail in our presidential and national politics for decades to come.

It is even possible that Trump's nomination would end the Republican Party as we have known it throughout our history, forcing it to break into several ideological factions and effectively ending its relevance as a major American political party.

The founders of our nation envisioned a robust political discourse informed by diverse and competing political interests, the willingness to compromise for the common good, and tolerance for diversity. The recent rise of Donald Trump and the strident tone of the campaign he has driven, cuts in a wholly different direction -- one that is hard to square with longstanding American values or traditional Republican tenets.

Even as a progressive, left-leaning political observer, I would be the first to admit the continued demise of a responsible Republican Party such as we have observed over recent years -- and that Donald Trump has accelerated -- constitutes a sad and undesirable development for American civic culture and Democracy. We can and must do better in America to face our challenges with more inclusive and affirmative policy solutions, rather than backward-looking and divisive rhetoric that is neither constructive nor patriotic.

On these terms, there is no way responsible Republicans can maintain their party's political integrity or viability with the likes of Trump at the top of their national ticket.


Henry A. J. Ramos is President of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a California policy think- and do-tank that seeks to increase economic opportunity and prosperity sharing in America.