Though Kevin D. Williamson’s forthcoming Encounter Broadside, “The Case Against Trump,” resorts at times to speculative attacks not unlike those the writer decries from Republican candidate Donald Trump, the short booklet does raise important policy and rhetorical concerns about a candidate who is seeking to claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan.
Williamson, an editor for National Review, recognizes the “legitimate concern at the heart of Trump’s populist appeal,” including worries that a country that does not enforce its laws undermines the responsibilities to its citizens and even its very sovereignty. But Williamson spends most of the book pointing out many of Trump’s past actions and his current policy positions that leave him at odds with conservative philosophy.
“Donald J. Trump spent most of his life as a progressive Democrat, a patron of Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Rodham Clinton — the woman against whom Trump presumably would be running,” Williamson writes. “He is a lifelong crony capitalist who boasts of using his wealth to buy political favors to make himself wealthier still. He is a proponent of the thieving Kelo eminent-domain reagime and has attempted to suborn local governments into using eminent domain to seize properties in order to clear the way for his casino developments. He was until the day before yesterday as absolutist a proabortion advocate as any you’d find at an Emily’s List meeting. He has proposed daft, confiscatory wealth taxes and remains in accord with Warren Buffett and Elizabeth Warren on taxation. His views on trade and immigration are much more like those of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist, than they are anything that might plausibly be described as ‘conservative’ in the American context.”
Williamson casts a critical eye toward Trump’s immigration positions, which are focused almost exclusively on Mexico. He points out that the majority of illegals enter the country now through airports and other legal points of entry. Most illegal immigrants today enter legally on visas and simply refuse to go home when their visas expire.
“Trump’s proposal — more of a posture, in truth — that Mexico be made to pay for the wall is so silly as to hardly deserve being addressed,” Williamson writes. “Trump holds out the threat of cutting off foreign aid to Mexico as a cudgel with which to beat the Mexicans into submission, but U.S. foreign aid to Mexico is trivial, and it amounts to barely a rounding error on remittances sent from Mexican nationals in the United States home to family in Mexico.”
While Trump has been critical of trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, Williamson points out that free trade has benefited Americans while helping developing countries in the process. He reports that in inflation-adjusted terms, U.S. manufacturing output, which had been climbing substantially before NAFTA, continued climbing afterward — and is rising still today, with manufacturing nearly 70 percent higher today than it was when NAFTA was ratified in 1993.
“It is the case that manufacturing makes up a smaller share of U.S. economic output today than it did in, say, 1970, but that is not the result of a decline in manufacturing — no such decline has happened — but rather a result of the fact that other sectors of the economy have grown even quicker,” Williamson writes. “Trump and his movement abominate the North American Free Trade Agreement as a job killer and a shackle on U.S. prosperity, a position that is not borne out by the economic data. The actual economic scholarship suggests that NAFTA has had a modest positive effect on U.S. employment and a much more strongly positive effect (indeed, much stronger than anticipated) on the U.S. services sector, particularly financial services.”
Since personal financial disclosures are a federal requirement and a legitimate question in terms of understanding a candidate’s judgment, Williamson collects media reports on Trump’s dealings, including a story from CNN Money showing how, with four bankruptcies on its credit report thus far, Trump’s casino empire has been in Chapter 11 more times than any other American business in the past 30 years.
Williamson details how, by Trump’s own reckoning, the mogul’s largest financial success has not been as a real estate developer (nor casino operator) but as an entertainer. According to Trump’s financial filings, Trump’s single largest asset is not a building or a golf course or a resort but rather his “brand” —the financial potency he believes is attached to his name — which he values at several billion dollars.
“But that brand is, by all indications, in rapid decline,” Williamson writes. “NBC has confirmed that he will no longer be part of ‘The Apprentice’ or ‘The Celebrity Apprentice,’ the reality-television shows that made his name and fortified his fortune; NBC and Univision are so disinclined to be associated with Trump that they are declining to broadcast the Miss USA pageant, which Trump owns. Macy’s, which used to sell Trump-branded shirts and ties (Trump, the great advocate of economic nationalism, peddled garments made in Mexico and China) has discontinued its relationship with him. The value of a brand is in how much it can be licensed for, and it is not clear who, if anybody, wants the name Trump emblazoned on their products now — or who will in the future.”
Williamson is concerned that should Trump actually be able to enact his worldview, America’s economy would shrink and its global influence would wane.
“He would have us turn away from trade and indeed turn away from the world and its complexities, imagining ourselves to be safe behind our wall,” Williamson writes. “That’s a high price to pay for an immigration platform that is exceeded by the platforms of many other Republican candidates in every way except in the quantity of bile in which it is soaked. But the bile is the attraction here, not the policy.”
While Williamson does not take his analysis a step further to offer a path forward for Trump’s redemption, it is true that the American people are highly forgiving and willing to offer second chances. Trump certainly would need one if he wants to win; polling collected by Real Clear Politics shows that if Trump were facing Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the general election he would lose, while his top Republican rivals would win. Republican primary voters must weigh this reality, along with those presented in “The Case Against Trump” to make the wisest choice for the next leader of the free world.
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Carrie Sheffield is the founder of Bold. She is passionate about storytelling to empower and connect others. A founding POLITICO reporter, Carrie contributed on political economy at Forbes and wrote editorials for The Washington Times. After earning a master’s in public policy from Harvard University, she managed credit risk at Goldman Sachs and researched for Edward Conard, Bain Capital founding partner and American Enterprise Institute scholar. She earned a B.A. in communications at Brigham Young University and completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin.