This commentary originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News on April 25, 2017. This column is part of a series of columns and news articles examining President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office. The Dallas Morning News asked Texas conservative thinkers to write on the question: What does it mean to be conservative during the Trump administration?
Conservatism has not changed because of the election of President Donald Trump. An intellectual movement rather than a partisan ideology, conservatism transcends individual leaders, individual eras, and even individual nations, including the United States.
And yet conservatism is particularly vibrant in America, where the delicate balance between freedom and the rule of law has made the United States exceptional in all of world history. The reason? The core principles of conservatism are uniquely valued in America: our belief in what great thinkers describe as the permanent things, such as an enduring moral order, natural law, the rights that flow to people from that law, and the fervent desire for limited government. This is what our first president, George Washington, called "ordered liberty."
In American history, each of our presidents has both furthered and challenged the tenets of conservativism; such is the nature of governing. President Trump will be no different in doing so. And yet conservatism, as it always has, will endure beyond Trump's presidency. As the historian of conservatism, Russell Kirk, once remarked, "Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time."
Regardless of how his detractors depict him, President Trump — in his shorthand motto, "Make America Great Again" — is appealing to that scaffolded, shared knowledge of the past.
In fact, the president's chief target, the centralization of power in the D.C. "swamp," makes him appealing both to traditional, "movement" conservatives as well as to the scores of disaffected voters whose plight has been directly harmed by federal policy. This dynamic provides conservative reformers an unprecedented opportunity to roll back the excesses and injustices of Lyndon Johnson's misnomer, "The Great Society."
President Trump and conservatives, therefore, will find great synergy in three policy areas:
1. Overreach of the administrative state, whereby unelected bureaucrats legislate from the cocoon of their agencies.
2. Devolving power from Washington to the states, which should happen in a host of issues, such as health care and education.
3. The rule of law, which most under-appreciate as both a problem and a winning issue for the president.
In other areas, such as immigration, national security and foreign policy, the president, like all his right-of-center predecessors, will discover the broad differences of opinion by conservatives on those issues. Fostering, not shunning, those open conversations within the movement is one reason that conservatism endures, while its counterpart, American liberalism, ebbs and flows in a bottomless sea of partisan litmus tests.
My prediction for conservatives under the Trump administration? Many policy successes, a few frustrations, and, as history demonstrates, a movement that will continue, if not flourish.