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Conservatives’ Only Hope: If Trump Delegates To Pence (Forbes.com) October 7, 2016

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.

Perhaps the perfect story to describe the Donald Trump phenomenon and the 2016 campaign is a reported conversation in which Trump’s eldest son spoke with a John Kasich advisor about the vice presidency, proposing that as veep Kasich would be in charge of foreign and domestic policy. Asked what his father would be in charge of, Donald Jr. responded: “Making America great again.” The accuracy of the story is disputed but, even if apocryphal, it points to the reality that the only hope conservatives have in 2016 is that Trump might delegate a lot of policy-making to his vice president, Mike Pence.

It’s been a rough several decades for conservatives and the presidency. Mitt Romney, like Trump, more a pragmatic businessman than a philosophical conservative, had trouble selling himself as he described: “severely conservative.” In campaigning for the presidency in 2000 George W. Bush said he would be a “compassionate conservative.” There may have been some compassion, but there wasn’t much classic conservatism in the Bush administration: running up deficits, federalizing K-12 education through No Child Left Behind, expanding the welfare safety net with prescription drugs for seniors, and so on.

In fact, Republicans don’t seem eager to embrace the “conservative” label, at least without a nice adjective to limit or spin it. John McCain was known as a “maverick conservative” and Jeb Bush tried out running as a “reform conservative” in the primaries this year. Isn’t anyone content to be just a conservative anymore? The only real national electoral success conservatives have enjoyed in recent years has been Paul Ryan as the vice presidential candidate in 2012 and now Mike Pence in the same role in 2016.

One challenge is that there are lots of flavors and nuances to conservatism. There are national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives (who are often socially liberal), social conservatives, the religious right, constitutional conservatives, libertarians, and so on. Increasingly Republicans have become big government conservatives, admitting that a smaller federal government isn’t likely so, instead, they seek to turn big government more toward conservative causes. But there are political leaders out there like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan who manage to combine several flavors of conservatism into one brand.

So if traditional conservatives—who haven’t really run a strong candidate for president since Ronald Reagan—have any hope in this election, it would turn on the role Mike Pence might play in a Trump administration. Besides the reported approach the Trump campaign made to John Kasich about the vice presidency, Trump said in his search that he was looking for a Washington insider, someone who understood the federal government and how it operates. And a businessman running a multi-billion-dollar empire must have learned something about delegating to subordinates.

For his part, Pence has demonstrated some ability to work around a few of Trump’s more outrageous positions, exhibiting talent for “managing up” or “managing the boss” as they say in the business world. In the recent vice presidential debate, Pence warned of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “small and bullying leader,” in contrast to Trump’s praise of Putin. Pence seemed far more willing than Trump for the U.S. to engage militarily in Syria. Pence has diplomatically kept his free-trade positions quiet, but in direct contrast to Trump’s opposition to the TPP and NAFTA, he has consistently voted for free trade, calling it wise economically and for national security. He has previously expressed discomfort with Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican rhetoric.

Trump is hardly a classic conservative. A national security conservative, perhaps, but his positions on free trade and his lack of understanding for and support of constitutional limited government are deeply concerning for conservatives. The key for conservatives is Mike Pence. He is one of them. But would he have room to maneuver, and even take the lead, in a Trump presidency? Might Trump relish being king and allowing Pence to serve as prime minister? For now, at least, there are some encouraging signs. It’s really all conservatives have.

To view the column at Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddavenport/2016/10/07/conservatives-only-hope-if-trump-delegates-to-pence/#38c8f88c4424

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