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What Comes After Trump, Disruptor in Chief? (Washington Examiner) January 9, 2020

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

There is one view of President Trump on which you can find widespread agreement: He is the disruptor in chief. He disrupted the Republican Party to win the nomination, and, since his election, he has disrupted the conventional wisdom about everything from tariffs and free trade to international organizations and what he calls “endless wars.” Whereas liberals and conservatives each had standard positions on these issues from which policy debates proceeded, Trump has disrupted the back and forth by implementing policies outside that box.

Disruption creates new opportunities, and conservatives, in particular, should be taking advantage of this chance to rethink their positions on basic policy issues. Whenever the Trump presidency ends, conservatives need to be prepared to restate and even redefine what conservatism means, an opportunity that rarely comes along.

For example, are Republicans still the party of free trade, or are tariffs now the new normal? Long supporters of free markets and free trade, Republicans have watched Trump impose tariffs on a number of goods (solar panels, washing machines, steel, aluminum) and launch a trade war with China through extensive tariffs on the imports of their goods. It is unclear whether Trump sees these as temporary disruptive measures leading to renegotiations or whether regular tariffs will replace free trade. But conservatives should be debating this, irrespective of Trump.

Will they advocate a return to free trade post-Trump or something different? Inquiring minds want to know.

Conservatives have traditionally stood for a strong national defense. Sept. 11, along with the rise of neoconservatism, set the stage for military interventions and nation-building around the world, especially in the Middle East. On the other hand, Trump has cooled on what he used to call “my generals” and has openly questioned America’s involvement in “endless wars.” To the prospect of Turkey invading Syria, Trump responded dismissively by saying, “it’s not our border.” It has been a good long while since America had a grand strategy in foreign policy, and certainly Trump offers nothing of the kind.

What will national security conservatives support about our military presence and interventions in the world? It’s a question that sorely needs to be answered.

The national debt was always a concern of conservatives, quick to point out the growth of the deficit under Barack Obama and other Democratic presidents. Trump, however, has a different view: He feels he can outrun the deficit, that economic growth can produce more tax revenue, so he is willing to undertake tax cuts or spend on infrastructure in the hope of generating more growth. So far, his strategy does not seem highly successful. Although he promised in the campaign that he would eliminate the deficit in eight years, instead he has presided over a nearly 50% increase.

Will Republicans return to some kind of principled resistance to the growing national debt, or will they give in to the tide of greater and greater deficit spending? Voters deserve a response to this.

The point, by now, should be clear: The Trump disruptor presidency has changed the playing field of the policy debate. Issues that were thought to be settled and positions that were once unquestioned are now up for grabs. If you believe, as I do, that ideas have consequences, then conservatives must be debating those policies now. It is time for thoughtful academics, for think tanks, and for our political leaders to go beyond the disruptions of today and think seriously about a policy future that is now ripe for reconsideration. Let the debates begin.

David Davenport is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the co-author, with Gordon Lloyd, of How Public Policy Became War, published May 7.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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