What Will A Trump Presidency Mean for Conservatives?

In a remarkable upset on Tuesday night, Donald Trump captured several key swing states and is now President-elect of the United States. Republicans held the House and Senate, giving them control of both the legislative and executive branches of government.

I was vocally #NeverTrump throughout the primaries and the general election, and I stand by my earlier assessments of his character, qualifications, and ideology. I’ll admit that I was dead wrong on one point, though – I thought he was unelectable. His win refuted an important component of the case against his candidacy – namely, that his views were too fringe, his rhetoric too abrasive, and his character too flawed to win the presidency.

Even with his convincing victory, though, there remain reasons to be skeptical about President Trump.

I believed, and still believe, that most of the positions he espoused were misguided and dangerous. I doubted, and continue to doubt, that he has the requisite knowledge, humility, or character to be an effective leader. I feared, and remain fearful, that his cartoonish persona will cheapen the office of the presidency in an unprecedented way. Most importantly, I’m concerned about how his presidency will influence the future of the conservative movement.

Qualified or not, though, he will be our next President, and in January, the fate of the nation will rest in his hands.

In the immediate future, President Trump and the Republicans in Congress will have two major opportunities for important political victories. First, Trump has an opportunity to make good on his campaign promise and nominate a suitably conservative justice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Second, Republicans have a chance for meaningful reform in healthcare policy. With Obamacare crumbling and the GOP in control of Congress and the presidency, now is their best chance to strip away burdensome restrictions and free up the healthcare market to facilitate increased competition and consumer choice.

On these issues, I am optimistic that a new administration means a shot at reform. I hope that conservatives can unite for the sake of achieving these shared goals.

But more broadly speaking, I remain apprehensive about Donald Trump’s influence on American politics. The long-term implications of his populist revolution hinge on an important question: does he mark the arrival of an ideological shift within the right, or is he merely a manifestation of frustration with the progressive status quo?


“The likelihood of positive change in the next four years depends on Congressional leadership’s willingness to be a check on his agenda and on his advisors’ ability to reign him in.”


It is unclear to me how many of his supporters share his ideology. I am hopeful that many Trump voters saw his campaign as merely a rejection of the Clintons or a referendum on the Obama administration. If so, it is possible that the anger he channeled can be directed toward conservative goals and sound policy.

If, though, he marks a shift toward right-wing authoritarianism and away from the aims of limited government and individual liberty, Trump’s presidency and lasting impact have the potential to be disastrous.

Either way, the likelihood of positive change in the next four years depends on Congressional leadership’s willingness to be a check on his agenda and on his advisors’ ability to reign him in. Whether that will happen, and how he will act as President, remains to be seen.

Will he continue to berate and threaten journalists who criticize him, or demonstrate a newfound composure with the press? Will he declare war on free trade, or listen to sound advice from his economic advisors? Rhetorically, will he continue to demonize and divide, or can he pivot toward uniting and healing? Will the “alt-right” grow in influence during his tenure, or will Trump start to align with party orthodoxy?

Only time will tell.

As we head into the uncharted waters of a reality television presidency, all we can do is commit to praising Trump when he advances liberty and fighting him when he encroaches on it.

About Jacob Richards

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Jacob Richards resides in Phoenix, Arizona, where he is a student at Arizona Christian University and a Ronald Reagan Policy Fellow at the Goldwater Institute. Previously, he worked as a Koch Summer Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. Jacob was a 2015 ISI Honors Scholar and is a 2016 recipient of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Richard and Helen DeVos Freedom Center Leadership Award. His chief intellectual interests lie at the intersection of libertarian and conservative thought in American politics. Follow him on Twitter: @JacobRichardsAZ