The February 25 CNN Republican debate took place in front of a deliciously enticing digital hot dog.
Instead of picking at the fruit salad of this debate, I’m going to focus on something I haven’t heard anyone else talk about.
What would happen if Trump brought up FREEDOM for once?
It’s bizarre that the candidate whose slogan is “Make America Great Again” has little or nothing to say about freedom. Let’s not assume that this glaring omission is evidence that he’s the reincarnation of Mussolini. There could be a simpler explanation: He’s a doer, not a theorizer. And he’s winning, so why should he bother talking about abstract concepts that don’t interest him?
Trump’s worldview is Hobbesian. He’s a macho realist who believe that national survival requires military strength and very little debt. He’s also a blatant Machiavellian. What use could he possibly have for moral principles?
Freedom is the quintessentially American idea, and owning it would pay big dividends for Trump. Even Obama pays lip service to it. Like he did with JebBush.com, which redirected to Trump’s website until a few days ago, Trump would do well to place a small bid on it if he wants to control political dialogue indefinitely.
I’m not making any moral arguments here. I’m not arguing that Trump is the next Reagan. I’m simply saying that politically, in the not too distant future, he might be wise to make people think that he is.
If Trump does end up winning the nomination, his focus will shift to consolidating his own party. Principles will have immense practical value if he wants to squeeze support from the 27% of conservatives who currently say they’ll never vote for him.
He doesn’t need to enunciate the kind of syllogisms that Lincoln used to end slavery. He could begin by saying: “American freedom, it’s under siege…” followed by the kind of anecdotes that he’s already become good at relating. Crowds would go wild, whether he believes what he’s saying or not.
Let me illustrate the practical value of discussing freedom. In the CNN debate, Rubio called out Trump for having no health care plan. For the first time, we saw Trump stumble as he tried to make the (very reasonable) case that eliminating state barriers to health insurance would bring down rates. But why settle for a consequentialist argument when a principled one would have elicited immediate applause?
He could have said:
“Damn right I have no centralized plan. I’ll replace health care regulations with free markets. I’ll replace Obamacare with capitalism and freedom. That’s what will make America great again.”
We see Trump defending freedom by implication, but rarely in principle. He says that cutting corporate tax rates will restore “dynamism” to our economy. Dynamism is synonymous with growth, but it’s more appealing when it’s imbued with moral sentiment. He gets close to defending freedom in principle, but he never manages to articulate it fully, because it’s so obvious that he values strength more than freedom.
It’s true that if Trump did start making principled arguments, he’d have some explaining to do. But he’s already refined his comments on illegal immigration (We want LEGAL immigrants) and Muslims (No undocumented people from war-torn Syria). Refining is not the same as apologizing; as he’s refined his positions, he’s garnered more support. Why not go all the way and say the things that real conservatives want to hear?
It would be drastically less work than he’s already done to portray himself as a strong Christian.
Trump has long been setting the tone and determining the content of these debates. There’s nothing he can’t bring into the conversation. With the arguable exception of his brief pummeling by Rubio, nothing catches him off guard. The polls indicate that he won the debate anyway.
If someone in the audience pointed a gun at him, he’d probably convince the guy to stop being a loser and drop the gun. Or pull out a 9mm from his suit pocket and shoot the sucker in the head.
In this age of politically correct weakness, an unapologetically masculine straight-talker brings self-evident value to our politics. But what about self-evident truths? We’ll see if Trump spends more time with the Declaration of Independence than he did with Second Corinthians.