Mike Lee

Does Donald Trump Have Anything to Do With Constitutional Conservatism?

Mike Lee makes the argument in favor, as he tries to steer the president toward the devolution of power


Needs updating. ||| Reason

One of the more interesting, depressing, and still-unresolved questions about the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump is whether the limited-government philosophy that seemed to animate the Tea Party's ascendance in 2009-2010 is still an active thing. (See the bottom of this post for several links which poke at the issue from various angles.) The question has implications for all kinds of policy questions—from the health care debate, where the Senate's Tea Party caucus currently form the hinge-point on which the legislation balances, to forthcoming debates on taxes, budgets, debt ceilings, surveillance, Russian investigations, and more.

Given the wariness with which many libertarians treat the Trump presidency, it came as a surprise for some to read this Politico magazine headline from Tuesday: "Is Trump a Conservative? Mike Lee Says Yes." For instance, Cato Institute Vice President David Boaz in the piece expresses surprise at Lee's assessment:

"It seems to me it's pretty obvious that Trump is not a conservative," Boaz said. He prefers to describe Trump as "a scary authoritarian, nationalist, protectionist cronyist." […]

Boaz doesn't think there's any way to reconcile Trump with small-government conservatism. […]

"One question for intellectual conservatives," Boaz said, "is, 'Have you become such partisans that you've forgotten how to be intellectuals?'"

So how does Lee, a senator who on multiple occasions has expressed revulsion at Trumpism, make the constitutional-conservative case for a president he never endorsed? I asked him that Monday, in a Sirius XM interview tied to the release of his new book, Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government, in the form of soliciting his response to the theory from libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) that more than philosophy, Tea Party voters "were voting for the craziest son of a bitch in the race. And Donald Trump won best in class, as we had up until he came along." Lee's response pointed heavily to Trump's record on deregulation:

Look, the fact is that the wave that swept Donald Trump to power was motivated to a significant degree by people who share these principles, by people who are wanting to restore constitutionally limited government. A good part of "draining the swamp" necessarily entailed identifying those areas in which the federal government has overreached, and identifying respects in which we have violated these twin structural protections in the Constitution, the vertical protection we call federalism, and the horizontal protection we call separation of powers.

And so whether we want to call it this or that, whether we acknowledge it as an effort to restore constitutionally limited government or not, that is in fact what it is. And that is in fact going to be what saves our republic from the accumulation of power that's been occurring in Washington over the last 80 years.

More from the interview:

Mike Lee ||| Reason

MW: Although with the exception of deregulation?which is a very important exception in this presidency that isn't getting a lot of ink right now just because there's so many other things to talk about?you don't hear a lot of that kind of talk from the president himself. He's not talking a lot about separation of powers, not talking a lot about devolving power, and that kind of thing. Or am I just missing it?

ML: Well, I think it's impossible to extricate federalism from separation of powers. In other words, when he talks about over-regulation, whether he uses these terms or not, he's really referring to the two-step process by which power has been taken from the American people. First it's been taken from them at the state and local level and moved to Washington, and secondly it's been handed over by elected lawmakers to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. President Trump recognizes that there's something wrong there, he's trying to restore that balance. And even though he doesn't speak necessarily in those same terms, or quote chapter and verse from constitutional text or from the Federalist Papers, I think he is resonating with the increasingly growing sentiment out there.

Remember: Ten years ago nobody was talking about this stuff. Today the fact that a lot of people do talk about it is a signal that we're making progress in our effort to restore constitutional government.

In the Politico piece, Lee uses what writer Edward-Isaac Dovere characterizes as "tautology" to deal with questions of Trump's qualifications and conservative bonafides. "I think his qualifications occurred by virtue of the process that [the Founding Fathers] themselves set up. That's what qualifies someone to be president," he said in one exchange. "At any given time, when there is a Republican president, typically we regard that person as the leader of the Republican Party," he said in another. "Anyone who's playing a role in the process is, by definition, a leader."

What's that all about? I reckon that like Rand Paul, Lee is not only enthusiastically cheering along the administration's aggressive regulatory reform activity, but also trying to convert ideological aspiration into political reality with the limited hand he's been dealt. This will lead both down paths that libertarians will occasionally find disappointing, but it will also (for the moment anyway) keep two constitutional conservatives in the mix of policy-making on Capitol Hill.

Some related reading:

* "Trump Declares War on the Freedom Caucus"

* "Rep. Thomas Massie: 'We don't really have 218 conservatives here [who] meant what they said when they said they wanted to repeal Obamacare'"

* "Having Co-Opted the Tea Party Nationwide, Trump Tries to Stamp out its Remnants in Congress"

* "Mike Lee Gives Three Reasons He's Concerned About Donald Trump, Says He Can List More—Not Something He Couldn't Get Over Though"

* "Does Sarah Palin's Endorsement of Donald Trump Mean the Tea Party Is (or Should Be) Dead?"

* "Did the Trump Party Hijack the Tea Party?"

And here's a July 2014 Nick Gillespie interview with Mike Lee:

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  1. RE: Does Donald Trump Have Anything to Do With Constitutional Conservatism?
    Mike Lee makes the argument in favor, as he tries to steer the president toward the devolution of power

    I doubt it.
    I haven’t heard anything from him regarding tax cuts, stop the US government from spending at an alarming rate, much less protecting civil rights and liberties.
    Time will tell if I’m wrong.

  2. Donald Trump is the wildfire that will eventually lead to a lusher, greener forest. Is that a good thing for libertarians or small-government conservatives? No.

  3. What does conservatism actually mean? How is it different from what they are selling over on Team Blue?

    1. Smaller government and more fiscal responsibility.

      1. So there is no conservative party in the United States, or at the very least no conservative politicians in office?

        1. Very, very few of them. As in fewer than 5, realistically.

      2. Only if you play “No True Scotsman”.

    2. Conservatism is whatever the conservative in question thinks is the way things were done in “the good old days”.

  4. Constitutional conservatism acknowledges almost unlimited State police powers. Powers that were only somewhat constrained by the 14th amendment. And even then there is still not total agreement.

    I know Welch is deeply concerned about the future success of constitutional conservatism.

    Newsflash to Matt: When the TEA parties arose the Republican Party apparatus largely tried to kill them.

    Which is one of the reasons we got Trump.

    1. Well, I would think that if that was one of the primary reasons we got Trump that we would ended up with an actual Tea Party candidate. And, as it just so happens, one of them was in the Primary with Trump; Ted Cruz.

      So, yeah, I’m not sure that makes sense beyond the fact that the Tea Party types probably had to vote for Trump, because Hillary, at the end. That doesn’t mean Tea Party support for Trump is high, it just means their distaste for Clinton was that strong.

      1. All fair points.

  5. the limited-government philosophy that seemed to animate the Tea Party’s ascendance in 2009-2010

    Keep your government hands off my medicare!!!

  6. I’m getting really annoyed at the endless “Okay, apart from all the de-regulation, trying to extricate us from Syria, reining in overzealous SJWesque civil rights violations, getting us out of harmful, useless climate treaties. and a whole host of other things being talked about that libertarians loved until it was Trump trying to accomplish them, what good had Trump really done?” crap that is all that reason seems to publish anymore.

    What the hell has to happen before you admit that things libertarians want are happening? And they’re happening under Trump.

    1. They did have a whole big cover story on Trump’s potential as a deregulator that seemed pretty fair. I think your memory might be a bit selective.

    2. You’re right – why are people so mean to Trump? I mean, he is the dreamiest boy ever.

  7. We got Trump because he was not Hillary.
    He got the Republican nomination because he did not repeat all the failed notions the Republicans had used to lose over the years.
    Trump is a competitor; once he is in a contest, he is all out to win. He did not claim to be the ‘best republican’ He claimed to be a guy who could win.
    So now He is President, and the Republicans have the house and senate, and nothing promised is happening. So it would be obvious that Trump is not a Republican. Because the legislative Republicans still are determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
    Three things: Jobs, repeal and replace;taxes. Zero for three.
    Neither the executive nor the legislative branch is any kind of conservative, as that political term has been used over the years.

  8. I don’t know why his primary opponents didn’t hammer him more on being a Democrat his whole life. The rubes who vote in that primary hate that shit. Possibly not more than they like shitting on brown people and the dream of a world where casual sexual assault is no longer un-PC, however.

    1. I’m sure you never asked yourself why Trump, being a lifelong Democrat, might have left that party behind along with a lot of other former Democrats either. That would require critical thinking, after all.

      1. Because there was no place in the Democratic party for someone whose entire platform was shitting on Mexicans and Muslims?

        1. I thought you claimed all the racists left the Democrat party after they fought against the Civil Rights Act, so your new claim is that they didn’t leave until last year. Interesting.

          By the way, go back and listen to some of Bill Clinton’s speeches from around 1994 on immigration and maybe you’ll realize why the Democrat brand is suffering lately. In truth, all the moderates are bailing on the party of far-leftist Socialism.

          1. We don’t have a party of far-leftist socialism. We do have a party of racist nativism. Is that where the moderates are going? Is that something to be proud of?

            1. >>>We do have a party of racist nativism.

              lefties definitely = racists.

              1. I was referring to the party that nominated the guy whose primary campaign promises were to kick out Mexicans and Muslims.

                1. So, no answer for how it could possibly be that there were still numerous ‘racists’ in the Democrat party until apparently this year. Figures.

                  If limiting immigration is racist, then you’d be hard pressed to find an open borders Democrat. Why it could possibly be that the Democrats didn’t prioritize immigration reform, or do anything about it at all beyond changing the reporting, when they held the Presidency, Senate, and Congress is a mystery to Tony.

                  1. It wasn’t the immigration policy, but the racist rhetoric behind it. And why are you bringing up Democrats? What’s with you people? It’s like a compulsion. Spend a week not watching FOX News and you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise. Your brain will start working again.

                2. You mean the guy that promises to evict illegal aliens and make sure Muslims are vetted properly or not allowed to live here? We also wanted to lose the expensive Obamacare and have real tax reform. You mean the guy that is not a globalist that does not want to continue to shed jobs that make our country have a huge underclass? GEEZE! We are just tired of the same ole do nothing politicians that don’t shake things up and those that keep trying to turn us into Europe and adhere to their politically correct ideology. There are so many reasons.

  9. Isn’t libertarianism supposed to be about freedom and choice? The minority President hasn’t drained the swamp. He has put the alligators in charge of who is allowed ot traverse it. He has appointed former lobbyists to most positions in his administration. They may be intent on deregulation but only if it benefits the industries which they used to represent. Do libertairans really favor exempting coal companies from cleaning up the pollution they caused? Isn’t accepting responsibility for one’s actions supposed to be a core belief of this philosophy? Are people really given choices in how to run their lives when union bargaining power is destroyed or when Scott Walker allows employers to require employers to set hours for employees that can require them to work 7 days a week?
    Mr. Trump is a big business supporter who speaks about freedom and choice as goals he supports while ensuring that only corporations have such freedom and choice. None of his policies serve to benefit the average worker or the middle class. He allows investment advisors to steer unsuspecting clients to the most expensive, highest fee investments, which benefit the advisors and their companies bottom line while hurting their clients- This isn’t providing choice or the freedom to choose; it is a license to steal from those without the access to the knowledge to protect themselves.

  10. … it’s been almost nine months since the election, and we’re still getting articles about how Trump voters weren’t really voting for Trump?

  11. Why is there an Oath of Office?
    The first 10 Amendments are the LIMITATIONS on what the Federal Government can legislate, decree, or “rule” on,,, yes or no?
    The “enumerated powers” are the job profile for the Federal Government, yes or no?
    How can a body, granted their authority by the States, change the authority?
    Does it take a SUCCESSFUL Amendment Process to alter the Constitution in any manner or form, yes or no?
    If an Amendment is NOT ratified, can it still be considered “law”?

    WHAT IS LAW? Is it legislation, decree, or “rulings”, or is it like the world court decided in 1949 that there is a “higher law” than state rules/”laws”?

    How long do we play politics in a rigged system owned by “outside” interests?

    quiz answers: the Oath of Office is for legal recourse (civil) if the “official” abuses his/her “power”.
    Legally, they can NOT!
    If not fully ratified, it is as if it does NOT exist.
    Law is discovered,,, essentially “do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property” rules/”laws” are manmade, ie legislation, decree, “rulings”.

    Until resources such as yours accept a “cranial rectotomy” and stop playing politics. The Oath is the Key. The “enumerated powers” break up the hegemony. The first 10 Amendments clearly state their LIMITS.

    Use them.

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