Report card: Conservatives just had their best fortnight in a decade

posted at 2:41 pm on February 3, 2017 by Ed Morrissey

Remember when Donald Trump kept promising that, under his leadership, conservatives, Republicans, and Americans in general would win so much that we’d “get sick of winning”? That prompted no small amount of skepticism among movement conservatives, for good reasons considering many of Trump’s earlier statements and actions before running for president. Most ended up casting ballots for Trump reluctantly, not so much in anticipation of winning as in a bulwark against massive losing during a Hillary Clinton administration.

Today we hit the end of the first fortnight of the Trump administration, and … even conservatives skeptical of Trump have to admit that they’ve so far been on a solid winning streak. The biggest win of the two-week period is the home run Trump hit for conservatives with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Not only is Gorsuch the kind of intellectual originalist for whom Right has always longed, his appointment shows that Trump understands the complex politics in play at the moment. Matt Lewis writes that conservatives got their promised payoff indeed:

President Trump hit a grand slam with Judge Gorsuch, and now conservatives are awaiting the nominations for over 100 other judicial vacancies,” said Tim Goeglein, vice president of external relations for Focus on the Family. “If Gorsuch is the benchmark of the new Trump-Pence administration, conservatives are prepared to be dazzled.”

Simply put, Trump delivered. And in doing so, he justified the votes of Republicans who held their nose and pulled the lever for him—clinging to the hope that this day might come. The Washington Post’sJames Hohmann is even going so far as to speculate that Trump’s election hinged on this vacancy. “The election was very narrowly decided,” he argued, “and many conservatives who live in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Detroit found Trump odious but rationalized voting for him because of the Court.” If they made a Faustian bargain, it does seem to have paid off.

The “Faustian bargain” quote comes from McKay Coppins, which in fairness is based on the reasons that conservatives cited in eventually backing Trump in the general election. Coppins specifically references evangelicals, but it’s safe to say that it went a little wider than that:

The general elation, and relief, among conservative Christians was understandable. For many of them, supporting Trump in 2016 had constituted a deal with the devil—and on Tuesday night it paid off.

According to Election Day exit polls, one in five voters identified the Supreme Court as “the most important factor” in determining who they would pull the lever for. Many of those people were white evangelicals who had winced at Trump’s rhetoric, cringed at his Biblical illiteracy, sighed at his less-than-holy personal life—and then voted for him anyway, believing that the next president’s most important responsibility was to replace Antonin Scalia with a conservative justice who would protect their religious freedom and fight abortion from the bench. …

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Trump could have given the right a more crowd-pleasing nominee than Gorsuch—a reliably conservative, 49-year-old jurist with impeccable credentials and an originalist bent. In his most famous ruling on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of craft stores that argued the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate was a violation of their religious liberty. If all goes according to conservatives’ plans, Gorsuch could spend the next several decades on the bench extending Scalia’s legacy, and building one of his own.

For Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist who has advised Huckabee and Rick Santorum, Trump’s pick was a rare instance in which a politician actually kept a campaign promise to religious conservatives. “I think that evangelicals have been used and abused in multiple election cycles at multiple levels of government,” he told me. “They get courted, they get promised a lot of things, and once the guy is in office, the results never come.”

On that subject, Trump got an A+, clearly. In fact, the first fortnight has been a continuing feast of promises kept in terms of policy and personnel, even while the execution of policy sometimes left a lot to be desired. In my column for The Fiscal Times, I write that conservatives have to be pleasantly surprised — and should be at least somewhat grateful, for now:

Nor is this the only victory that conservatives have seen in the first two weeks of the Trump era, or perhaps more accurately, since the election. Having been freed up from the need to overcome filibusters on his Cabinet appointments, Trump nominated serious conservatives in policy posts – Tom Price to Health and Human Services, Betsy DeVos to Education, Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency, and Rick Perry to Energy, among others.

His very first executive order on Inauguration Day started the rollback of Obamacare; others soon followed that froze federal hiring, reduced red tape on regulatory burdens on manufacturing, and restarted the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects favored by conservatives and unions alike.

Many on the right wondered just how deep Trump’s commitment to the pro-life movement would run. On his first full business day in office, Trump reinstated the “Mexico City” policy that bars federal funds to organizations that promote or provide abortions abroad, and sent Vice President Mike Pence to the March for Life – the first time a sitting vice president has spoken at the 44-year annual protest march against Roe v. Wade. …

Before the first fortnight of his presidency has passed, conservatives – even those who opposed Trump or viewed his potential with significant skepticism – have to acknowledge that they’ve been on a solid winning streak so far, as early #NeverTrump commentator Erick Erickson did. “If you’re a Trump critic from the right and can’t bring yourself to even thank him for Gorsuch,” Erickson tweeted after the Supreme Court nomination announcement, “at this point, you’re just an ill-mannered ass.”

This has to be the best fortnight conservatives have had in at least a decade, and probably well before that. It’s difficult to recall a two-week period where so much of the conservative agenda has been advanced as far and as rapidly as we have seen now. While conservatives can rightly criticize the implementation of the travel pause and other stumbles in the new administration, and while other fights loom — especially infrastructure and entitlement reform — we have to also acknowledge that Trump has delivered far more than conservatives dared hope. So far, so good, but to be clear … we won’t get tired of winning in the future.


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