Syndicated radio talk show host Mark Levin has made a substantive and impressive argument against Donald Trump’s trade rhetoric. Unlike many of the recent criticisms of the New York billionaire (“he’s a carnival barker, he’s a fraud, he’s a maniac”) Levin’s criticism is based on Trump’s actual policies and it is argued from a position of solid, fundamental conservative principles.

This is an important challenge to the presumptive GOP nominee and it deserves serious discussion.

The essay published on Levin’s Conservative Review website raises the uncomfortable fact that despite his “protectionist adjacent” rhetoric during the primary campaign, Trump has personally benefited from the very free trade policies he now decries:

While Trump and his surrogates denounce free trade, proclaiming that they stand with and for America’s working men and women, they find it hard to explain away the billionaire’s own practices for most of his business career. As it turns out, Trump has never shown any qualms about using foreign labor, foreign capital and even foreign-owned companies to service his personal interests and acquire wealth.

Even a cursory examination of Trump’s business dealings reveals that playing in international markets is a matter of routine for him. The Donald J. Trump Collection brand shirts, eyeglasses, perfume, cufflinks and suits are made in low-wage countries like Bangladesh, China, Honduras, and Mexico to keep costs down.  And Ivanka Trump’s own product line imports 628 of its 838 items on offer.

Other Trump brand products such as shoes, ballpoint pens, soap and ties have been outsourced to China, Japan, Honduras, Brazil, Norway, Italy and Germany since 2006. And about 1,200 shipments of Trump brand goods have been imported into the United States by foreign companies since 2011.

It is easy for Trump enthusiasts to dismiss the criticism by saying “Sure, that’s back when Trump was a business man. Of course he took advantage of the policies. That’s what makes him so uniquely qualified to know exactly what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed,” but, as Levin points out, this goes far beyond that two-dimensional defense. The basis of Levin’s argument goes to core beliefs that conservatives have held firm on for several decades:

Remember, a tariff is really just a tax, the cost of which is imposed on the American people.  The higher the tariff, the higher the tax.  Imagine what a 45 percent increase in the price of goods made, say, in Japan would do to a middle class family shopping for a Toyota or Honda.   While Trump and his surrogates may have the money to pay the higher prices his policies would cause, many Americans – who are already having difficulty making ends meet – do not.

I’ve made these same arguments (though not nearly as effectively as The Great One) to Trump supporters who embrace his protectionist inclinations and their response always seems to be the same: “Ronald Reagan raised tariffs on the Japanese during the 1980s therefore, this is in line with Reagan’s trade policy.”

Here’s where Levin comes in, once again. You see, it’s hard to beat his pedigree when it comes to Reagan policies considering he was not only a member of the Reagan Administration, but also part of Reagan’s upstart 1976 campaign for president that almost upended President Gerald Ford’s efforts to earn the GOP nomination for president.

Supporters of protectionism, such as Breitbart writer Julia Hahn, point out that President Ronald Reagan imposed tariffs on imported goods from Japan, a fact I have mentioned on my radio program.  But her analogy between Reagan and Trump, like so many others asserted by Trump surrogates, is not really an apt one.  Reagan did not make wholesale protectionism and tariffs a central plank of his platform, as Trump does; nor did he support imposing high tariffs on every single product produced in a particular country.  Actually, Reagan emphasized the opposite.  Reagan’s tariffs were targeted, including on Japanese motorcycles and semiconductors, and usually in response to specific violations of trade deals.  Besides, Trump is a populist/nationalist/protectionist.  Reagan was a conservative.

These are challenging times for conservatives in America as we grapple with the most unconventional candidate we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As various factions determine the road ahead, definitive Hamiltonian proclamations of fidelity that suggest supporting Hillary Clinton is the best option for the Republican Party are met with concessions that a vote for Trump is necessary even if served with a healthy side of nausea.  Both arguments are worth our attention and contemplation.

But Levin is drilling down much deeper (and substantively) on a fundamental conservative principle and how it meshes with Trump’s stated policies (not to mention his past personal behavior.)  And isn’t this exactly what must be done between now and the GOP convention?

This is what makes Levin’s argument so important. His argument merely lays out the facts of Trump’s trade policies, shows how these ideas have been historically disastrous when put into practice, and challenges Trump’s own personal business practices compared with his stated policy goals.

This is not a #NeverTrump argument. On the contrary, Levin’s argument is forceful, but not intransigent. He concludes with,  “The fact that Trump’s political rhetoric runs directly contrary to his own globalist actions as a very successful and wealthy businessman requires a better explanation than he has given thus far. ”  In other words, you won the nomination Mr. Trump, but that doesn’t mean you automatically win every Republican’s vote, especially when some of your policies are so contrary to our fundamental beliefs. If you want our vote, it’s time to earn it. We’re listening.

Mark Levin CPAC