Failed GOP candidate Jeb Bush mused yesterday, “Conservatism is temporarily dead. I mean, if you look at it, we have two candidates. Donald Trump is barely a Republican. He’s certainly not a conservative.”
Not so fast.
Although Trump’s deeper political philosophy is the focus of much debate, the party he represents is unwaveringly conservative. The 2016 GOP Platform is more conservative than the 2012 platform—which was seen at its adoption as the most conservative in the party’s history.
The platform is remarkably consistent in the three fundamental pillars of conservative thought: strong national security, traditional values, and limited government / free-market principles, identified in George H. Nash’s definitive history of American conservative thought, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (1976/1996).
Delegates will be asked to officially approve the 2016 Platform during the Convention, which begins on Monday. But here are some of the highlights:
Conservative Pillar No. 1: National Security
This section opens by quoting Federalist 23 as a reminder that “the first of the ‘principal’ constitutional obligations of the federal government is to provide for the ‘common defense’ of the United States.” To that end, the GOP specifically defines itself as “the party of peace through strength,” dedicated to American Exceptionalism, “rebuilding the U.S. military into the strongest on earth,” and “a resurgent America.”
Specifically, the platform includes: restoring military spending to increase troop numbers, modernize nuclear weapons, the electric grid, and cybersecurity, and improve military readiness; and recognition of threats from Russia and China, and support for NATO. It voices “unequivocal support for Israel” (a more muscular statement than in 2012) – including recognizing Jerusalem as its capital and affirming Israel’s full right to self-defense and independence in the ongoing peace process. The Platform insists on tougher efforts in the war against radical Islamic terrorism and ISIS, including “special scrutiny to those foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States from terror-sponsoring regions associated with Islamic terrorism.”
Conservative Pillar No. 2 Traditional Values
The Republican Party affirmed the importance of the family as “foundation of civil society” and traditional marriage, defined as the union between one man and one woman, as its “cornerstone.” It insists that “Strong families, depending upon God and one another, advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives.”
Not only does the platform recognize God, it refers to the importance of religious faith and Scripture in American history and society today.
Specifically, the GOP rejected the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, affirmed choice and parental rights in education, and supported “rights of conscience” of healthcare professionals and organizations. The platform condemns efforts to redefine Title IX sex discrimination to include sexual orientation or categories beyond gender. Instead, delegates included protections for “public safety and personal privacy by limiting access to restrooms, locker rooms, and similar facilities based on biological gender.” Also affirmed is religious freedom of military members and chaplains against increasing efforts to ban the Bible and religious expression.
Delegates approved the strongest pro-life stance since the issue of abortion was included in the platform for the first time in 1976 – defunding Planned Parenthood and strengthening protections for the pre-born. The approved pro-life draft language states:
The Constitution’s guarantee that no one can be deprived of life, liberty, or property deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all” are “endowed by their Creator” with the right to life. Accordingly, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed.
We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth. We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, that perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage.
Conservative Pillar No. 3: Economic Liberty / Limited Government
This third pillar of American conservatism is embodied throughout the 2016 Platform – restoring an original understanding of our limited constitutional government, unburdening the American economy and individuals of seemingly infinite bureaucracy and regulation, and affirming the power of the free market, opportunity, and individual initiative to rebuild the economy and create jobs.
Specifically, the platform emphasizes lower taxes, increased competitiveness, the power of unfettered innovation in a new economy, and caps on federal spending and limits on government overreach. Repeatedly the platform affirms states’ rights in the face of a growing federal presence, limits on government regulation, restoring constitutional safeguards, and the importance of protecting individual liberty.
Clearly reports of the death of conservatism have been greatly exaggerated.