President Trump recently nominated Kirstjen Nielsen to be secretary of homeland security. As Richard Viguerie observes in a recent article, (“Why does Trump keep hiring anti-Trumpers?”):
“Ms. Nielsen’s primary qualification for the job is not a background in conservative homeland security policy, or conservative national security policy – it is serving as White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly’s chief of staff.
“This doesn’t mean that Ms Nielsen doesn’t know anything about homeland security; it does, however, mean that much of what she does know is wrong and at odds with the policies of her ostensible boss – Donald J. Trump.”
Mr. Viguerie is a longtime observer of American’s byzantine factional politics. His experience with grass-roots fundraising for conservative policies and candidates means that he also pays close attention to the conservative grass roots. He has also been an outspoken oracle of the fundamental truth that “Personnel is Policy.”
In light of that maxim, events such as the departure of Steve Bannon and his cohorts from the White House have to be of concern to principled conservatives. So, does Secretary Rex Tillerson’s continued tenure at the State Department, despite policy pronouncements that contradict President Trump; as well as the surprisingly expeditious execution of the unborn child of an illegal immigrant, being held in U.S. custody, despite the Trump administration’s widely publicized refusal to facilitate access to abortion services for the child’s 17-year-old mother.
Ronald Reagan was the last president elected to office in defiance of the elitist faction’s political, media and bureaucratic powers-that-be. I know from my own experience in his administration how much hard work and foresight are required to implement the president’s agenda when those powers adamantly oppose it. Doing so requires a sincere commitment. However, even with that commitment, it takes constant vigilance, strategizing and hard work to get the job done. And in addition to such effective dedication from presidential appointees embedded in the bureaucracy, it requires reliable support from similarly committed people in the White House. They are the ones in a position to mobilize the president’s clout at critical times, to cut through the shrewdly tied Gordian knots generated by the maneuvers of smiling, outwardly compliant but adamantly hostile elements of the permanent bureaucracy.
In the first years of his administration, President Reagan’s White House staff featured a number of such Reaganites, committed to implementing his agenda and ready to help political appointees to victory in the bureaucratic battles required to do so. This was especially important in the field of foreign policy and international organizations, in which I labored for a number of years. People sincerely committed to the agenda President Trump championed to get elected should be taking note of how such battles are likely to go without truly conservative appointments in and by the White House, to man the ramparts of presidential policy throughout the government bureaucracy.
But with the Trump administration such conservatives have to ponder a question Reagan era conservatives did not have to face. Ronald Reagan ran conservative campaigns because he had, for several decades, been deeply committed to conserving our constitutional republic. By contrast, even many Trump voters had to admit that they were casting their vote for a candidate who was running as a conservative mainly in order to get that vote. They voted with their eyes were open to the disconnect between Mr. Trump’s combative appeals, and stances he had previously taken on issues central to his campaign, like health care and tough policies against illegal immigration.
They chose to trust his words, while trusting to hope for his future actions. Some relied on a version of the expectation previously voiced about presidential candidate G.W. Bush, that he would surround himself with advisers who knew what they were doing. But this is not quite the same thing as advisers who believe in what he said he would do.
All along my greatest concern about candidate and now President Donald Trump has been that he would revert to type, returning to the associations and perspectives that were familiar to him during most of his life and career. They were, for the most part, not principled conservative associations and perspectives. As in Kirstjen Nielsen’s case, he has been willing to repose confidence in people who did not support the policies suggested by his boldly combative campaign rhetoric. This, even though people they did support hail from quarters that, even now, are the source of harsh criticisms against him.
I cannot say that he has been similarly open to considering the perspective of people who had long supported the agenda he championed during the campaign, but who doubt the solidity of his commitment to the views he espoused. The pruning of conservatives that has taken place so far and, to say the least, the whole picture do little to dispel that doubt. Of course, in this trend toward liberal advisers and conservative rhetoric, some may see a shrewd adaptation of a famous era in the politics of Great Britain, when sound government was said to require “Tory men and Whig measures.” But the facts so far point to left-leaning personnel and conservative-sounding rhetoric, with consequential measures left firmly in doubt.
Skeptics ought to be forgiven for observing that this amounts to temporizing – passing time until the rapidly advancing agenda to destroy the moral basis of our constitutional, democratic republic, an elitist, left-leaning despotic oligarchy, has replaced it. People who doubt that this is the agenda simply aren’t paying attention. But are conservatives willing to ponder, with clear-headed objectivity, the implication of events in the Trump administration? Mr. Viguerie appears ready to do so – but how many others? Meanwhile, the voices willing to provide such vigilance, starved of resources, will wane and die. So, truly principled conservatism will “wake up dead,” leaving Americans who truly care about our constitutional, republican self-government mourning its by then all too evident demise.
I firmly believe this does not have to happen. I also believe that the only hope of avoiding it involves the most critical personnel choice of all – the one that makes Christ our Leader, and His Father God our goal, as we stand fast in the liberty wherewith, in Spirit and in truth, they alone can make us free.