One of the ways the media marginalizes both Donald Trump and the conservative movement as a whole is to label Trump an "extremist." Trump might be an extremist when it comes to his ego, or the carelessness of his rhetoric, but when it comes to ideology, he isn't an extremist of any sort, and he definitely isn't a conservative extremist.
I'm an extremist. I would know.
I favor outlawing abortion beginning on the day of conception. I believe the most urgent issue facing the government is raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to probably at least 73, immediately. I favor a very low flat tax. I think the Federal Department of Education should be abolished. I have the self-awareness to understand that I hold at least a dozen positions that would automatically disqualify me from holding any Federal office, even in my deep-red home state of Tennessee. I know extremism when I see it because it stares me in the face every day when I look in the mirror, and I am not ashamed of it.
Getty Images/Alex Wong
On the other hand, Trump doesn't really hold any positions that are ideologically conservative at all, much less on the "extremist" end of the spectrum. His abortion position is absolutely incoherent and consultant-generated, as evidenced by his disastrous attempt to explain whether he believed women ought to be punished who had an abortion. Any candidate who believes that Planned Parenthood does "good work" and ought to receive federal funding is not an extremist on either abortion or federal spending.
Across the spectrum, most of Trump's ideological positions can only be characterized as "center left." He believes the minimum wage should be raised. He opposes any sort of entitlement reform that might affect Social Security or Medicare whatsoever. His current tax plan contains some aggressive cuts, but by Trump's own admission, it should really only be understood as starting positions in upcoming negotiations with Congress. He opposes free trade. He is the opposite of a free-speech advocate, having often mused about using the power of the government to silence press outlets that criticize him. He believes Hillary Clinton's infrastructure spending plan should be at least doubled. On foreign policy, he is neither especially hawkish (having criticized both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the bipartisan saber rattling against Russian expansionism) nor especially dovish (having called for extreme and probably unlawful military measures against Islamic State).
The biggest proof that Trump is not an extremist, however, is the way he responds when challenged. True extremists have learned to live in defiance of the social stigma that comes with holding beliefs that are, in fact, outside the social mainstream. They have suffered lifelong criticism and mockery for their beliefs, and are used to defending them in the face of withering public attacks.
Trump, on the other hand, has recoiled like a wounded snake whenever he has been challenged on an ideological basis throughout this election.
There is no doubt that Trump has said some extremist things throughout his campaign. His comments on punishing women who get an abortion were extreme. His advocacy for a "deportation force" to go throughout the country forcibly deporting all 11 million-plus illegal immigrants who currently live in this country was extreme. His call for a total ban on Muslim immigration into the United States was extreme. But in every case, Trump reacted to public criticism of these positions by either outright disavowing them or claiming that he never held them in the first place.
[sharequote align="right"]"Trump has recoiled like a wounded snake whenever he has been challenged on an ideological basis throughout this election."[/sharequote]
The end result of several months of this repetitive cycle is that Trump's current policy platform is a disorganized mashup of economic centrism and leftism, and a foreign policy that both left and right agree is misinformed, incoherent and dangerous. The only meaningfully extremist position that Trump still holds is an extremist view of the proper scope of presidential authority — and he only believes in that to the extent that the president's name is Donald J. Trump.
But while Trump isn't actually a conservative ideological extremist, it is easy for the liberal press to paint him as one to the casual observer of politics. Perversely, it is Trump's lack of ideological core — combined with his unwillingness to study any issue in depth — that causes him to spout off with rhetoric that sounds dangerous (and extremist) to the casual observer. And since the Republican party has embraced Trump wholeheartedly, it has become all too easy for the press to tie him to conservative extremists, specifically.
The press knows what they are doing in this regard. Even though fully 40 percent of Americans or more may end up voting for Trump on Election Day, only about 20 percent of Americans can even stand him. Making such an unpopular figure the face of "conservative extremism" is a good way to discredit anything that can be described as "conservative extremism" at all.
What they hope you don't notice is that almost nothing of what Donald Trump has said, particularly since Ted Cruz dropped out of the race in early May, is conservative at all. And it certainly isn't "extremist," unless you count being extremely uninformed as a form of extremism.
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