President-elect Donald Trump waits to stop out onto the portico for his Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Donald Trump’s Start is Rocky, But Far Better Than Many Skeptics Hoped, Which Brings Me to Evan McMullin

“Thus far President Trump appears to be trying to keep his promises and is racking up successes with which conservatives should be pleased. If he continues on this path, I will gladly support his re-election in 2020.”

There have been problems, and I have publicly disagreed with several things the new administration has done this week, but Donald Trump’s first week in office should reassure skeptics that Trump has surrounded himself with sound counsel and is committed to his job. He is not, himself, a conservative, but Trump clearly recognizes who brought him to the dance. Those of us who opposed him from the right should breath easier and tell him thank you for so much of what he has done this week.

By and large, his cabinet picks are sound. The rumor of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, if true, would be a grand slam making Trump one of the most significant Presidents to affect long-term change in America. General Mattis at Defense is shaping up to be a superb choice, and Rex Tillerson has alleviated any concerns about him. He will make an excellent Secretary of State.

Donald Trump has also been a leader of sound judgment with his executive orders. He strikes me as a man who is hell bent on keeping promises made on the campaign trail and is not, in the mold of a typical politician, trying to obfuscate and abandon commitments previously made. Reinstating the Mexico City policy is tremendous. Calling out China is the right thing to do. Solidifying ties to Britain with a trade agreement is bold. Shutting down the EPA is praise worthy. Rejecting the Susan Collins-Bill Cassidy plan to keep Obamacare while pretending not to was the right thing to do.

Donald Trump has done more in one week to reverse course than I ever expected.

It has not been without problems. I think the grievance-mongering against Mexico is wrong. I think his protectionism and call for tariffs is bad policy. The use of his Android phone for tweeting is a terrible idea given his unsecured phone’s vulnerability. His tweeting is a distraction, and I get the sense he does not understand how some of his tweets really can seriously affect individuals and our nation. I wish he would stop. That likewise reflects on his authoritarian tendencies, which if not tempered will harm our individual liberty and our national security.

In the 1990’s, pollsters found they had to bifurcate polling on Bill Clinton. People did not like Clinton personally at the time, but they loved the job he was doing. I think the same could be said of Trump. I wish he were a better role model for my children, but his first week shows how much promise the Trump Administration has.

That brings me to Evan McMullin, who I supported in November. McMullin has announced he is forming a new conservative group that, in its initial announcement, sounded very much like it is going to be just an anti-Trump group. His new group is called Stand Up Republic.

Since the election, McMullin has seemed to tilt left as a reaction to President Trump and has been more of a Twitter concern troll against the President than a public policy leader. He has raised some valid concerns about President Trump’s praise of Russia and authoritarian tendencies. But it is hard to see how McMullin’s never ending criticisms and a willingness to coalition build with radical leftists like Shaun King against the President makes his new group an accountability group instead of just an opposition group. As of this morning, almost every one of Evan McMullin’s tweets is anti-Trump in some capacity.

I think conservatives need to recognize that President Trump, from a policy standpoint, has done, said, and believes things with which we disagree, but he is much better than any of us hoped. I do not think anyone on the right, with a straight face, can maintain that Hillary Clinton would have been equal to or better than Trump.

With Evan McMullin’s consistent complaints against Trump, with no pause, I think his group is off to a bad start. We need something like what McMullin envisions. We need an organization that ensures conservatives have accountability partners and ensures that Donald Trump is held to account for deviating too far from limited government and liberty. We need a group on the right that recognizes Donald Trump is not a conservative and that he does have authoritarian tendencies.

We all know that during the Bush Administration much of the conservative movement became wholesale cheerleaders for President Bush. Conservatism became a synonym for Republican — CPAC became a gathering of Republicans and lobbyists, not conservatives. There must be clear, conservative voices moving forward willing to honestly, as best they can, call balls and strikes, and offer up carrots and sticks — preferably those without a profit motive behind a particular agenda, e.g. lobbyist led conservative groups.

I am skeptical Stand Up Republic can be that vehicle as it is being presented. If it is to be, I think Evan McMullin and those joining him need to be willing to step back from constant criticism and loudly note there has been a lot of good thus far. Riding the praise of the left in the name an anti-Trump crusade that hides behind words like “liberty” and “freedom” is foolish when many of the leftists praising the effort would gladly restrict our freedom and liberty themselves.

The constant criticisms of President Trump remind me of those who cried wolf for so long about previous Republican nominees. No one listened to them in Campaign 2016. Now, constant criticism of the President with no room to praise him makes it nearly impossible to separate valid criticism from sour grapes and partisanship.

Donald Trump was not my first or last choice for President. I still have tremendous concerns about him. He is also, however, my President and I want him to do well. Thus far President Trump appears to be trying to keep his promises and is racking up successes with which conservatives should be pleased. If he continues on this path, I will gladly support his re-election in 2020.

Both the side that always praises Trump and the side that always criticizes him are wrong. A group that derives from #NeverTrump that has not yet come to terms with President Trump is a group that risks hijacking conservatism just as much as #AlwaysTrump.

That leads me to one final point on this matter. Donald Trump is not a conservative nor can he credibly be considered the leader of conservatism. His campaign and those around him have been pretty explicit about their populist-nationalist bent. I think conservatives must resist the temptation to be constant cheerleaders and must resist the temptation to let President Trump be the standard bearer for a movement he really is not a part of.

But at the same time, Evan McMullin needs to show he has earned the right to be an accountability leader for conservatism. He received just 728,830 votes in the election or only 0.53% of the vote cast. Since then he has articulated broad principles in the vein of platitudes, but what are the conservative convictions he would rally conservatives toward to which Trump is not already rallying them? The free market comes to mind quickly, but if that is the case, other than being the guy who got 0.53% of the popular vote, Evan McMullin needs to show he has earned the right to be the flag bearer for conservative principles. Conservatives should resist any effort to remake conservatism as an anti-Trump crusade just as they should resist Donald Trump’s supporters rebranding conservatism in the image of Donald Trump.

Principle first means conservatives should praise President Trump when it is warranted, criticize him when it is warranted, and offer both carrots and sticks as needed to his administration and a Republican-led Congress. If Stand Up Republic intends to be that group, perhaps McMullin should stand down on Twitter just as I hope the President will. If he just intends it to be an anti-Trump group, I hope he will resist branding it as first and foremost a conservative group.

Frankly, conservative critics and skeptics of Donald Trump, myself included, could well stand to admit in this first week there has been much about which we should be happy. We should admit Donald Trump is thus far, far better than Hillary Clinton. That does not mean we should abandon our concerns. It does mean we should be modest in our approach moving forward.

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Erick Erickson

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