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Conservative ‘Never Trumpers’ are split over Trump’s first year

One year after President Donald Trump's inauguration, conservatives are split over his policies. Some praise his actions on tax law, judges and regulation, many of which fall in line with conservative orthodoxy. But for others, concerns over his public temperament and character have deepened. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports on a divided view of the presidency.

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  • ABE RIBICOFF:

    And with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn’t have to have gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago!”

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Half a century ago, the liberal base of the Democratic Party tore itself apart over the War in Vietnam, over race, over generational conflict. It was a political “civil war” that reshaped the party…and its politics.

    Two years ago, it was the conservative establishment that found itself divided over the unlikeliest of Presidential possibilities. The objections were…

  • RICH LOWRY:

    That Donald Trump– was not a conservative, was not reliable, and had all sorts of characters and– temperament issues that would make him a very risky bet, at best, in the general election.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Rich Lowry edits the National Review—the most venerable conservative publication in the country. As 2016 began, the magazine devoted an entire issue to the case “Against Trump.” More than 20 prominent conservatives assailed him on a variety of grounds. Former Attorney General Mike Mukasey said he would “imperil our national security.

    David McIntosh, who headed the Club for Growth, a prominent conservative organization, saw Trump’s views on immigration, trade, entitlements, as beyond the conservative pale.

  • DAVID MCINTOSH:

    In the Republican primaries, we thought there were other choices that were much better pro-growth candidates. We had championed them in their Senate races. And we had looked at Donald Trump’s record– as a businessman, and he sounded like a liberal.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    For others on the right, the doubts were more fundamental—those embracing Trump were blinding themselves to the real issue: not policy, but character.

  • CHARLIE SYKES:

    They have to ignore so much.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Charlie Sykes was a longtime radio talk show host based in Wisconsin—and an influential voice on the Right.

  • CHARLIE SYKES:

    They have to ignore– the arrogance, the narcissism, the chronic lying, his personal corruption– the– the– the contempt for the rule of law. These are not matters of style. These are not matters of personality. These are fundamental issues

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    But it turned out these voices had little sway among rank and file conservatives, whose votes enabled Trump to capture the Republican nomination. That left these anti-Trump conservatives with a difficult choice… vote for Trump or watch their sworn enemy take the White House.

    For talk show host and columnist Hugh Hewitt, who had urged Trump to quit the race after the “Access Hollywood” tape, it came down to a few key issues…

  • HUGH HEWITT:

    The United States military and its adequacy, funding, preparedness, which I thought had deteriorated to such levels that we were in danger, and the United States Supreme Court, the latter being more important than anything else. Had Secretary Clinton become President Clinton–and filled that with say any of the judges who President Obama appointed to the circuit courts or who were turned back, the Constitution in my view would have been over. It would have become almost a parliamentary democracy, the majority vote of nine unelected justices.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And then, exactly one year ago, the seemingly impossible became reality.

  • DONALD TRUMP:

    The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Now, one year after the inauguration of a president who so deeply divided the right, what’s the verdict? Unsurprisingly, it’s split. For some—particularly those focused on policy– they’ve been impressed by a series of victories across a wide variety of other fronts on judges, taxes, regulations. For others—especially those concerned about temperament and character—their fears have only deepened.”

  • RICH LOWRY:

    I consider myself a leader of a movement with about three people, which is the Occasionally Trump movement.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    National Review’s Lowry has warmed to Trump over policies; less so over behavior.

  • RICH LOWRY:

    He’s governed much more as a conservative than I would have thought. So he’s let the gravitational pull of the party get him into a more conventional policy place. And I think, by and large, that’s a– good thing. And I’ve also been surprised he hasn’t done more to moderate his behavior, or let– not let us see his worst character flaws advertised in– 140 or 280 characters every single morning. I thought he would keep a lid on that.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    The Club for Growth’s McIntosh has been won over by what the president has achieved.

  • DAVID MCINTOSH:

    And because I think h– he believes the pro-growth, limited government policies will be what makes America great again– what builds the country, we didn’t understand that when we were campaigning against him in the primary.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    As for the president’s behavior, Mcintosh chooses his words carefully.

  • DAVID MCINTOSH:

    The other thing that he brought to the table– that– none– no one I think really understood is a completely different way of communicating to the American people. And that has led a lot of people to s– to make these character assessments. “Oh, we don’t like the fact that he tweets.” What he’s done is move the political discussion into the 21st century.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Others—for whom “NeverTrump is a badge of honor—take no comfort from the policy victories.

    Jennifer Rubin writes the “right Turn’ column for the Washington Post.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    There are people who said, you know what? For us conservatives, he’s been a surprisingly effective producer of what we want to see.

  • JENNIFER RUBIN:

    Conservatives are supposed to be about higher principles.. They’re supposed to be about the Constitution. The rule of law. About equality before the law. And you can’t on one hand say you’re a principled Constitutional conservative. And then the other hand say, yeah, but if we can get, you know, these regulations ripped up, well, then, that’s okay. That to me, seems to be insincere.

  • CHARLIE SYKES:

    They’re getting their tax cuts. They’re getting their regulatory reforms, but the price they’re paying, watching the vulgarization of the culture, you know, watching the crudity of the President, you know, watching his attacks on democratic norms, thinking through the damage he might do to the culture, these are– these are painful things for conservatives.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Do you think that this is somebody that conservatives can–can rally behind?

  • HUGH HEWITT:

    My overall view is President Trump isn’t a Republican. He is most definitely not a conservative. But he is delivering on an agenda that is at least as conservative as Reagan’s and I trust that he will keep his promises to the conservative movement, because he’s in a coalition government with the Republican Party and he’s in partnership with McConnell and Paul Ryan and he delivers on the commitments he makes to them. I will put up with that.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Among the nay-sayers, no area is more critical than foreign policy…where the judgment and temperament of a President can be a question, literally, of life and death. And it’s here where one conservative voice has grave doubts.

  • ELIOT COHEN:

    Not starting World War III is a really low bar for a president of the United States.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Eliot Cohen is a political scientist, who served as a State Department counselor under George W. Bush. He says Trump’s conduct in foreign affairs is a clear danger.

  • ELIOT COHEN:

    First, he set up a number of– really potentially very dangerous foreign policy– circumstances on the Korean peninsula– in our relationship with– Mexico, in our relationship– in– in the way we’ve dealt with free trade. And secondly, he’s done a lot of long-term damage to American credibility, American reputation around the world, the American ability to speak– forthrightly on human rights, rule of law, those kinds of things.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    But aren’t the President’s tweets essentially insignificant?

  • ELIOT COHEN:

    The tweets are presidential pronouncements. They’re insights into what the president is really like. And it is profoundly disturbing to see somebody who is so petty and teper– temperamental and ill-informed and vindictive and shallow as President– the United States. And there is long term damage, I think, to the office and to our institutions– by having somebody saying those things.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    And about those tweets, Rich Lowry has one simple solution.

  • RICH LOWRY:

    The first and the most important thing, and the easiest thing to do, although it would never happen, would be to hold a grand public ceremony and throw his phone into the Potomac River

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Some in the “never-Trump” camp talk of new alliances, perhaps a new centrist movement. But for the moment those on the Right who oppose Trump are fighting a rearguard action; more than three-fourths of conservatives say they approve of the President’s job performance. For now, at least, the one time heretic has redefined what it means to be a conservative.

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