Opinion writer

Donald Trump, right, answers a question as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker listens at the first official Republican presidential debate in Cleveland. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

The fiscal conservative group Club for Growth put out a news release that reads, in part:

“Donald Trump’s threat to impose new taxes on U.S. car companies will hurt the American economy and cost more American jobs,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “It should thrill liberals and Democrats everywhere that Trump wants to create new taxes and start a trade war to force American companies to work where he demands.

“Instead of lowering corporate taxes, cutting unnecessary regulations, and fostering a more profitable environment in the U.S., as some Republican candidates have proposed, Trump wants to unilaterally threaten a major U.S. manufacturer with higher taxes.

“The strength of the U.S. economy has historically been our free markets. But, for the past seven years the Obama Administration has driven up costs for consumers by attacking free markets with costly regulations and executive orders. Now Donald Trump wants to one-up the Obama pen-and-phone method by threatening global companies like Ford with higher taxes to make cars for Americans. If Donald Trump gets his way, the heavy hand of government will get substantially heavier, and car buyers will be left holding the bag.”

Well, good for him, but why stop there? Trump advocates protectionist policies against Mexico and China, says NAFTA has been a disaster and advocates a huge scheme to round up illegal immigrants that would cost hundreds of billions in taxes (with no method for paying for it). None of this is remotely “conservative” or the sort of thing the CFG and other pro-market groups support.

Now, sounding like Hillary Clinton, Trump says he would be agreeable to raising taxes on himself and other rich Americans. Once again, his Democratic-leanings are evident. “Anyone who thinks they pay too little in taxes is free to send more to the IRS,” anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist tells me. “They should, however, leave the rest of us alone.”

It is peculiar that interest groups keen to sniff out RINOs and to attack liberals have been muted or altogether AWOL on Trump. He was pro-choice and says he won’t necessarily cut off funding for Planned Parenthood. However, full-throated denunciations from pro-life groups have been hard to find. (To its credit, the Susan B. Anthony group put out a statement debunking Trump’s statements on Planned Parenthood, but I don’t see it ruling out support for him.) Likewise, Trump has been all over the lot on gay marriage, yet anti-gay marriage groups have not taken him on.

On the national security side, foreign policy groups and voices have denounced Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for his neo-isolationist views, flip-flops and efforts to shut down National Security Agency. But where are the voices to denounce Trump’s position that the Iran deal does not need to be undone, that Ukraine doesn’t matter and that we should start trade wars with Mexico and China? Frankly, Trump is closer to Sen. Bernie Sanders’s foreign policy vision than any other candidate, and yet he has escaped scrutiny.

Even more bizarre is the quietude of groups such as Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, who have gone after squishy moderates and demanded ideological purity. They go after candidates for minor ideological quibbles and strategic differences. They and related groups have routinely condemned GOP leadership, which is much more ideologically consistent than Trump. Where are they? Perhaps it does not drive donations to call out Trump’s fraudulent conservatism.

Certainly there are scores of blogs and talk radio hosts who would never tolerate such ideological incoherence from, say, a Jeb Bush or John Kasich. Still, they fall all over Trump, fawning and defending him.

There are several explanations for what is going on. First, sincere and serious activists and policy groups have been loath to give Trump credence. They, like many of his opponents, have hoped he would go away. But he hasn’t. Second, many of the Beltway groups and talk radio radicals are not interested in conservative policy, either; they are in the business of generating outrage — and the money and audience that go with it. Nevertheless, it’s time to stop giving Trump a free ride. Groups committed to the policy positions Trump trashes should speak up, or see causes to which they are devoted go down the drain.