Donald Trump fits no simple ideological framework. The presidential candidate collects thoughts from across the spectrum. Added together, however, his ideas represent a sharp departure from many of the Republican Party’s values and priorities dating back half a century or more.
The list of Trump’s apostasies is lengthy and growing by the day. He said this week that he sees little value in U.S. military commitments in the Asia-Pacific region. He questions the terms of U.S. involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He opposes free-trade agreements. He advocates taxing imports from China.
Domestically, he opposes any restructuring of Social Security or Medicare. He favors hefty spending on infrastructure. He favors the use of eminent domain. He advocates closing a tax break the benefits Wall Street hedge fund managers, and he decries corporate inversions. He defends much of the work of Planned Parenthood outside of abortions.
Yet, on other issues, he embraces more doctrinaire conservative views. His tax plan is consistent with that of other Republican candidates. His tough talk on immigration is cheered by many in the GOP. He strongly supports Second Amendment gun rights and favors local control of education. His latest discussion of Middle East issues puts him squarely on the side of pro-Israel hawks.
“I am a common-sense conservative,” Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday. Asked how he would label his governing philosophy, he replied, “It would be governing through strength — and governing also through common sense and governing through heart.”
To many people in the party, Trump’s ideas lack intellectual cohesion, but together they reflect the instincts of a dealmaker. He arrives at positions guided less by philosophy than visceral reactions to problems of the moment.
“I don’t think he has an ideology,” said Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative commentator who twice sought the GOP nomination. “He very much is responding to the realities that he has encountered and his natural reactions to them. It’s not some intellectual construct. He’s much more of an instinctive politician.”
Trump’s presidential candidacy has been described as a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. In reality it appears more a movement that threatens to subsume the GOP behind a menu of ideas and instincts that might best be described as “America Wins.”
“I’m very, very conservative on the military and on taking care of our vets,” Trump said. “I’m certainly conservative on education, I’m conservative on the budget and fiscally conservative.”
On the economy, Trump said he calls himself a free-trader but wants to put teeth into the U.S. approach to trade agreements. “We’re being absolutely mauled by Japan, absolutely mauled by Mexico,” he said. “We’re being absolutely destroyed on free trade.”
Trump’s critics argue that his provocative statements do not translate into either a coherent worldview or specific policies.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, speaking to a group of reporters Tuesday, dismissed Trump’s national security views as those of a candidate with little understanding of the world.
“I don’t think he has enough knowledge of foreign policy to be rewriting much of anything,” he said. “I think he believes in isolationism, that we should withdraw from the world. And that if we do so, the bad guys will leave us alone. That view is hopelessly naive.”
Some conservative Republicans see Trump’s success as built more on personality, celebrity and perceived strength than on a set of ideas that constitute a political philosophy.
“For years the GOP failed to give people a clear sense of our principles and plans,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in an email. “Donald Trump has obviously filled that vacuum with lots of showmanship, hooey, and bluster, but he’s done more than just that. He’s waged an effective war on almost every plank of the Republican Party’s platform.”
The closer Trump comes to assembling the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination, the more the party will confront the challenge of crafting a policy platform that reflects the views not only of the nominee but also candidates for federal, state and local offices.
The platform will be written and tentatively approved the week before the Republican National Convention opens in Cleveland. The process of drafting the platform has often been a source of intraparty conflict, but rarely has the presidential front-runner seemed so at odds with his own party. That could produce fireworks inside the platform committee if Trump decides he wants to push his views on reluctant delegates.
“You don’t always get what you want in a platform,” said Mike Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman. “There’s always give-and-take. Delegates will feel strongly — and sometimes more strongly than the presumptive nominee.”
Some GOP nominees have walked away from platform planks with which they have disagreed. Trump could choose to do the same, preferring to expend his energies on other battles.
At this point, the issue is mostly theoretical. The platform committee has not even been named, and most of the delegates have yet to be identified. One question is whether Trump and his team will work effectively to ensure that the delegates sent to Cleveland share his views on issues.
Phyllis Schlafly, the longtime conservative activist and now a Trump supporter, said she spoke to him before his recent rally in St. Louis and said she gave him a copy of the 2012 platform.
“He pledged to me to support the platform we have,” she said. “I had a hand in writing the platform last time. I think it’s the best platform we ever had.”
Trump acknowledged Wednesday that he has differences with others in the party and said he wants to have a strong voice in shaping the platform, particularly on trade. “I have some differences with them,” he said, adding, “I’m by far leading.”
He also confirmed Schlafly’s account of their conversation but said he has not yet had an opportunity to read the 2012 platform. Striking a conciliatory note as he finished the interview, Trump said, “I don’t think there’s going to be that many changes.”
Robert Costa contributed to this report.