‘He was standing up for America’: Think tank leader says the right still needs Trump

Laurel Duggan, DCNF

  • Former President Donald Trump’s disposition is at least as important as his actual policies, according to Tom Klingenstein, Claremont Institute chairman.
  • Trump’s hostility to the media and to political correctness, along with his unabashed pro-America attitude, have been key to the transformation of the conservative movement and are exactly what the present moment requires, he told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • “Trump had a particular constellation of assets that fit the moment when we’re in a war. And that’s what prudence is … it’s not about assessing him in a vacuum, it’s about assessing him in the context of the current circumstances,” Klingenstein said. 

Trump’s brash style and confrontational personality are at least as important as his politics, Tom Klingenstein, chairman of the conservative Claremont Institute think tank, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Klingenstein said Trump’s disposition was crucial to the conservative movement and perhaps more important than his actual policies, which he generally supported. His optimism, outsider status, disregard for political correctness and hostility to the media were exactly what the moment called for, according to Klingenstein.

“What you hear frequently is ‘Gee, I like Trump’s policies but I don’t like the rest of him,’ and my thought is that it’s the rest of him that really inspired the movement,” Klingenstein told the DCNF. “Yes, I agree with many or most of his policies, but what I think was so unusual was his courage. Can you imagine what it would take to stand up to the kind of abuse he was subject to?”

Claremont was one of the first conservative groups to support Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Michael Anton, a Claremont senior fellow, authored the now-famous Flight 93 essay in September 2016 arguing that electing Trump was the country’s last chance to reverse its decline, comparing it to the decision made by passengers on the hijacked United Flight 93 to storm the cockpit rather than allowing it to be used in further 9/11 attacks.

“2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. … There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain,” Anton wrote.

“One questions that people should have is why Claremont, among all the flavors of conservatism, supported Trump early. Part of it is an appreciation of prudence. … Trump had a particular constellation of assets that fit the moment when we’re in a war. And that’s what prudence is … it’s not about assessing him in a vacuum, it’s about assessing him in the context of the current circumstances.”

Klingenstein credited Trump with exposing — not creating — the divide in our country, as well as what he characterized as corruption in the media and in intelligence agencies. This perspective has been echoed by others affiliated with the National Conservatism movement: that Trump helped expose challenges facing America and that clear-eyed conservatives need to shift their focus to meet the present moment.

“He showed us that we’re in a war. And he smoked out rats: the media, we now know, is corrupt. We knew it was biased, but now we know it’s absolutely corrupt. We now know that the intelligence agencies — which we thought were biased — we now know that they’re corrupt,” he said.

Trump’s rejection of political correctness and unapologetically pro-America attitude were also critical to the conservative movement, Klingenstein told DCNF.

“This is a period of self-loathing: we teach our children to hate America. So having someone like Trump who’s unreservedly, unabashedly pro-American, is very very important,” he said. “Political correctness is a prohibition on defending America. If you say things like ‘American exceptionalism,’ thats taboo, so when he was standing up against political correctness he was standing up for America.”

“Trump has an absence of white guilt. He never apologizes,” he said. “White guilt is killing us because it’s driving affirmative action and outcome equality, where all groups have to be equal based on their proportion of the population. He’s the antidote to that. Most Republicans have white guilt … that makes it difficult even for those on the right to really defend America, and we on the right are still very, very fearful of being called a racist. Trump is not. “

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