May 15th 2015

Can You Trump That?

by Charles J. Reid, Jr.

Charles J. Reid, Jr. was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he majored in Latin, Classics, and History, and also did substantial coursework in classical Greek and modern European languages. It was during his undergraduate days that he developed an interest in canon law, doing a year of directed research in Roman and canon law under the supervision of James Brundage. Reid then attended the Catholic University of America, where he earned J.D. and J.C.L. (license in canon law) degrees. During his time at Catholic University, he organized a series of symposia on the bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear arms. The proceedings of these symposia were published under Reid's editorship as "Peace in a Nuclear Age: The Bishops' Pastoral Letter in Perspective" (Catholic University of America Press, 1986). This book was called by the New York Times "among the most scholarly and unsettling of responses" to the pastoral letter (December 28, 1986).Reid then attended Cornell University, where he earned a Ph.D. in the history of medieval law under the supervision of Brian Tierney. His thesis at Cornell was on the Christian, medieval origins of the western concept of individual rights. Over the last ten years, he has published a number of articles on the history of western rights thought, and is currently completing work on a book manuscript addressing this question.In 1991, Reid was appointed research associate in law and history at the Emory University School of Law, where he has worked closely with Harold Berman on the history of western law. He collaborated with Professor Berman on articles on the Lutheran legal science of the sixteenth century, the English legal science of the seventeenth century, and the flawed premises of Max Weber's legal historiography.While at Emory, Reid has also pursued a research agenda involving scholarship on the history of western notions of individual rights; the history of liberty of conscience in America; and the natural-law foundations of the jurisprudence of Judge John Noonan. He has also published articles on various aspects of the history of the English common law. He has had the chance to apply legal history in a forensic setting, serving as an expert witness in litigation involving the religious significance of Christian burial. Additionally, Reid has taught a seminar on the contribution of medieval canon law to the shaping of western constitutionalism.  Recently, Reid has become a featured blogger at the Huffington Post on current issues where religion, law and politics intersect.

“By running on the promise to preserve Social Security and Medicare, Trump would be campaigning against the Republican establishment in the name of protecting the Republican base. The Republican base, after all, is an older demographic. Polls show that among this older demographic Medicare and Social Security are popular ideas……...Trump's candidacy, if it should come to pass, would drive a wedge between establishment and base.



Donald Trump has teased the voting public before. He has flirted several times with the possibility of running for president. In 2012, he even rose to near the top of some early opinion polls. Each time, however, Trump backed away from an actual candidacy. Indeed, there are many who believe that these quadrennial presidential flirtations are nothing more than a marketing ploy. What better way for the ever-theatrical Trump to draw attention to his name? And since his name is his brand, success demands that it must always be in the public's mind.

But what if this time is different? What if Donald Trump surprises the experts and decides to run? There are some reasons to believe that he might be ready to do that. Just a few days ago, he said that he might soon announce a "big surprise." A couple of months ago, he announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee and indicated a reluctance to renew the contract on his television show The Apprentice. And, furthermore, Trump has hired campaign staff -- in Iowa, in New Hampshire, and in South Carolina, three early caucus and primary states. Serious campaign staffers are people who depend on their reputations for their livelihood. Presumably, they would not enlist on a fool's errand.

So, will Trump seek the Republican nomination? And, more to the point, what are his odds of success?

Contrary to what many people think, I believe that Trump has a decent chance of winning the nomination should he decide to pursue it. Let's review the issues that Trump has hinted he would run on.

He has repeatedly indicated his strong support for preserving Social Security and Medicare. This would seem to be a no-brainer, of course, except that it flies in the face of Republican orthodoxy. Paul Ryan's infamous budget (the Orwellian "Path to Prosperity") has targeted those programs for years. The most recent iteration of this misbegotten budget would privatize Medicare and turn it into a voucher system by 2024. Seniors are a vulnerable demographic. They should not be made to navigate the intricacies of a voucher system.

By running on the promise to preserve Social Security and Medicare, Trump would be campaigning against the Republican establishment in the name of protecting the Republican base. The Republican base, after all, is an older demographic. Polls show that among this older demographic Medicare and Social Security are popular ideas. Indeed, the only reason the base has not rebelled against Paul Ryan and his ilk is cognitive dissonance. Older Republican voters by and large do not believe what is in the budget. Trump's candidacy, if it should come to pass, would drive a wedge between establishment and base.

Of course, Mike Huckabee is already trying out precisely this campaign. Huckabee, however, does not have the campaign resources to stir the Republican base from its complacent state of cognitive dissonance. To do that, you need to arouse people, and to arouse people, you need resources -- money, staff, advertising budgets. Donald Trump, should he run, would have these resources at his disposal. If he ran on Social Security and Medicare, hard and loud, and showed himself prepared to confront Republican orthodoxy, he might have a winning hand.

Trump has also shown himself opposed to the negotiation of additional international trade deals. Most recently, he has stated his opposition to the creation of the Trans-Pacific free trade zone. He argues that the agreement amounts to an attack on American manufacturing. By lowering tariffs, it would make foreign-made goods more attractive to American consumers at the expense of domestic jobs.

I part company with Donald Trump on this analysis. While I certainly agree that our international trade agreements have favored the interests of capital over labor, I don't believe that the ideal of international trade should be abandoned. I would much prefer to use trade agreements as a vehicle for writing into law protections for labor around the world.

But that is not what Donald Trump is proposing. He would scuttle the deal altogether. He sees it as a part of an ongoing narrative -- the hollowing out of the American heartland.

Again, Trump is positioning himself as radically opposed to the Republican establishment. Should he mount a campaign like this, furthermore, he runs the risk of playing with the dangerous fires of demagoguery. That said, opposition to free-trade deals is a position held by many in the Republican base. It is an issue that could carry the day in a fractured field. And, again, Trump has the resources to drive this case home.

I would not and could not vote for Donald Trump. For me, his dabbling with "birtherism" in 2012 simply went too far. Birtherism was always a conspiracy of the fringe. Trump was among those responsible for moving the mainstream of American politics a little closer to the lunatic fringe. He is not someone I would want to see occupying the Oval Office.

Still, if Trump is serious, if he is not just stroking his ego or promoting his brand name, he has formidable assets. If he showed himself willing to campaign forcefully on Social Security, Medicare, and free trade, he could make a competitive run for the Republican nomination. And in the free-for-all that 2016 promises to be, a "competitive campaign" may be all that is needed to snatch a nomination that is looking more and more like a rugby scrum.



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