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End the duopoly

The Overlooked Conservative Tradition That Embraces an Executive Like Donald Trump

Studies of contemporary public opinion have shown that if most people know one thing about conservatives’ ideas about the Constitution, it is that they stand on the rock of originalism—the proposition that judges should read the Constitution by the lights of the nation’s Founders.

While there have been some laudable exceptions, many originalists at the country’s top law schools have steered clear of the broader Donald Trump phenomenon, in the meantime taking deep dives into hermeneutic linguistic theory and 18th-century understandings of words such as commerce and emoluments, and phrases such as public use and well-regulated militia.

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But outside of legal academia, many conservative scholars—the Claremont McKenna College government professor Charles Kesler; the Saint Vincent College politics professor Bradley C. S. Watson; the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics director and AWC Family Foundation fellow at the Heritage Foundation David Azerrad; the Johns Hopkins University political-science lecturer Ken Masugi; the Hillsdale College lecturer Michael Anton; the Hillsdale politics professor Thomas G. West; the Amherst College professor emeritus of American institutions and director of the James Wilson Institute Hadley Arkes; and legions of others—have embraced, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Trump, a man who would have been the Founders’ worst nightmare, and the antithesis of every Christian or civic value and virtue that conservatives have purported to champion. The white evangelical segment of the electorate agrees: As Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic earlier this week, white evangelicals have expressed unwavering support for the president, and many say there is nothing he could do that would cause them to reconsider. Many commentators have explained this embrace as crassly transactional: Conservatives, they say, accept Trump because he will appoint their judges, or roll back regulations they hate.

While that may be true for some, it neglects a little-known but long-standing constitutional argument for an all-powerful, redemptive executive, one rooted in fundamental law and high principle, and one that has underwritten the thinking right’s steadfast support of this president. This argument long predates the rise of this real-estate developer turned politician, and its origins lie not within the nation’s premier law schools or the Federalist Society, but in the pages of major mid-century conservative publications such as Triumph and Modern Age; on radio and television programs such as Fulton J. Sheen’s Life Is Worth Living; in books; and in academia—and, crucially, within the philosophy and political-science departments, not the law schools.

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