For Conservatives, Trump Presidency Remains a Crisis and an Opportunity

Weeks into the Trump presidency, a number of the country’s leading conservative intellectuals remain apprehensive about the man who occupies the Oval Office. In a summit hosted by the National Review Institute, an educational organization affiliated with the well-known magazine founded by the late William F. Buckley, Jr., conservatives gathered in a state of confusion, bewilderment, but also excitement.

“How many of you did not vote for Donald Trump?” asked Heather Higgins, an author and the president and CEO of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum. Virtually every hand in the room went up in response.

“How many of you were happy that Hillary Clinton had lost the election?” Higgins followed up to the hundreds gathered at the posh Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington, D.C. Just as many in the crowd raised their hand.

The exercise summed up nicely the paradox that is Donald Trump.

The exercise summed up nicely the paradox that is Donald Trump.

“For conservatives, Donald Trump presents an opportunity and a crisis,” said National Review Editor Rich Lowry in the summit’s opening remarks. It was a point echoed by Charles Krauthammer and other prominent thought leaders in the two-day conference, which covered topics including immigration, healthcare and Hollywood and pop culture.

With a vote on the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare coming as early as this week, healthcare was among the most hotly debated issues at the gathering. The discussions have exposed differences within the Republican Party and among conservatives generally, as some argue for a complete repeal of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement while punting on a replacement plan until the party can reach a firm consensus.

House Republican leaders have rejected this approach with the American Health Care Act, a bill largely based on the ideas by former congressman and current Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The bill builds on years of work by House Republicans, who have been calling for patient-centered and consumer driven health care coverage.

If enacted, it would radically transform the healthcare system by empowering individuals and states to take increased ownership when it comes to personalizing health care coverage for the millions of Americans that do not receive employer-based health insurance.

tom price

Despite this, some conservatives are urging Republican leaders and President Trump to reject the American Health Care Act, even as some of the same critics voted for similar legislation in previous years. Meanwhile, progressives are pointing to numbers released by the Congressional Budget Office that estimates that millions would lose health insurance coverage if the legislation were enacted.

At the NRI summit, Price urged conservatives to reject thinking about the number of those being covered, but instead focus on the type of coverage being offered.

“Coverage is not the measuring stick we should be using,” said the former orthopedic surgeon. “What we should be using is care.”

Under Obamacare, not only have millions lost health insurance coverage, but millions more have seen their premiums soar as the young and healthy have largely stayed away from the Obamacare marketplace. Supporters of the American Health Care Act say that market forces and increased competition will create more affordable health care plans without sacrificing the quality of coverage.

President Trump may emerge as a key figure in helping to bridge differences among Republicans. According to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), one of the keynote speakers at the gathering, the president plans to travel around the country in support of the replacement bill.

If successful, Trump would not only live up to his campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, he would also pave the way for other items in the conservative legislative wish list, including tax reform.

The prospects excited those attending the event even as some of them whispered trepidations about the president’s unpredictable nature. Most in attendance seemed to understand that conservatives will need to better harness their free market, limited government message for an increasingly populist Republican Party skeptical of trade and immigration.

Stephen Miller, the 31 year old senior White House aide, seemed to crystallize this sentiment perfectly in a panel discussion. “As conservatives we should be very skeptical of radical economic and social changes that everyday Americans will not be able to benefit from.”

As conservatives we should be very skeptical of radical economic and social changes that everyday Americans will not be able to benefit from.”

A Millennial attendee who wished to remain anonymous said Miller was spot on. “People are hurting and conservatives have better figure out a way to deliver before they go back to looking in from the outside,” he told Opportunity Lives.

But there are plenty of signs of hope for increased unity at the summit. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey received warm applause when he told the story of how he intervened in behalf of a young man trying to give free haircuts to the homeless, but who faced stiff opposition from the state’s cosmetology board for operating without a license. The feel good story seemed to unite just about everyone in the room.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.