The Constitution Party’s Donald Trump Dilemma Version 2020

The Constitution Party (CP) will be choosing it’s Presidential nominee this Friday evening via teleconference, as its previously scheduled National Convention in St. Louis was cancelled due to the Coronavirus lockdown. In 2016 prior to the CP National Convention, I wrote an article entitled “The Constitution Party’s Donald Trump Dilemma” in which I explained why the CP needed to be very careful about how it handled Trump and the Trump phenomenon. Well, here we are four years later, and I believe a similar article is in order. Trump has proven to be such a divisive figure, inspiring both great love and great hate, that the political dynamics I was commenting on in 2016 are even more entrenched than they were four years ago, and the CP needs to position itself wisely if it wants to be more relevant to the broader debate. 

First a little history for those not familiar with the Constitution Party. The Constitution Party is the only “further to the right” (of the Republican Party) party with a relatively national profile. There are “more conservative” (than the GOP) parties at the state level or that exist primarily as internet entities, but none have a significant national presence. It is appropriate to think of the Constitution Party as the conservative equivalent of the Green Party, which is the only “more liberal” (than the Democrat Party) party of any national prominence on the left. 

That said, the Constitution Party has always suffered from a bit of an identity crisis. Is the CP a “three-legs-of-the-stool” movement conservative party that is just more so than the GOP? Is it a Constitutionalist Party? Is it a “religious right” party? Or is it a Buchananite, paleoconservative, more populist party? The answer to all these questions is to varying degrees “yes,” but I believe it is very helpful to look at the history of how the CP came to be to help us sort this out. 

The CP was initially formed in 1992, then known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, as a collection of already existing state parties, to be a potential vehicle to carry on Pat Buchanan’s insurgent Republican primary challenge of George Bush 1. While that was not to be, the CP has from the beginning represented not just a more conservative by degree party, but a different kind of conservatism party, especially on the three seminal issues that made Buchananism unique - immigration restriction, opposition to free-trade ideology, and nonintervention on foreign policy. These Buchananite/paleo elements have always been reflected in the CP’s party platform. 

While the CP, like all alternative parties, has long been plagued by certain internal strifes, I believe that this failure to understand the CP as a more paleo party, and not just the GOP on steroids, has been the most fundamental external misperception of the Party, and it is here that the CP runs square up against its Trump dilemma. 

While Trump is most certainly not a perfect human being or a perfect conservative of whatever sort, he has been closer to right (especially rhetorically) on that cluster of three issues than any other significant Republican candidate since Buchanan. So the CP criticism of Trump cannot be simply from a more purist movement style “conservatism” perspective like much of the professional NeverTrump crowd. It can’t be that Trump is a protectionist, nativist, who is insufficiently enthusiastic about starting more foreign wars or else the CP could just run Evan McMullin or some other NeverTrump Twitter warrior. The criticism has to be from the perspective of being more Trumpian than Trump on those three issues, especially foreign policy where Trump has the most failed to live up to his promise of a more America First foreign policy. 

CP members need to recognize that conservative vs. liberal is not the only political dynamic at play these days. Increasingly, here and across the globe, the emerging dynamic is populist nationalism vs. neoliberal globalism. While this may present challenges with just how to reconcile certain aspects of populist nationalism with authentic conservatism and Constitutionalism (government spending in particular comes to mind), this is undoubtedly a fertile dynamic for the CP to exploit if it plays its cards right because it is and always has been on the right side of the anti-globalist divide on the three key issues discussed above - immigration, trade and foreign policy.   

The CP will be making a mistake if it chooses to simply position itself as the “more conservative than thou” or “more righteous than thou” Party. It needs to position itself as the “more Trumpian than Trump” Party but without the personal baggage and foibles of Trump. A Party that is poised to lead the nationalist battle against the forces of globalist homogenization that threaten to level us. Joining with the forces of globalism as just another voice of inchoate anti-Trumpism would be highly counterproductive.