Donald Trump might have been a conservative hiding in plain sight this whole time.
The President-elect, who ran on populism rather than ideology and was once viewed as a political apostate by many conservatives, might represent the movement’s most significant governing moment since Ronald Reagan.
Trump is assembling a conservative dream team of domestic Cabinet appointments that promises to move swiftly to dismantle the Obama administration’s legacy in health care, education, labor and environmental policy. They will be aided by a Republican-controlled House and Senate that will coordinate on legislation.
That prospect is a far cry from the days when many conservatives rejected Trump outright as he picked off the likes of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, eviscerating the movement’s most promising presidential primary field in decades.
“I think most conservatives are pretty pleasantly surprised,” said Matt Lewis, a CNN commentator and author of “Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim its Conservative Roots).”
Yet while Trump has been on the same page as core Republicans on sweeping tax cuts and trimming business regulation, his views in some other areas of policy are far less well-defined — particularly social issues.
Potential Cabinet clash
Which means he also risks setting up competing power centers within his Cabinet, as some of his conservative picks appear likely to clash with other distinct groups in Trump’s growing political orbit: corporate leaders and retired generals.
But at least one core conservative objective seems assured — appointing a likeminded justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court — and those on the ideological right for that reason alone can now claim vindication and hope for more.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said that the Trump Cabinet could turn out to be the most conservative in years.
“It is a really conservative Cabinet, and a lot of conservatives are really happy. I have had Reagan people come up to me and say this more conservative than Reagan’s Cabinet,” said Schlapp, one of those who stood by Trump throughout the election.
Trump’s turn to the right was first evidenced in his pick of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, long a favorite of social and evangelical conservatives, as his vice presidential running mate and has been reinforced ever since, including this past weekend.
On Saturday, the President-elect named South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney as his budget director. Mulvaney, known as a fiscal hawk, is a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus — the rebellious anti-establishment group that has riled Republican House leaders in recent years.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, is likely to push hard on the conservative pet cause of school vouchers. At the Department of Labor, Trump has nominated fast food magnate Andrew Puzder, who opposes a rise in the minimum wage and was branded “anti-worker” by former Democratic Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
The Environmental Protection Agency is slated to be led by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who has questioned climate science and vowed to roll back emissions limits on power plants — another conservative priority.
Other prominent conservatives at the heart of Trump’s administration include former pediatric neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development; Rep. Tom Price, a fierce opponent of Obamacare, at the Department of Health and Human Services; and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions atop the Justice Department.
Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee for secretary of transportation, was regarded as one of the most conservative members of the George W. Bush administration when she ran the Labor Department.