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Examining Future Conservatism As Trump Transitions To The White House

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's one sign of a changing world - an adviser to President-elect Trump met with Republicans in Congress and, according to news reports of that private meeting, he told them it's not the party of Ronald Reagan anymore. If true, that would be a startling statement for a party whose candidates have invoked Reagan's name for decades. Trump himself harkened back to Reagan's time and copied parts of his approach.

For that matter, even President Obama said he admired much about Reagan. But now, Trump may be shifting in some new direction. A new president is vowing to follow the will of the people and also holding onto his personal business interests and reaching out to wealthy supporters to stock his administration. Jonah Goldberg of National Review has been watching it all. He's a regular guest on our program and joins us via Skype from Sea Island, Ga. Hi, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's great to be here. Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is your party fundamentally changing?

GOLDBERG: Too - well, I think yes, but too soon to tell how much and how enduringly. You know, one of the things I think the Trump team or Trump's biggest boosters don't appreciate is this is pretty much the time of their lives. This is their - it won't get much better than this. Yeah, they'll have political victories ahead, I hope. You know, as a conservative, I hope they have some substantial political victories ahead. But this is the moment of maximum possibility. Donald Trump's giving out jobs. Everything is sunshine. And going forward, as we've actually seen in the last week, there's almost nothing Donald Trump can do that won't disappoint some of his biggest fans because he has - governing involves choosing and making choices between competing goods. And a lot of the things that Trump needs to do to be a popular president requires annoying his biggest fans. And that's - that includes not prosecuting Hillary Clinton. The news that you pointed to about Steve Moore - that's the adviser...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: ...Who spoke to Congress. Steve Moore, who I've known for a long time - I'm friendly with Steve. But he has been the foremost deacon in the church of Ronald Reagan for decades. And for him to go out and say that this is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan - I can't find a better analogy, but it's pretty close to the pope saying, you know, Jesus schmesus (ph), you know?

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: It is - it is baffling to me, and...

INSKEEP: Is it still your party, Jonah Goldberg?

GOLDBERG: Again, it's too soon to tell. I mean, I'm not a protectionist. But then again, look, I mean, Steve Moore was always the purest free trader out there. And I take him at his word that he's sincere that he's rethinking a lot of these things and that Donald Trump and being on the campaign with Donald Trump caused him to rethink a lot of these things.

But what we're seeing - you know, what we're seeing here is a kind of corruption. And I don't want to talk about Steve personally; I'm talking about generally speaking. People don't really understand the origins of the Lord Acton quote, where he said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Acton wasn't talking about leaders. Yeah, he believed that absolute power for leaders was bad.

He was talking about the - the power that power has - that powerful people have over intellectuals, that they tend to make allowances for powerful people, that historians write favorably, you know, for example, about Stalin because he was doing big things. And I think what we're seeing on a lot of parts of the right is people bending their positions and their principles on account of the fact that this guy won.

INSKEEP: OK.

GOLDBERG: And I can't - I'm sorry. Go on.

INSKEEP: Yeah, that raises another question here because you have Republicans in charge of Congress. They clearly don't agree with this president on everything, or at least they didn't. And the other day, Ben Sasse, a Nebraska senator, was talking with a bunch of conservative lawyers giving a speech. And these are lawyers he presumes are going to go into the government. And he was saying, listen, your job is to uphold a republic of laws and limited government, not just win policy victories. And that leads to my question - are Republicans in or out of Congress serious about maintaining checks and balances on this president?

GOLDBERG: I certainly hope so. And I - and I believe so. I mean, I'm sure there will be examples of people who aren't, but I certainly believe that, you know, Paul Ryan and a lot of the people on the congressional side, you know, they won their own elections. They're still constitutionalists. I don't think they would go along with some war on the press or anything like that.

But I also think that this is a ripe opportunity for conservatives who have been talking about the importance of federalism, the importance of devolving power back down to the states, to practice what they preach at the precise moment that many people on the left are finally receptive to it. It's one of these clockwork things that whenever a Republican gets in office, all of a sudden progressives realize that federalism and state's rights aren't necessarily only about defending slavery or Jim Crow. They're actually about maximizing freedom. And I think...

INSKEEP: That - that is absolutely true. You have people in New York and California saying, I don't want to go all the way with this administration. Let me ask one other thing very, very briefly, Jonah Goldberg. There have been conservatives as well as liberals, on this program and elsewhere, even on Fox News, for that matter, baffled, dismayed by the way the president-elect has been tending to his personal business affairs and calls with world leaders. In just a few seconds, is this something that Republicans will push back against seriously?

GOLDBERG: I don't know. I hope so. I think this is exactly the kind of conflict that the Constitution talks about as a threat to the presidency, and it needs to be dealt with. The problem is - is that this is all uncharted territory, as even Donald Trump told The New York Times.

INSKEEP: OK, Jonah, thanks very much. Pleasure to talk with you.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thanks.

INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review, columnist for The LA Times, joining us by Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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