Donald Trump has inspired two sets of doubts among Republicans: characterological and ideological. Conservatives fear that he lacks the maturity and self-discipline to be a good president, and that he does not believe what they do.
In his Feb. 28 speech to Congress, he temporarily put the first set of questions on hold and showed the political power of a sober version of his unconservative political philosophy.
Trump called on U.S. allies to pull their weight and said his job was not to represent the world – but he did it while praising rather than trashing NATO. He talked, as he rarely does, about our Muslim allies. He opened with a condemnation of violence against racial and religious minorities.
Just as notable was what Trump didn’t do. He didn’t promote his family’s business interests, or settle scores, or call the news media an enemy of the people. Having spent much of the last two years lowering the bar for himself, Trump cleared it.
Republicans in the audience were obviously relieved. But they were cheering for a very different speech than most of them would have given.
Trump didn’t even pay lip service to social conservatism, or to cutting total federal spending. Instead he talked up infrastructure spending, protectionism and child-care subsidies. He said nothing about financing his ambitious agenda.
People who like Trump’s ideological heterodoxies say a more conventional Republican would not have won the election. Maybe they’re right, or maybe a standard-issue Republican would have won with a slightly larger and different electoral coalition (as I suspect).
Whether or not Trump’s stands on spending and trade helped him, they certainly did not do much to hurt him. And when Trumpism is shorn of the recklessness that usually accompanies it, it can be a pretty strong platform for a president.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist and senior editor of National Review.