Evan McMullin: Conservatives, stop caving to Trump on liberty

McMullin: Bannon's press attacks are dangerous
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Story highlights

  • Evan McMullin: Conservatives are trading away core values in exchange for small wins
  • He says Trump's actions weaken democracy, jeopardize liberty that conservatives prize

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer, was the chief policy director for House Republicans before entering the 2016 presidential race as a conservative independent candidate. He is a co-founder of Stand Up Republic, which aims to defend and promote democracy in America. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)What American doesn't love a good deal? A free lunch, a gallon of unleaded for $1.50, half-priced theater tickets -- they never get old. We love them so much that we even invent opportunities for more in the form of game shows such as "Let's Make a Deal" or "The Price Is Right."

Evan McMullin
But in the era of President Donald J. Trump, the stakes of our political deals are much higher. That is why, especially for conservatives, reading the fine print with every purchase is critical. If we do not, we risk getting taken for a ride -- trading away the health of our democracy for less critical wins.
In his first month as President of the United States, Trump has acted swiftly to keep his end of deals he made in the form of campaign promises to his supporters. They've included rolling back business regulations, nominating a conservative justice to the Supreme Court and pursuing a travel ban on refugees and other immigrants. These actions have been well-received by a majority of Republican voters.
    But they have also left Trump with dismal nationwide approval ratings that hover between 38% and 44%.
    This means that Trump now needs conservatives far more than we need him. Understanding this leverage will be critical to our negotiations with him for the rest of his presidency.
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    He knows this all too well and has turned to conservatives, recently hosting a campaign-style rally in Florida and, last week, appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he heralded his election as a "win for conservative values." On Tuesday night, he'll address Congress and, if past is prologue, direct his comments again to his core supporters.
    Trump has deployed his deal-making skills in our direction from the beginning. His pitch was simple: "Vote for me and I'll appoint conservative justices to the Supreme Court." Most conservative voters were willing to hold their noses and agree to this, in spite of his many concerning qualities.
    But as we would with any other important deal in life, we must now assess what we're actually giving up against what we're receiving. Because what we're compromising, in this case, may be worth far more than what we're getting in return.
    For example, Trump promised national security through increased military spending, but then opened the door to Russia's assault on our democracy and that of our most important allies in Europe.
    He promoted a departure from political correctness in the name of free speech, but then put us in league with white nationalists, who oppose equality, as he undermines our free press, and even truth itself, by labeling them "fake news."
    He said he would "drain the swamp" in Washington by limiting the role of lobbyists, but then gave key White House roles to family members and refused to divest himself of his foreign assets, which may put him in violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.
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    He sold us a conservative justice but appears intent on also delivering a judiciary branch with diminished independence through his attacks on what he calls "so-called judges," whose reasonable, yet unfavorable (to him) decisions he calls "political."
    He guarantees savings through reducing government employment but is poised to grow our now $20 trillion national debt by failing to ensure the solvency of health and welfare programs.
    He promises regulatory reform but is creating an economy run by in too many cases intimidated executives now making decisions that impede innovation and growth for fear of ad hoc government retribution in the form of share price-killing presidential tweets.
    He committed to protecting Christianity, while eroding our commitment to freedom of religion through his vow to institute what amounts to a religious test for refugees and other Muslim immigrants.
    This deal should have us checking to see if we still have our wallets. It's as though Trump is granting us a free night in one of his garish gold-plated hotels as long as we part with our life savings in the casino downstairs.
    Each of these trades is designed to give us a policy win we want in exchange for our turning a blind eye to Trump's amassing of power at the expense of our republic's essential ideals, norms, and institutions, which are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.
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    Conservatives have loudly warned of their erosion as a matter of highest concern for decades. Will we now trade them away them for important, but lesser prizes? If so, was liberty ever our real concern, or was it merely a partisan prop in a political play?
    We should expect Trump to approach the rest of his presidency in this transactional manner and our nation will be well-served if we demand first his respect for that which ensures our freedom.
    We'd also do well to take a page from his book "The Art of the Deal." While discussing real estate opportunities, Trump advised, "What you should never do is pay too much, even if that means walking away from a very good site."
    For conservatives, protecting the republic requires our walking away from supporting Trump when the price to too high. As important as they are, defense spending increases, regulation rollbacks and tax reform are not a good enough trade for Trump's alignment with Russia, attacks on our free press and other branches of government, and conflicts of interest associated with his foreign business interests.
    Continuing to back him while ignoring his attempts to weaken our democracy jeopardizes our liberty and will have long-term, negative political consequences for Republicans.
    For the country, and for ourselves, it's time for us to say "no deal" and demand better of our president.