There is little in Donald Trump’s record to inspire confidence in conservatives.  He supported John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008, and the list of candidates to whom he has given money—which includes Rudy Giuliani, Charles Schumer, Harry Reid, Newt Gingrich, and Hillary Clinton—contains not a single bona fide conservative.  Trump has embraced the noxious celebrity culture that envelops today’s America, and his boast of business prowess is undermined by his record of business bankruptcies.  Although he now claims to be pro-life, the twice-divorced Trump has no history as a social conservative.  Indeed, he first tested the presidential waters by briefly emerging as the leader of the anti-Buchanan forces within the Reform Party, before that mantle fell on the shoulders of an acolyte of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Despite all this, Trump is making headway with GOP voters.  According to an April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, Trump has risen to second place among likely Republican primary voters, at 17 percent, tied with Mike Huckabee and just behind Mitt Romney’s 21 percent.  Trump has already shown an ability to shape the debate.  Trump can legitimately take credit for President Obama’s decision to release the long form of his birth certificate.  If Trump can get the same attention from the other Republican candidates that he has already gotten from Obama, it may well be a good thing, in large part because Trump is beginning to sound a little like the man he briefly opposed in 2000.

The issue Trump has been campaigning on (especially now that Obama’s birth certificate has been produced) is our enormous trade deficit with China.  Trump has called for a 25-percent tariff on Chinese imports, a stance that caused National Review’s Rich Lowry to wail that “Trump all but promises a trade war.”  Actually, what Trump promises is not a trade war, but a return to the traditional American trade policy, which produced not trade wars but American prosperity and economic independence.  Trump’s message could not be more timely.  The IMF recently predicted that China’s economy would be larger than the U.S. economy by 2016.  In sharp contrast to China, our economy remains stagnant, and any economic recovery is threatened by mounting debt.  As economist Ian Fletcher noted at the Huffington Post in a column defending Trump’s trade policy, America’s cumulative trade deficits since 1991 have caused our economy to be 13-percent smaller than it otherwise would have been, and “borrowing money (and selling off existing wealth, which has the same net effect) is a mathematically inevitable result of running trade deficits.”  We will not see sustained economic growth or a reduction in debt until our trade policy is fixed.

Trump is well positioned to raise the trade issue because, unlike other candidates, he is not dependent on corporate donors.  Large corporate donors demand fealty to free trade.  As Tom Pauken recently noted, from 2004 to 2009 large U.S. firms shed 2.9 million jobs in America, while adding 2.4 million jobs overseas.  Thanks to the influence of donors who benefit from being able to replace American employees with cheap foreign labor, the upper echelon of the GOP remains firmly committed to free trade, even though the rank and file see things differently: A Wall Street Journal poll from last fall showed that 61 percent of Tea Party supporters felt that free-trade agreements had hurt America.  If Trump causes other candidates to begin addressing the trade issue, breaking the hold that free-trade orthodoxy has on the upper reaches of the GOP, he will have performed a far greater service to our country than anyone looking at his record could reasonably have predicted.

Although less developed than Trump’s ideas on trade, there are other areas where his instincts seem sound.  Trump was an opponent of the Iraq war, and he has been critical of the squandering of our national wealth in the futile effort to transform the Middle East into the Middle West: “We’ve spent 1.2 trillion . . . in Iraq and we can’t fix New Orleans.  We can’t fix our own cities.  It’s insane.”  With respect to immigration, Trump has said, “I’m opposed to new people coming in.  We have to take care of the people who are here.”  Trump has scorned the fatuous optimism that has become de rigueur for candidates posing as the next Ronald Reagan: “We’ve never been at a low point the way we are now.”  Trump also recognizes what a disastrous president George W. Bush was.  When Karl Rove attacked Trump as a “joke candidate” appealing to the “nutty right,” Trump hit back: “I am very upset with Bush.  He gave us Obama and Karl Rove was Bush.  You could have backed Abraham Lincoln and he couldn’t have beaten Obama at that time because of what Karl and Bush had done.”

It would be refreshing to hear Trump deliver lines like these at any GOP debate, and even more refreshing to hear other candidates echo them.  Any candidate who threatens the globalist status quo that has helped lead our country into its current predicament should be welcomed, even if that candidate is as obnoxious and egomaniacal as Trump can be.