If there’s one thing that detractors and fans of Donald Trump can agree on, it’s that the Republican frontrunner is not a conservative. To his supporters, Trump is a pragmatist who understands that the problems that ail America go far deeper than which political party holds the White House. To his Republican detractors, he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a lifelong liberal using conservative talking points to further his personal ambitions. So when Trump espouses a position at odds with conservative values, you get an interesting array of reactions.
On NBC’s Today, Trump told host Matt Lauer that he did not support North Carolina’s efforts to keep men and women in the proper restrooms. “Leave it the way it is,” said Trump. “North Carolina, what they’re going through with all the business that’s leaving, all of the strife – and this is on both sides – leave it the way it is.”
Trump insisted that the North Carolina legislature went looking for problems that didn’t exist. “There has been so little trouble,” he said.
What Trump is saying, essentially, is that when social issues come up against economic issues, he’s going to come down on the side of the economy. That’s not a terribly controversial position; Republican governors like Nikki Haley and Nathan Deal have made similar comments and decisions. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a man whose entire life has been spent amassing a great personal fortune would be more concerned about economics than the LGBT culture wars.
Still, Donald Trump’s popularity didn’t arise from his sober analyses of fiscal responsibility; it came from his cheerful destruction of politically correct boundaries. At another point in the Lauer interview, in fact, he dismissed the decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 as “pure political correctness.” When it comes to letting cross-dressers in the women’s room, however, his stance is as PC as it gets.
Ted Cruz, naturally, was quick to capitalize. “Donald Trump is no different from politically correct leftist elites,” he said in a statement. “Today, he joined them in calling for grown men to be allowed to use little girls’ public restrooms. Trump will not defeat political correctness. Today he bowed to it.”
Cruz’s attack will ring true among many conservatives – even those who have already made up their minds to support Trump. But the thing is, very few Trump supporters are going to change over to Cruz based on this (very anemic) non-statement on LGBT rights. Very few Americans understand why it matters. Transgender people account for less than a million citizens, so it’s hard for people to see how this impacts their day-to-day lives. Companies fleeing North Carolina? That’s a little easier to see.
Trump isn’t a conservative, but that doesn’t make him a liberal. He’s simply not a political ideologue. He sees the destruction wrought by corruption, illegal immigration, and weak, shiftless Democratic policies, but he doesn’t really understand the deeper culture wars going on around the country. For many of his supporters, that’s okay. If he can fix the problems he says he’s going to fix, they don’t have to agree with everything that comes out of his mouth.