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Aspen Ideas Festival: Conservatism in the Trump era

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President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks about Cuba policy, Friday, June 16, 2017, in Miami. The president announced changes to Obama-era Cuba policy, and challenged the Castro government to negotiate a better deal.
Evan Vucci | AP

What's it like to be a conservative in the era of President Donald Trump?

"Great, never better," joked William Kristol, founder and editor of the Weekly Standard.

In actuality, Kristol saw the election of Trump as disheartening, and a little ironic. Before his run, the president had many personal ties to Democrats, but Republicans were quick to overlook those connections, along with his questionable temperament, to support Trump, Kristol said.

The somewhat disorienting change can be explained as a collapse of an old Republican establishment that has yet to be replaced by anything new, said Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for the National Review.

"I think everybody is just sort of feeling their way along and trying to figure out what to do," Ponnuru said. Even if Republicans have misgivings about Trump's character, they aren't able to fully oppose him because his policy decisions line up with what many conservatives want.

The reason Trump was able to succeed with these platforms, where Republicans of the past had failed, is in part because voters already thought they knew him, Kristol said.

"I went to some rallies and stuff and said, 'why are you for Trump?' 'Well he's a business man, he knows what he's doing, he's tough,' and I'd say, 'does he really know what he's doing?'" 

Despite having a poor reputation for business in New York, nationwide Trump supporters had confidence in his skills because they had already seen them displayed on TV.

Another big reason for his victory was a general feeling of unrest among working class Americans. Trump targeted the news sources these voters typically listened to and delivered his platform there.

"And it wasn't necessarily a very detailed platform on tax reform," said journalist McKay Coppins of The Atlantic. "It was grievances about immigration, it was tough talk about terrorism."

That strategy, coupled with his inflammatory conduct at debates, that would have been considered unacceptable behavior before the Trump era, helped him succeed. It also changed the public view of what makes a successful Republican candidate.

The discussion was moderated on June 26, 2017 by Alisyn Camerota of CNN.

To listen to their conversation, click the audio player above.

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MPR News presents offers speeches, documentaries and debates — airing weekdays from noon to 1 p.m.