Centennial Institute Director Jeff Hunt

Jeff Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, moderates a Nov. 16, 2020 webinar titled "What does Trump’s Presidency Portend for the Future of Conservatism in America?"

The legacy of the Trump Administration includes conservative judges, promotion of religion and reinvigoration of a nationalist spirit, concluded the speakers on a panel about the future of conservatism in America.

“Regardless of tone and temperament, and I know some people have trouble with Donald Trump’s temperament, if the Republicans go back to a non-fighter” candidate, said Frank Francone, a fellow of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, “conservatism does not have a future.”

The institute held a 90-minute webinar on Monday night about the future of conservatism in America. Much like Trump himself, none of the 10 panelists explicitly admitted the administration will be over in January 2021, despite President-elect Joe Biden leading by comfortable margins in both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

Jeff Hunt, the conservative policy organization’s director and the moderator of the event, emphasized that the volume of federal judges Trump has appointed has been “huge and successful.”

“We can rest easy with what he’s achieved in our court system,” Hunt said.

Several other speakers agreed with that assessment, calling the sheer number of judges a “bulwark” against challenges to conservative priorities and labeling Trump’s actions a “remake” of the judiciary.

The selection of judges, said Chuck King, a professor at CCU, is “perhaps the most important reason to vote for a president, at least this is what I tell my students.”

Through September, the president had nominated and the U.S. Senate confirmed 218 judges for lifetime appointments, including three U.S. Supreme Court Justices. The High Court now enjoys a 6-3 conservative majority, thanks in part to the Senate’s Republican majority changing its position from 2016 in favor of an election-year confirmation. Mike Norton, an attorney at Denver-based Thomas N. Scheffel & Associates, indicated that the total number of Trump appointees constituted approximately one-quarter of all federal judgeships.

Trump, Norton said, has “not stopped working” by nominating additional judges after the election. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinsten, D-Calif., who is the most senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, requested a halt last week to judicial nominations. She cited only two instances of the Senate holding confirmation hearings prior to an inauguration, and, in contrast to Trump, both occurred following the successful reelections of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Tied in with judicial appointments was the institution of pro-religious and anti-abortion policies, with an eye toward overturning the Roe v. Wade court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Johnnie Moore of The KAIROS Company, a public relations organization, was pleased that religious freedom was part of “every aspect of American foreign policy.” Other participants took away the message that between Trump and Biden — who is a Catholic and conducted faith outreach during the campaign — religion is an acceptable topic in politics.

Religion and politics did mix visibly this year in Colorado, with a vocal campaign by the Catholic Church to restrict access to abortions this election cycle. However, the ballot measure captured only 41% of the vote. Some panelists worried that an absence of conservative policies going forward could jeopardize the country's spiritual standing.

“I’m not sure [God is] gonna be willing to bless this nation in the future if we return to abortion on demand, legalized gambling, legalized crime,” said Norton, “the slaughter of millions and millions of children by abortion ... legalizing dangerous drugs and condoning same sex marriage.”

More abstractly, participants in the webinar were appreciative of the nationalist focus that drove Trump’s actions and rhetoric.

Of American exceptionalism, “the left hates this idea,” said Doug Groothuis, a professor at Denver Seminary. “They equate it with racism and imperialism and colonialism, but that just shows how ignorant they are.”

The idea of “America first” — encapsulated in Trump's “Keep America Great” slogan — would linger as a unifying factor among conservatives, including some Democrats, panelists said.

Francone believed a conservative coalition would center around those who “fight for life, fight for nationalism, fight for America first, fight for a strong military.”

In addition to dismissing Americans’ interest in “socialist” proposals from Democrats, panelists alluded to Trump’s fair showing of support from key demographics in this year’s general election. As reported in The Washington Post, preliminary exit polls showed Trump gained four percentage points of support from Black and Latino voters compared to 2016. He also gained five points among Black women and three points among white women.

Antonette Smith of the Centennial Institute, who described herself as “the woman on the panel,” spoke to the notion of women being “shy voters” for Trump.

“Women were and have been really shocked by some of what we’re seeing today: The pink hats and all the vile language that we saw from the Women’s March that happened in the post-election shrieking four years ago,” Smith said, referring to international demonstrations in favor of reproductive, human and civil rights immediately following Trump’s inauguration.

“It’s really the core issues that drive the women’s vote,” Smith added. “They love it when jobs come back to America and that we manage the number of immigrant workers.”

Panelists did, though, express some discontent at a few facets of the Trump Administration. The imposition of tariffs and a ballooning debt gave several speakers pause.

“I don’t think [the budget] was a priority,” said Hunt. “I think we were way outspending even previous Democratic presidents and it didn’t seem to be a major priority to reduce our deficit and ensure our government is under control.”

According to Forbes, deficits under the Trump Administration amounted to $5.7 trillion, exceeding that of Obama’s first term. “That’s not the same as Obama debt,” insisted King. The largest deficit under Obama occurred in 2009, after he inherited an economic collapse begun under the Bush Administration. Similarly, the largest under Trump occurred during the pandemic of 2020.

Although there was a suggestion among panelists to audit the COVID-19 relief spending from Congress, there was also a characterization of the federal government's hands-off response as a "respect for states." Less charitably, the disengagement has been labeled a failure to coordinate.

Other panelists on the webinar were candid about how Trump’s demeanor was a liability.

“I support a lot of what Donald Trump did. I did not really appreciate him as a person,” Groothuis said. “I know a lot of my evangelical friends just could not stomach the man and they placed a lot of priority on character and the president as a moral leader."

Groothuis told those evangelicals that “we’re not voting for pastor of the country, we’re voting for the president of the country.” He added that a conservative vision manifested through “better people — honestly — more articulate, more thoughtful, more statesmanlike people” would attract greater evangelical support.

However, one person, Moore, defended Trump’s temperament, even comparing the president to Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem.

“Every once in a while you need a figure who will turn the tables over in the temple,” Moore said.

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