Trump’s Deficits Are an Existential Threat to Conservatism

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Last week, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit was just shy of $1 trillion in the 2019 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. The Congressional Budget Office expects deficits to exceed that mark every year going forward.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, such news triggered sanctimonious outrage among Republicans. Mr. Obama’s run of deficits exceeding $1 trillion helped fuel the Tea Party. Mitt Romney attacked Mr. Obama for fiscal irresponsibility during the 2012 presidential campaign. Mr. Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, built his national career around dire warnings about the mounting federal debt.

Even Donald Trump regularly got in on the act. In one of many such warnings about deficits, citizen Trump used the March 2013 debt crisis in Cyprus as an occasion to tweet: “Watching the madness in Cyprus? If our government keeps spending trillion dollar deficits, that could happen here.” In 2016, as a candidate, Mr. Trump said he could eliminate the national debt in about eight years.

Yet as president, Mr. Trump has piled on about $3 trillion to the debt, bringing the total to $22.9 trillion. What’s amazing is that he has managed to increase deficits at a time of historically low unemployment and relative peace, when one would expect the national balance sheet to improve.

Republicans are noticeably silent. Whereas the anti-establishment populism of the Tea Party put pressure on Republicans to address the problem, Mr. Trump’s brand of populism has moved the party in the opposite direction. In July, when a caller to Rush Limbaugh expressed concern about the return of $1 trillion deficits under Mr. Trump, the radio host, who has always had his hand on the pulse of his audience, responded: “Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”

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