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New Conservatism: George W. Bush and Trump

By Evan Brady

Many people see Trump as a controversial and polarizing president to say the very least, but the office of the presidency is no stranger to polarizing figures. At the turn of the century, the United States elected George W. Bush, a president whose election itself was controversial in nature. After several recounts for the Florida vote and a Supreme Court decision in Bush’s favor, he won the election with 271 electoral votes to Al Gore’s 266. To add to the controversy of the 2000 election, Bush won 543,895 less votes than Gore, much like Trump winning almost 3,000,000 less popular votes than Clinton in the most recent election.

The controversy surrounding their elections is not the only similarity between Trump and Bush, however. Both presidents used their faith in order to guide their domestic policies. When Bush entered office, he described himself as a “compassionate conservative”, meaning he wanted to use conservative ideas, such as free-market economics and small government, in order to help people who need it [1]. One of his first orders of business during his presidency was to establish the Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives due to his belief that “faith based organizations, charities and community groups could respond to people’s needs more effectively than government” [1]. This new policy allowed religious organizations to receive federal grants in order to help people in need, but this was met with criticism of violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Like many Republican presidents before him, Bush believed life began at conception. Citing these beliefs, Bush placed restrictions on stem cell research, limiting federal funding for the research to stem cell lines that already existed. This meant that no new stem cell lines could be created using federal money, which Democrats and scientists claimed hindered the advancing of medicine. “My position on these issues”, Bush claimed “is shaped by deeply held beliefs”, beliefs including that the research devalued human life through the destruction of embryos [2]. Interestingly enough, the restriction of federal funds on new stem cell research led to several states establishing their own funding for stem cell research. Three years after Bush enacted the ban in 2001, voters in California approved Proposition 71, which established the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine [3]. This institute was funded with a $3 billion bond issue that has grown to $6 billion with interest and is expected to last until 2020. Several states also created similar institutions in response to Bush’s restrictions, all with the goal of furthering stem cell research.

While many presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have displayed their faith in God and allowed it to influence their decisions while in office, Trump seems to be a notable exception. Republican presidents we have previously discussed, especially Reagan and now W. Bush, professed their beliefs in numerous ways, whether it was mentioning God and Christianity in their speeches or attending church while in office. President Trump, on the other hand, is less open about his faith than previous administrations. In his book “Great Again”, Trump claims “I think people are shocked when they find out that I am Christian, that I’m a religious person”, yet in interviews, speeches, and policy, Trump seems to shy away from the subject. Trump’s actions show a clear misappropriation of religious values, including trying to put money in the Communion plate, mispronouncing a book of the Bible, and deferring or changing the subject when asked what his favorite verse from the Bible is [4].

While Bush may have been more outspoken than Trump about his belief in God and his faith, the two Republican presidents do have one thing in common: tax breaks. When Bush was elected, his campaign was largely supported by his proposed tax cuts, which he believed would help spur the economy and create more jobs. According to an article published by Poltifact debunking Trump’s claim that there have been no major tax cuts since Reagan, Bush cut taxes 6 times during the 8 years of his presidency [5]. Of these 6 cuts, the two major ones were passed in 2001 and 2003. The first round of Bush tax cuts initially proposed a $1.6 trillion reduction in taxes across all income brackets, and “doubled the child tax credit, incentivized retirement saving, and phased out the federal estate tax” [1]. While Democrats were able to reduce the overall amount cut from the budget to $1.35 trillion, the plan still passed and was not accompanied by a reduction in government spending. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with increased entitlements and decreased revenue under the new tax plan, caused the national budget deficit to skyrocket.

Much like Bush, President Trump also hopes to pass a tax cut in the first year of his presidency. Similarly to Bush’s cuts in 2001, and contrary to Trump’s promise that the plan will “cost him a fortune”, this plan would largely benefit those who are already extremely wealthy, and is being sold under the promise that it will help boost the economy and create jobs. The proposed plan that is currently being pushed through the Senate by the GOP “seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him” according to a New York Times article [6]. In fact, many of the ways in which President Trump made his money are seeing big reductions in taxes from Trump’s cuts, including royalty payments, rental income, licensing fees, pass-through rates, and the repeal of the alternative minimum tax. While Bush’s tax cuts favored the wealthy in many ways, none of them were as egregious or openly biased as Trump’s plan seems to be. By promising that his cuts will be very bad for himself and wealthy people like him, Trump has gone beyond simply giving aid to the already well off and instead lied to the American people about the intentions of his plan. This further distances him from W. Bush due to the latter’s relative openness in regards to the intentions behind his plans, furthering the divide between previous Republican administrations and the one currently in power.

Works Cited

1. Gregg, Gary L., II. “George W. Bush: Domestic Affairs.” Miller Center. July 10, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.

2. Alice Park. “‘Legitimate Rape’? Todd Akin and Other Politicians Who Confused Science.” Time. August 20, 2012. Accessed November 30, 2017.

3. Gugliotta, Guy. “The Last Decade’s Culture Wars Drove Some States To Fund Stem Cell Research.” Kaiser Health News. July 28, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2017.

4. Burke, Daniel. “The guilt-free gospel of Donald Trump.” CNN. October 24, 2016. Accessed November 30, 2017.

5. PolitiFact. “Donald Trump wrong that no tax cuts passed since Reagan.” @politifact. November 30, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.

6. Stewart, James B. “Trump Says G.O.P. Tax Bill Won’t Benefit Him. That’s Not True.” The New York Times. November 30, 2017. Accessed November 30, 2017.


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