Donald Trump has laid out an increasingly expansive vision of government — yet the rowdy group of hard-core limited government conservatives in Congress remains on board, enticed by his plans for massive tax cuts — and frightened by the Democratic alternative.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who have created headaches for GOP leadership with hardline efforts to rein in spending, say they’re willing to overlook their party nominee’s plans for an infrastructure spending spree, his aversion to entitlement reform, and his new call for expanding federal support for child care and parental leave.
“It’s a matter of opinion [because] nobody really knows until he gets into office,” said Rep. John Fleming, Louisiana Republican. “I trust him. But you’ll have to ask each and every conservative what they think.”
While Hillary Clinton continues to tack to the left in her campaign, Mr. Trump has struck a curious balance, deepening his embrace of pro-life causes and gun rights, but moving to the left when it comes to how deeply he wants the government involvement in the economy.
He has talked about at least doubling the infrastructure spending Mrs. Clinton has called for, and has said he will oppose any trims in benefits for the big entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
An analysis last week from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said Mrs. Clinton’s policy plans would increase the country’s debt by $200 billion over current law levels, while Mr. Trump’s plans would grow the debt by $5.3 trillion.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming said it concerns her a bit that Mr. Trump hasn’t made any overt signals that he’s prepared to embrace entitlement reform — but said the onus is on the Congress to walk him through how important that is.
“We have to reform those programs in order to save them, so I think that we will have to work harder as policymakers to show him how significant it will be if we allow these entitlement programs to be on autopilot, because they will self-destruct,” Ms. Lummis said.
Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho said Mr. Trump has a growth agenda that’s very different than Mrs. Clinton’s.
“But I do encourage Donald Trump to be a little bit more specific about how he is going to reduce the debt we’re not going to reduce the debt just by growing the economy,” Mr. Labrador said. “We have to do a lot more and we have to look at our entitlement spending — have to look at everything that we’re doing.”
Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan said in May that he would enthusiastically support Mr. Trump, and has backed up Mr. Trump’s call for a special prosecutor to investigate possible pay-for-play between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.
He also said recently he can’t think of one policy Mrs. Clinton is for that he supports, and that the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi and its aftermath should disqualify Mrs. Clinton from being commander-in-chief.
“Any person who will tell something false to parents of children who gave their life for this country should not be president,” Mr. Jordan, Ohio Republican, said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.” “I’ve been saying that all over our district and all over the state and I’ll continue to do so.”
“I think it’s going to be very difficult to work with her. It’s why I hope Mr. Trump’s our president and not Secretary Clinton,” he said.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is one member of the Freedom Caucus, an unofficial group of about three dozen lawmakers whose roster itself is often nebulous, who has not expressed official support for Mr. Trump.
But Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said he has a lot of meetings on the Hill with Freedom Caucus members and others and that he’s very optimistic about what he’s been seeing.
“Really what you’re finding is that yes, there are some Republican elites who are intransigent,” Mr. Schlapp said. “But that’s really not having any effect on the vast majority of current elected officials, people who consider themselves conservative leaders, conservative members of Congress — the heart and soul of the party.”