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Actually, True Conservatives Love Eminent Domain

September 5, 2019
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(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

1. The New Conservatism

A lot of the battles in the Trump Wars seem to be about people trying to claim that they are on the side of the Real True Conservatism and the people they oppose are adherents to some sort of Fake Conservatism.

This is fine, so far as it goes. If you want to argue that, actually, conservatism was always skeptical of free trade or that, actually, Real True Conservatism was never in favor of birthright citizenship, so be it.

The problem is that these arguments about ideological turf tend to displace arguments about the thing itself. I suspect that this is by design, because the new Real True Conservatism has required a number of policy shifts that are difficult to justify on the merits.

For instance, conservatives used to think that eminent domain abuse was a very bad thing. Not no more they don’t.

Here’s Reason’s Matt Welch:

Trump in the fall of 2015 was distancing himself even further from the field by proclaiming that the government’s use of eminent domain to seize private property from one owner in order to hand it over to another, as was codified by the infamous 2005 Supreme Court ruling Kelo vs. the City of New London, was “a wonderful thing.” When it was pointed out that Kelo was (deservedly!) unpopular across the political spectrum, the candidate said, with confident inaccuracy: “I fully understand the conservative approach. But I don’t think it was explained to most conservatives.”In fact, private property rights used to be foundational to the conservative movement. What Trump was advertising here was that he didn’t care. And that Republicans cared a hell of a lot less than they claimed to. . . .

As new GOP presidential primary contender Joe Walsh asked of his “fellow limited government conservatives” in a tweet this week, “You do have a problem with a President demanding the federal government go ahead and seize private land and then promising to pardon those who seized the land. Don’t you?”

They don’t. At least not as expressed yet in either job-approval polls or primary match-ups. If Republicans want to distance themselves from the kind of overreach that used to make their skin crawl and have any claim on being the party of limited government, capitalism and the rule of law, the time to begin changing that is not November 2020, it’s now.

So let’s leave aside the question of whether or not the Kelo decision represents the Real, True Conservative position on eminent domain.

Is the standard for eminent domain established by Kelo a good thing, or a bad thing? And is the president’s demand that the government use of the power of eminent domain to seize private land to build a wall—with the attendant promise that he will pardon anyone who breaks the law while doing so—a good thing, or a bad thing?

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2. Final Four

For the last couple months I’ve been insisting that we’re deeper into the primary race than most people realized.

And last week the Democratic field shrank again with Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee dropping out.

Gillibrand is the big deal here. From the start she was the kind of dark-horse candidate who you could have seen possibly, maybe, making a run.

She’s in the same class as Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker: All three are serious politicians with political futures to protect. Gillibrand throwing in the towel is a leading indicator that this tranche of candidates isn’t long for the race.

As of right now, it’s difficult to see how the nominee will not come from the group of Biden, Warren, Sanders, and Harris.

Because for it to be anyone else, either all four of them would have to implode or the dynamics of the race would have to change dramatically.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, of course. But in the universe of known-unknowns—recession, foreign policy crisis, Constitutional crisis—none of them would alter the race in such a way as to decisively advantage, say, Mayor Pete.

Candidates can move around a lot in the last week or two before the voting starts, but we’re only four months away from that point. It’s later than you think.