Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has built his campaign on belligerent — even outright racist — rhetoric. On Tuesday, for example, Trump told Jorge Ramos, a prominent Mexican-American journalist, to “go back to Univision” shortly before one of Trump’s bodyguards pushed Ramos out of the room. Outside of immigration policy, however, many of Trump’s policy positions are relatively moderate — at least when compared to the hardline positions favored by many of his opponents. He opposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, for example, because those cuts are “not fair to the people that have been paying in for years.”
Trump’s latest senior-level hire for his campaign, however, aligns him with a right-wing faction of the Republican coalition that the billionaire land developer has thus far not made common cause with. Sam Clovis is a college professor, sometime radio host and former Republican candidate for the United States Senate (he lost the GOP primary to now-Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) in 2014). As of Tuesday, Clovis is Trump’s national campaign co-chair.
Clovis has also suggested that nearly everything that the federal government does to aid the poor, the sick or the elderly is unconstitutional.
As recently as Monday, Clovis was former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) Iowa campaign chairman — Clovis left because Perry no longer had the money to pay him. Nevertheless, the Perry campaign was a logical choice for Clovis, given the college-professor-turned-politico’s unusual views about the Constitution. Among other things, Perry has said that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional.
Indeed, if anything, Clovis may be to Perry’s right. During his unsuccessful Senate race, Clovis told radio host Jan Mickelson that “there’s nothing in Article I, Section 8 [of the Constitution] that authorizes subsidies of any kind.” He also agreed with Mickelson that three particular types of federal spending — “crop insurance,” “foreign aid” and “funding education” — are all unconstitutional.
Yet Clovis’s statement that the Constitution does not permit federal “subsidies of any kind” stretches far beyond these three programs, if taken to be a serious statement of how he views the nation’s founding document. Social Security, after all, is a subsidy for retirement. Medicare, Medicaid and similar programs are subsidies for health care. Even the U.S. military could arguably be described as a subsidy for national defense (although it is unlikely that Clovis, who is a former Air Force officer, would go quite so far as to declare his own career in the military unconstitutional).
There are obvious reasons why Trump would want someone like Clovis, who knows Iowa well and who frequently guest hosts conservative radio shows within the state, on his payroll. If Trump wants to win the Iowa caucus, Clovis is well-positioned to help him do so. Similarly, there is an even more obvious way that a billionaire could entice Clovis, who just quit the Perry campaign due to insufficient funds, into signing onto his campaign.
Nevertheless, Trump has already shown a willingness to embrace highly unusual interpretations of the Constitution. Witness, for example, his belief that the Fourteenth Amendment’s birthright citizenship provision might be cast aside for the children of undocumented immigrants. With Clovis whispering in his ear, Trump may discover various other new ways of reading the Constitution that are hard to square with the document itself.