Populism carries Trump to the nomination. He’s completed 1 of 4 steps to victory.

Summary: With Trump leading in polls for most of the coming primaries, let’s review his success in the four keys to winning in November. Equally important is the reaction of Democrats to his success, and what it tells us about the potential for a new broad coalition (like the New Deal) that can defeat the 1%.

The New Deal is as dead as FDR. But a new coalition can be built for the 21st C.

New Deal Button

On January 7 I listed four keys to a possible Trump victory.

  1. Build political organization that gets votes — Done.
  2. Craft a message that appeals to majority of Americans.
  3. Strike a deal with America’s ruling elites. Now they see Trump as a disruptor of a political game that they own. But Trump is both one of them (2nd generation) and a consummate deal-maker (his big book is The Art of the Deal). The necessary alliances will come easily if he wins the nomination.
  4. Luck, such as a recession in mid-year, which could easily happen.

Trump has completed the first task (as I expected). Now he’s working on the second, to more effectively tap the resurgent populism that catapulted him to the top of the GOP.

CNN says that “Trump has hammered Wall Street in recent speeches, wants to raise taxes on the rich and has embraced policies that will hurt many multinational companies.” Michael Tesler (Asst professor of political science, UC Irvine) describes the results as showing “economically progressive positions, combined with Trump’s harsh rhetoric about minority groups, seem to have created a powerful populist coalition that has made Trump the front-runner…”

Polls show the result: broad appeal among Republicans and independents. Even the good liberals at Slate have noticed (“Think Hillary Clinton Will Crush Donald Trump in the General Election? Don’t Be So Sure“). RAND’s Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS) shows his success. Slowly our political gurus see this. Bernie Becker in Politico writes about “Trump’s 6 populist positions“. Even more insightful is Jonathon Chait in NY Magazine

Donald Trump has undergone an important metastasis. His populist rhetoric has firmed up and identified a different and somewhat more specific band of enemies, including (but not limited to) oil companies, insurance companies, defense contractors, and wealthy “bloodsuckers” in general.

… Trump’s campaign initially emphasized his nativist position on immigration, which caused him to be identified with the Republican right. But Trump has repositioned himself increasingly as the candidate of the populist, disaffected center. … Trump’s populism has slowly intensified.

… He has proposed to let the federal government negotiate lower prices for Medicare prescription drugs, a plan horrifying to conservatives (and drug companies). Like other Republicans, he proposes to eliminate Obamacare and replace it with something undefined but wonderful. The reason Trump’s vague repeal-and-replace stance makes them so nervous is that he once advocated single-payer insurance, and he has emphasized, in a way other Republicans have not, the horrors of leaving people who are too poor or sick to afford insurance on their own. Trump’s shorthand description of the travails of the uninsured before Obamacare — people “dying on the street” — alarms conventional conservatives precisely because it captures the broad reality of the suffering that justified Obamacare in the first place, and which would intensify if the law is repealed. The Republican fear is that Trump’s vague promise to replace Obamacare with something terrific is not just a hand-waving tactic to justify repealing Obamacare. Their fear is that he actually means it. Trump’s populist positions may place him farther away from the Republican Party’s intellectual and financial vanguard, but they draw him closer to its voters.

The clearest sign of Trump’s intentions is the conscious fashion in which he has tried to co-opt the appeal of Bernie Sanders (who, like Trump, has opened up a populist attack on his party’s consensus). Trump’s argument is that he agrees with Sanders on trade, but only Trump can put his critique into practice…

Others prefer not to see the outlines of a resurgent populism. The Economist is tone-deaf as usual: “The populists are on top“. Their only mention of Trump’s populism:  “For the Republican leaders who recoil in horror at Mr Trump’s careless populism, his offensiveness and his frequent trampling over conservative causes such as free trade…”

Others see but fear Trump’s populism as a threat to the Democratic Party, remaining blind to a possible alliance to further their common policy goals, as is John Nichols in The Nation: “But what if one party changes — however cynically or crudely — to address the fears of the moment, while the other does not? What if Trump turns up the volume on a populist message while the Democrats run a more cautious campaign?”

This is clearest on the Left, as seen in “The scariest thing about Trump’s primary dominance: The GOP still doesn’t understand the monster it created” by Heather Digby Parton in Salon. Glenn Greenwald called her one of the “leading and most admired commentators” of the “Progressive blogosphere”. She’s the articulate intelligent voice of a leader to a dying political movement.

{Pundits} seem to think this might signal that the GOP is becoming a mainstream populist party. I would argue the opposite is true. They voted for him in spite of his apostasy on all those issues. Indeed, it’s pretty obvious they were willing to rationalize all of it because they believe so strenuously in all the other issues on which he running. They are ecstatic over his anti-“political correctness” campaign to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and their American children and ban 1.6 billion Muslims from entering the country, while putting the ones who are already here under surveillance. These voters cheer wildly for his enthusiastic endorsement of torture, his promise to kill the families of terrorist suspects and his pantomimes of summary executions of soldiers accused of desertion.

His puerile insults and schoolyard bullying are seen as signs of strength. His profane language is appreciated for its gritty machismoHe treats the press with total contempt, and the voters love it.

Over and over again, when asked to explain what they like about him, Trump supporters exclaim, “He knows what I’m thinking!” And what these people are thinking is that he’s making it safe for them to be “politically incorrect” again, giving sanction to publicly express their resentment toward people who don’t look and act like them.

Sixteen hundred words, but not one about Trump’s economic populism — or the popularity of his policy proposals. She did mention “He also vowed to stay neutral in disputes between Israel and Palestine, which is the equivalent of carpet bombing and entire herd of sacred cows.” — but didn’t connect it to his opposition to foreign wars. Keep those eyes closed, Heather!

The future

Populism and progressivism are cousins and so natural foes. At odds both will lose to the 1%. Both have internal weaknesses: populism’s nativism and racism, and the progressive’s fascination with far-Left obsessions about gender and race (e.g., the transgendered, the campus rape epidemic, reparations for slavery). The style and cultural differences are as great. Yet they can become unstoppable if sufficient numbers on both sides seek common cause — recreating a 21st century version of the New Deal.

The rise of Trump, and to a lesser extent Sanders progressive insurgency, show the potential for structural change in US politics: a realignment election in which the political coalitions and policies debated change. I believe it is our only hope. Let’s not blow it.

The fascists corrupted the fasces as a symbol, but the Roman people’s original meaning remains vital to know: separately we are powerless; we are strong only when bound together with a common purpose.


Other posts about Trump & the new populism

See all posts about Trump and the New Populism, especially these…

  1. In August I wrote The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning.
  2. Next phase of the Trump revolution: rise of the new populism.
  3. Donald Trump leads us back to the future, to the dark days of US history.
  4. Two scary graphs about the rise of Donald. Fear fascism. Act now.
  5. Trump’s hope: a recession might put him in the White House.
  6. The four keys to a possible Trump victory.
  7. Trump, not Sanders, is the revolutionary.
  8. Why the Left is missing the rising populist movement.

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4 thoughts on “Populism carries Trump to the nomination. He’s completed 1 of 4 steps to victory.”

  1. “The rise of Trump, and to a lesser extent Sanders progressive insurgency, show the potential for structural change in US politics, a realignment of the political coalitions.”

    A realignment perhaps. Structural change? Not a chance in hell.

    1. Godfree,

      Thanks for pointing that out. It wasn’t clear to people not knowing the jargon. I changed the comma to a colon: “structural change in US politics: a realignment of the political coalitions.” From Wikipedia:

      A realigning election (often called a critical election or political realignment) is a term from political science and history describing a dramatic change in the political system. …Usually it means the coming to power for several decades of a new coalition, replacing an old dominant coalition of the other party as in 1896 when the Republican Party (GOP) became dominant, or 1932 when the Democratic Party became dominant. More specifically, it refers to American national elections in which there are sharp changes in issues, party leaders, the regional and demographic bases of power of the two parties, and structure or rules of the political system (such as voter eligibility or financing), resulting in a new political power structure that lasts for decades.

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