"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trump Wins And The Republican Establishment Cries Foul–But They Ignore His Radical Populism At Their Peril

It is surprising to see such widely-read conservative journals such as National Review and The Federalist do their best to derail the Trump candidacy.  They have been in lockstep with the Republican party for years and have never cast any serious doubt about conservative candidates for president.   While they made their primary choices known, they never attacked, criticized, or vilified anyone else running for office.  Their invective was reserved for Democrats.

This election (2016) is different.  Not only has the National Review – the premier conservative journal in America, founded by William F. Buckley, an outspoken voice of conservatism in decidedly liberal America since the early 60s – preferred Republican candidates other than Donald Trump, but they have vilified him. 


Buckley, a Yale intellectual whose modern conservatism was based on philosophical principle, religious belief, and astute observation, would certainly be dismayed at the circus antics of Trump, but would never have abandoned any election to a Democrat.  Buckley, an early supporter of Ronald Reagan and a consistent critic of political liberalism would have been acerbic and dismissive of Socialist Sanders and unmerciful in his criticism of Hillary Clinton – a candidate with no political philosophy, no moral anchor, and no sound political principles.

The fact that the National Review has jumped ship is very telling.  With few exceptions Trump’s positions are no different from any other conservative, and he hews to the party line on tax and immigration reform, abortion and other social issues, the size and influence of government, trade, defense, and the minimum wage.  What, then, makes him so unacceptable and damaging to conservatism?

For one thing, the National Review and other conservative papers are part of the Washington Republican establishment – the old-line GOP which could always rely on a treasury filled with generous contributions from the wealthiest corporations and individuals.  Republican candidates in order to get elected had to rely on the support of the Republican National Committee and private donors; and these candidates, if elected, would be expected to return the favor.  It has been an old boys’ club for decades, and Donald Trump, a billionaire who has self-financed the campaign and is beholden to no one let alone the big wheels of the Republican Party.  Party bosses, big donors, and media shills are of course unhappy. 

Donald Trump is not doing what they say and is ignoring all the rules of politics by which Republicans have played since Dwight Eisenhower.  He is a loose cannon in the eyes of traditional conservatives, not because of his policies but by his dismissive disdain of the powers that be.

Secondly, these establishment figures are completely befuddled by Trump’s populism, and their criticism of him borders on elitism at its worst.  Demographic analysis of Trump supporters show them to be poorer, less educated, lower middle class, white workers both male and female.   These supporters are angry, frustrated, and resentful. 

Despite their belief in the American dream, they have seen little of the wealth of the One Percent, and none of the government largesse lavished on poor minorities.  This tranche of the electorate does not vote policies and programs, but passion.  They are so fed up with years of being left with the dregs, so bitter at the government-sponsored programs to challenge their fundamental beliefs, that they flock to a candidate who is as angry as they are and not afraid to speak out against insider-influence, political correctness, and distorted social policies.

Rejecting Trump’s populism and resorting to the same knee-jerk slogans of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia incanted by the Left, establishment conservatives finally have been outed as old-line, monied, self-interested K Street operatives that they are.

Thirdly, the National Review and other conservative news sources totally misread Trump’s campaign performances.  There is no doubt that Trump, a master of publicity, reality television, and a product of Hollywood and Las Vegas, speaks in hyperbole.  His cries for the deportation of all Muslims, the building of an impenetrable wall along the Mexican border, enforcing draconian visa regulations against anyone from the Middle East, economic militancy towards China, schoolyard tough-guy posture with Putin, and calls for a roll-back of all invasive and intrusive government social programs are meant as symbols, not policies. 


By his flamboyant rhetoric he is deliberately pushing hot-button issues.  He knows that most of what he has proposed on the stump will never come to be, nor does he ever mean to suggest that it would.  Now that the primary season has almost ended, his supporters know exactly where he stands on immigration, welfare, health reform, defense, trade, and most other issues.  They don’t understand exactly how he would translate rhetoric into action, but they don’t care.  All they need to know is that he will be tough on illegal immigration, will acknowledge the religious nature of Islamic radicalism, will realign the country away from corrosive progressivism and political correctness, and reposition America from an international weakling to a strong and defiant nation.

The conservative establishment has labeled him a clown, a vaudevillian, a carny barker, and a snake-oil salesman and have missed the point that America is very much like Donald Trump.  Most people would be as glitzy, big-mouthed, arrogant, and supremely wealthy if they could.  It is only inside the Beltway that both liberals and conservatives sneer at his trophy wife, planes, yachts, and his crass, bourgeois tastes.


Lastly, the conservative establishment has equated Trump’s vaudevillian act and his radical populism with stupidity.  Where are his white papers, they demand?  His detailed policy positions?  His reasoned arguments on trade, finance, and economics?  He doesn’t have them, so they say, so what you see is what you get – an over-sized, over-blown, clown.

This is perhaps their biggest mistake of all.  Trump has made billions in real estate and canny Wall Street investments.  He has been brilliant marketer, television producer and star, and as successful in classically American terms as anyone.  Stupid?  Not on your life.

Not only have these critics underestimated his intelligence, but they have taken his public posture during the primaries as an indication of how he would govern as President; and who wants a circus clown in the Oval Office.   They have totally misread the man and misjudged an intelligence flexible enough to make the elision from stump to rule without a hitch.

It is not surprising to see the hate spewing from the pages of The Nation and other progressive journals.  The very idea of a Donald Trump presidency threatens the raison d’etre of their editors far more than it does conservatives’. In their view this vile, retrograde, racist bully not only will be a disaster for America, but will trample on their own carefully-tended gardens.

It is only surprising that the establishment Right has been so afraid of Trump and has already conceded defeat in November.  “Vote down-ticket”, they now urge voters.  “Don’t let Trump scare you away from more legitimate, reasonable, faithful Republican candidates for Congress and Senate”.
The polls (May 2016) show Hillary Clinton slightly ahead of Trump. RealClearPolitics which compiles many different polls has Hillary ahead by 6 percentage points, a lead easy to overcome once the real campaign has started.   Already tens of millions of Americans have voted for Trump and at close to 50 percent of the entire electorate in his favor, many more will in the Fall. 

It is wrong to dismiss Trump.  Given his popular support, he is a legitimate candidate.  Will his campaign and possible election revolutionize American politics?  You betcha, and we  all should be happy that win or lose, Donald Trump has shaken up the Washington establishment like no one else.

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