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The rise of Donald Trump in the polls and the enthusiasm for his campaign among the Republican base has confused and panicked the mainstream media and the GOP Establishment. In an attempt to slow his momentum, both have reacted by bringing up evidence from his past that Trump is not a cookie-cutter conservative, which seem so far to roll off his back and even rally his supporters who see it as evidence that his detractors are desperate. Is Trump pro-life or pro-choice? Is he pro-gun or pro-gun control? Is he anti-amnesty or pro-amnesty? Does he really want Oprah to be his running mate? Did he give more money to Democrats? None of this should surprise anyone who has followed Trump’s politics over the years.
Trump is confusing the Powers That Be and the commentariate because he does not neatly fall into one of the two tidy dichotomous ideological boxes that “serious” partisan candidates are supposed to conform to. Trump is not primarily an ideological candidate. He is at his most basic an economic nationalist and a patriot who loves his country and wants to see it thrive, hence his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. Even economic nationalism isn’t necessarily an ideology. It is really more of a pragmatic outcome based position. Recall that Trump first seriously entertained running for President as the Reform Party (RP) nominee in 2000. People who want to understand where Trump is coming from should look at his potential 2000 Reform Party run and his 2000 “campaign” book, The America We Deserve. For a frame of reference, the basic Trump platform is very Perot like, as could be expected based on his past flirtation with the Reform Party.
Trump has long been an outspoken opponent of trade deals such as NAFTA and KORUS (Korea). Like Ross Perot who famously spoke of the great big “sucking sound” from Mexico created by NAFTA, Trump has consistently opposed “free-trade” deals before it became cool to do so on the mainstream right.
Trump has also been skeptical of immigration on economic grounds since at least 2000. This led Matthew Richer to speculate at VDare that Trump might be the best Republican on immigration, and this was in April before Trump had officially declared and all the subsequent PC angst from the Establishment. Trump’s position on immigration is consistent with the Reform Party tradition. Dick Lamm, for example, ran for the RP nomination in ’96 as a centrist or slightly left-of-center immigration restrictionist.
Also, Trump is likely a social moderate at base. This would be consistent with him being an upper class New Yorker from Queens who doesn’t appear to be particularly religious, and it would also be consistent with the general RP template. Ross Perot was pro-choice for both his Presidential runs and the RP platform was neutral on social issues, but social issues represented an early fault line in the party between the right-wing populists and practical tough-minded centrists who were both drawn to the Perot campaign. In 2000 Trump was potentially going to represent the socially moderate wing of the RP vs. the socially conservative Pat Buchanan, the eventual nominee.
Trump is now on the record as pro-life and pro-Second Amendment. These new found positions strike me as him getting in line with the GOP base in anticipation of a run for the Presidency, but he would hardly be the first candidate to change positions when preparing for a Presidential campaign, as former pro-choice Massachusetts liberal Republican Mitt Romney amply illustrates. Whether this makes Trump less reliable on these issues is up to individual pro-life and pro-gun voters to decide, but the media and GOP attack dogs can spare me the feigned shock that a Presidential candidate has changed positions and moved toward the base of the party whose nomination he seeks.
Also of interest to anti-war conservatives who might be drawn to Trump’s campaign, Trump has historically been more skeptical of foreign interventionism than mainstream conservatives. Trump has not traditionally framed his skepticism in purist non-interventionist terms. Rather he generally questions, in harmony with his overall theme, whether America is getting a “good deal” out of our various alliances. He implies that some of our allies are freeloading off our military strength and spending and should be carrying more of their own weight. Perhaps surprisingly for a GOP primary candidate, Trump has been very vocal about his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. I believe that of all the major Republican candidates, only Trump and Rand Paul can claim to have opposed the Iraq War from the start. Unfortunately from a non-interventionist standpoint, Trump has declared his fidelity to Israel and is talking tough about ISIS and Iran, but this is likely the cost of doing business in the GOP primary much like coming around on life and guns are. Such tough talk also jibes with his “elect me and I’ll get things done” overall theme. That said however, a good case can be made that based on his history and conceptual framework that Trump is second only to Rand Paul on foreign policy, despite his recent embrace of tough talk.
On economics, Trump represents an impulse that is relatively common among the masses, but doesn’t generally find expression by either party, and this is the idea that the U.S. should be “run more like a business,” and that a lot of the reason we are falling behind as a nation is because we are run by incompetent and self-interested politicians and the big donors who support them. Not surprisingly, this sentiment is often expressed by successful businessmen as it was a large element of Perot’s appeal. This line of thought was particularly prominent in the 90’s and early 2000’s when Japan was looked at as an economic model to emulate. This argument has been less prominent since Japan has fallen on hard times and no longer looks like the economic juggernaut it once did, but the sentiment is still common among voters.
Viewed objectively, this is the way a lot of countries actually do business. China, for example, doesn’t concern itself with economic theories, even though it is in name still Marxist. It just acts in a way that its leaders think is good for China. Watch carefully this pre-announcement Trump speech to the 2015 South Carolina Freedom Summit. Trump is all but running for the GOP nomination at this point, but this is not your typical Republican trumpeting of laissez-faire economic policies. The Trumpian themes shine through clearly, especially if you know what to listen for. This is a blatant call for activist economic patriotism, and the crowd appears to be lapping it up.
I’m more of a free-marketer than Trump because I’m skeptical of how well the Federal Government could actually pull off such an intentional effort, plus I think Trump may underestimates how difficult it will be getting his economic agenda passed what would surely be a hostile bipartisan Congress. I hesitate to call a billionaire naïve, but Trump gives little indication that he views dealing with Congress as a potential impediment. That said, at least Trump really does seem to care about the wellbeing of his country and its people. This is a refreshing change from the usual course of the reigning duopoly which seems more interested in making the world safe for globalist corporatists and their country and fellow-citizens poorer in the process under the guise of petty ideologies which amount to slightly more right or left neoliberalism.
Much to the dismay of the ideological enforcers in Conservative Inc., a lot of voters are just visceral Red Teamers or visceral Blue Teamers without actually being on board with the whole party agenda. Trump’s economic nationalism appeals to a lot of the Red Team and some of the Blue Team base in Flyover Country who have never read Ricardo and don’t care Jack about competitive advantage when their job goes South of the Border. This is the real threat that Trumpism represents to the reigning Powers That Be, but they are too busy feigning outrage and enforcing PC niceties to recognize it. (Perhaps I shouldn’t clue them in.)