anti-semitism, Capitol riot, censorship, conservative populist nationalism, conservatives, Constitution, culture wars, election 2016, election 2020, election 2022, election 2024, Glenn Youngkin, Hunter Biden laptop, Im-Politic, January 6, nationalism, Pat Buchanan, politics, Populism, Republicans, Ron DeSantis, Ross Perot, social media, Trump, Twitter Files
There are several reasons I haven’t posted yet on Donald Trump’s absolutely terrible last few weeks, some obvious, some not so much.
Among the former – clearly, as someone who proudly voted for him twice, and considers his Oval Office record on the issues impressive, I’ve been crestfallen by the number of serious and completely unnecessary “own goals” the former President has committed lately. The two worst: the lunch at his Florida estate with two outspoken ant-semites, and his social media claim that revelations of major social media collusion with Democrats during the 2020 presidential campaign “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
It’s not that I’ve been forced to conclude that Trump is an anti-semite. Not when his daughter is married to a Jew, when for so long, so many of his closest business associates have been Jewish, and when he’s arguably been the most pro-Israel President in U.S. history.
Nor do I believe that he really wants to suspend the Constitution because he believes that the 2020 election was stolen from him, his activity during the run-up to January 6th notwithstanding. Instead, I write it off as the kind of thoughtless outburst that’s come from him many times, and that stemmed from a frustration over the “Twitter Files” disclosures that’s not entirely incomprehensible. (Even this blatant Mainstream Media Biden apologist doesn’t rule out the possibility that because the election turned on such small vote totals in a handful of states, Trump might still be sitting in the White House had the Hunter Biden laptop story been widely suppressed during the general campaign.)
My main evidence? In two days, Trump denied suggesting what he actually suggested. Which sounds to me much more like crappy judgment than like conviction.
But to return to the main point of this post (which isn’t fighting these battles), my main less-obvious reason for keeping off the subject is one I’ve referred to before: an unwillingness to write about something unless I can think of something original to say. And so many valid points have been made by so many commentators about what Trump’s latest blunders say about his qualifications for a second term and/or his electability.that I’ve had difficulty adding to them.
Finally, however, I’ve come up with two, and they’re important enough to me to make clear that Trump’s usefulness in American politics and policy – which I view as considerable – has come and gone.
The first point has to do with Trump’s longtime habit of associating himself one way or another with figures with odious views – like the two anti-semites. Although as I said above, there’s no serious reason to think he subscribes to those views. But these repeated episodes aren’t coincidental, either, and clearly stem from his tendency to gravitate, at least temporarily, toward anyone who expresses anything remotely positive about him.
This pattern must stem from a degree of personal insecurity that seems to have been noteworthy enough even before a presidency marked by a long, almost nonstop series of false charges like the Russia collusion hoax. But however natural this reaction was, it also produced an equally long series of controversies (like this) that (a) did nothing to shore up his support with the faithful; and (b) greatly and understandably antagonized plenty of middle-of-the-road voters (including Republicans) who are generally with him on the issues.
His latest misadventures only indicate that this habit will continue – if only because the baseless attacks will. So with Trump as its standard bearer, the Republican Party, and the populist stances now strongly favored by its voters (if not by its thankfully vanishing D.C.-centric establishment wing) will struggle mightily at best to reach its full potential – a working class oriented majority coalition big and durable enough to generate thoroughgoing, lasting change.
Moreover, Trump’s uncritical attraction to any and all admirers surely explains much about his increasingly lousy record in distinguishing political winners from losers – which was displayed so prominently during last month’s midterm elections. And good luck creating a durable political movement without strong Congressional coattails.
The second original-as-I-see-it point has to do with a phenomenon that’s been commonly observed in business: The person who creates something turns out to be incapable of running it longer term. And it’s no mystery why. The two tasks require two different skill sets.
Trump unquestionably was indispensable to the triumph of modern conservative nationalist populism. After this embyronic movement (or, more accurately, related set of impulses, grievances, and leanings), experienced false starts led by former Nixon White House aide-turned-pundit Pat Buchanan, and by businessman Ross Perot, Trump achieved the breakthrough via a combination of stylistic convention-shattering and exciting new combinations of policy positions (notably, some standard conservative tax- and regulation-cutting along with economic nationalist trade and immigration stances and America First-focused foreign policies). Moreover, it’s unlikely that a politician with a more conventional personality could have left so many self-serving establishment shibboleths dead and buried, and channeled popular anger at the too-often bipartisan national power structure so effectively.
But that battle has been won hands down. The challenge for conservative nationalist populists is, as the consultants say, to expand the base. And that inevitably means appealing to voters who sympathize with the content of its platform, but who also insist on leaders who won’t force them to keep their noses held, and who seem determined to enflame rather than ease national passions. (A focus on fostering division while projecting images of sobriety, by the way, is a good desciption of many Democratic and progressive culture war shock troopers.)
Those gettable non-Republican conservatives and moderate are voters afflicted with what’s been called Trump Fatigue. And despite the major policy successes of his administration (e.g., a solidly growing, non-inflationary economy; a far more secure southern border; a halt to the enabling of China; an avoidance of pointless new foreign wars), who can blame them? Why would they look forward to four more years of national turbulence – especially since, as was not the case in 2016 and 2020, they may well have alternatives who can give them both a rousing and successful championing of populist economic and selected culture war causes on the one hand, and qualities like sound judgement and self-discipline and rhetorical precision on the other.
Of course, I’m talking about politicians like Republican Governors Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Ron DeSantis of Florida. The former, as I documented here, both won in an increasingly Democratic state and outpolled Trump’s failed reelection campaign even in rural counties chock full of hard-core Trumpers. I haven’t examined the DeSantis win last month in detail, but he achieved even greater success in a state that’s at least as diverse (though trending Republican lately).
And in fact, polls are now showing (e.g., here) not only that the former President has lost big-time ground to his possible Sunshine State rival among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, but that by large majoities, these groups “now say they want Trump’s policies but a different standard-bearer to carry them.” The inclusion of the leaners in such surveys is especially important, as they comprise a critical share of those gettable independents that could put a GOP candidate over the top in 2024 and enable him or her to shape the nation’s politics and policies for decades to come.
Here’s a way to look at these matters that I wish wasn’t so completely religious in nature but that probably makes the point like none other (and precisely for that reason): Trump was the guy needed to bring conservative nationalist populism to the mountain top of victory in 2016. But he’s anyone but the guy to lead it to the promised land of lasting political and policy supremacy.