October 10, 2016
What kind of political animal is Donald Trump? His campaign caught the Republican establishment, including the conservative think tanks, completely off guard. He may have caught himself off guard as well, never expecting to get this far, thinking of the campaign with an early exit as simply a way to burnish the Trump brand. In P.T. Barnum’s America, that is imaginable.
Trump, it is said, does not read deeply. He listens instead to television talk shows. He thinks he has a keen ear for the zeitgeist. It is also said, by his onetime ghostwriter, that he holds no ideological convictions. As a corporate huckster, he is the master of telling his target market what it wants to hear. Out of all that he cobbled together a message that resonated enough with voters to get him this far.
The message is three parts traditional Republicanism and two parts European populism. A strong nationalist appeal, opposition to immigration, and strong support for law and order fit comfortably within traditional Republicanism. But two parts are discordant: opposition to free trade agreements and a hinted support for Social Security, the crown jewel of what exists of an American welfare state.