Ross Douthat continues to write about the failure of Trump’s populism:
“One of the striking features of Donald Trump’s first year in office was the all-but-complete abandonment of the populist economic vision upon which he successfully campaigned. Candidate Trump stiff-armed Republican economic orthodoxy and won the Midwest by promising a flood of infrastructure spending, universal health care, protectionism, middle-class tax cuts — a right-wing Keynesianism for the common man. But as president he defaulted to Paul Ryan’s agenda, chasing the Tea Party dream of Obamacare repeal, issuing a budget proposal thick with discretionary spending cuts, and pursuing a tax reform tilted heavily toward corporations.
The best way to understand this turn was to recognize that personnel are policy, and since “Trumpism” was an unexpected irruption and Trump himself is not exactly the sort of guy who worries about having a policy brain trust, the people available to staff and guide his administration were inevitably more conventionally conservative than the half-sketched ideas of his campaign. Once Steve Bannon, the only inner-circle figure with an ideological vision, flamed out spectacularly as a Karl Rove-like eminence, a default to Ryanism was all-but-guaranteed, and with it the abandonment of Trump’s promise to remake the G.O.P. as a “worker’s party.” …”
This has been a running theme with Douthat. He has already written about it several times this year. Two weeks ago, the drift had gotten so bad that Douthat and Ben Domenech have implored Trump to be more populist, and that was before the Trump budget was released.
Douthat understands there isn’t a Republican majority and therefore a platform for ideological conservatism without that “populist-nationalist” base. As things stand today, it is the base upon which Paul Ryan and Mick Mulvaney stand to implement things like tax reform, healthcare reform and welfare reform. Trump’s plan in the 2018 election cycle is to blame the Democrats for the failure to build his border wall and cynically cater to the base with dog whistling about cultural issues at his mass rallies.
Anyway, the theme of this article is that populism will always exercise a gravitational pull on the Republican Party because there isn’t a majority for conservatism without populist swing voters. Donald Trump has imperiled that by making it too obvious that he doesn’t give a shit about those people in between his neoconservative foreign policy, neoliberal economic policies and cultural warrior tweets. Douthat is hopeful this burst of military spending will be seen as populist.
In our circles, a fight is brewing between one side that strongly wants to keep supporting Donald Trump and the Republican Party, which is more conservative and libertarian, and another side that strongly wants to abandon the Republicans, which is ideologically more populist. In the wider electorate, the determining factor in the 2018 elections is shaping up to be the Democrats who don’t have a policy agenda aside from pandering to illegal aliens, #MeTooism and the Russia narrative.
Lots of voters are stuck in the middle and don’t see any good options. The Democrats don’t have a more compelling idea than MAGA. They have been on C-SPAN2 making the case for the DREAM Act by citing CATO Institute studies about how cutting legal immigration will undermine the economy. The faces of the Democratic Party are gentry liberals like Nancy Pelosi and that drooling Kennedy scion. They could really end up blowing the 2018 midterms by positioning themselves solely as an anti-Trump backlash.
Obama’s compelling argument was that he was going to end these stupid wars started by the Bush administration, quit pandering to Wall Street, end racial division and later when he was reelected that he wasn’t Mitt Romney. What is the compelling argument for the Democrats?