Jim Antle is the editor of The American Conservative.
I would say that there has been a sea change in our perception of Donald Trump and the MAGA movement since the 2016 election. We aren’t just complaining about Donald Trump nearly dragging us into a war with Iran in the fourth year of his presidency.
Donald Trump has been a disappointment across the board on immigration, trade, foreign policy, political correctness and campaign finance. These were the five reasons why I personally supported him in the 2016 election. On foreign policy, I heard “knock the crap out of ISIS,” reduce tensions with Russia and “end the endless wars.” On trade, I heard that our free trade deals were awful and would be renegotiated to bring down trade deficits. On immigration, I heard that Trump was going to “build a big beautiful wall,” deport illegal aliens and cut legal immigration. On political correctness, I was given the impression that Trump was opening up discussion on hitherto taboo topics by violating norms. On campaign finance, I heard Trump was self financing his campaign so that as president he would be independent of the Republican donor class.
There were many aspects of the Trump agenda which I didn’t support in 2016, but went along with anyway because of the rest of the MAGA agenda that I was sold. In particular, I did not like his warmongering with Iran or his tax plan. I don’t recall hearing anything about banning bump stocks or criminal justice reform. On the contrary, Trump ran in 2016 as the “law and order” candidate in the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter riots.
As Jim Antle explains in the video below, we thought that we were voting for these big systemic changes in the 2016 election because Donald Trump had sold us on these unorthodox policies during the campaign, but in reality we were voting to elect a government. This government would end up being completely staffed by mainstream conservatives who were trained, indoctrinated and vetted to be committed to the ideological consensus of conservative liberalism that Trump had ran against in the primary and general election. So the result of the 2016 election was that one man – a lazy, incompetent con artist – effectively ended up on top of the conservative mountain and ended up as a rubber stamp for the preexisting conservative agenda.
Where does this leave us today after three years of Trump in 2020? Has Donald Trump really “realigned” the Republican Party? It looks to me instead like he has been swallowed by the GOP. Donald Trump’s impact on the GOP has been to make it more intensely Zionist and more accepting of homosexuality than it was before he ran for president. He hasn’t betrayed the anti-war Right on Iran. He is doing what he said that he do on Iran. It just so happens that he was serious about that and more importantly has the support of conservatives who oppose the rest of his agenda. The same is true of the tax cuts as opposed to infrastructure which got done.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump was perceived as the candidate less likely to embroil us in the another Middle East war. In the 2020 election. Donald Trump clearly won’t have that advantage over Bernie Sanders and it is blurrier regardless of whether his opponent is Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren due to his recent actions on Iran. After the 2020 election is over, Donald Trump’s Iran policy won’t be constrained by the prospect of losing reelection which is the check that has constrained him. We have to trust Donald Trump not to start a war with Iran.
In the 2016 election, we thought that we were voting for a self-financing billionaire who was financially independent of the Republican donor class. In the 2020 election, we are voting for a candidate and party that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus, Paul Singer and thousands of other “America First” Jewish donors. In order to vote for Donald Trump in 2020, I have to walk into the voting booth with the knowledge that he watched the 2018 election in the White House with Sheldon Adelson at his side and gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his wife shortly after losing the House of Representatives. I have to vote for someone who is selling the government to people like Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Also unlike the 2016 election, I have to weigh voting to reelect Jared Kushner.
What would Donald Trump do with a second term? Is the composition of the Trump administration going to change to become more populist and nationalist? What if Donald Trump continues his ideological reversion into Charlie Kirk-style conservatism and calls that “nationalism” and “populism” as he plunges us into a war with Iran for Sheldon Adelson? Who has more influence on Donald Trump? Sheldon Adelson or Tucker Carlson and the anti-war Right? More to the point, will Donald Trump need or owe the anti-war Right anything after November?