It looks like the conservative movement and the Republican Party–especially on the grass roots level–are still in thrall to Donald Trump. We even have a new word: “Trumpism.” What, though, does that mean? The former president himself gives us the defining attributes. They suggest, though, that it would be possible to have Trumpism without Trump.
In his speech before CPAC, Trump said, “Many people have asked, ‘What is Trumpism?’ A new term being used more and more. I’m hearing that term more and more. I didn’t come up with it.” He then laid out what it means. Conveniently, the defining characteristics are ten in number, so that we can think of them as a secular set of ten commandments for those seeking to wear his mantel. (Excuse the Biblical allusions in this context. I renounce completely any Trump idolatry.)
These are quoted from Daniel Henninger’s article in the Wall Street Journal [subscription required], which draws attention to these tenets and discusses them in light of the Republican Party’s ability to move forward. You can read them in the transcript of the speech. From Trumpism According to Trump (my numbering):
- “What it [Trumpism] means is great trade deals.”
- “It means low taxes and eliminating job killing regulations, Trumpism.”
- “It means strong borders, but people coming into our country based on a system of merit.”
- “It means no riots in the streets. It means law enforcement.”
- “It means very strong protection for the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.”
- “It means support for the forgotten men and women who have been taken advantage of for so many years.”
- “It means a strong military and taking care of our vets.”
- “We believe in patriotic education and strongly oppose the radical indoctrination of America’s youth.”
- “We affirm that the Constitution means exactly what it says, as written.”
- “We believe in standing up to China, shutting down outsourcing, bringing back our factories and supply chains, and ensuring that America not China dominates the future of the world.”
These, Trump concluded, “are the convictions that define our movement today and must define the Republican Party in the years ahead.”
This is an interesting list. As Henninger says, except possibly for the protectionism implicit in #10, Ronald Reagan would agree with them. (And even in #10, he would agree that America should stand up to China and resist its global leadership, though he might not say that we should “dominate the future of the world.”) Therefore, concludes Henninger, they would be in accord with traditional American conservatism and the mainline Republican Party, meaning that a civil war within the party might not be necessary.
It’s interesting what is not on the list that defines Trumpism. Nothing about white supremacy or overthrowing the government to install Trump as dictator for life, as progressives assume that he stands for. Then again, nothing about opposition to abortion, which his evangelical base would expect. And nothing about fiscal responsibility, which has always been a bedrock principle of Republican conservatism.
Elsewhere in his speech, in a different context, Trump said, “We are committed to defending innocent life and to upholding the Judeo-Christian values of our founders and of our founding.” So that’s for his evangelical supporters. But it isn’t one of “the convictions that define our movement today.”
Still, even Democrats could agree with #1, #6, and #10. And old-school Democrats of Biden’s vintage used to also agree on #3, #4, and #7.
These principles are matters of policy and policy goals. It was Trump’s personality, character, and behavior that proved so polarizing. Do you think that a candidate who champions these principles–though with a more Reaganesque personality, character, and behavior–could inherit Trump’s popularity? Or does it have to be Trump or a Trump clone? Is Trumpism a set of beliefs, as Trump says here, or, as others have said, a new working-class-favoring conservatism, or is it more of a personality cult?