Ever since Donald Trump entered the race last month, the Republican battle has been upended in a way no one would have predicted. Although he is derided as a clown and a bozo in both the main stream media and in conservative media and Republican Party circles, his speech announcing his entry into the Presidential race I found strangely compelling, as did the rest of the world.
But we apparently heard different things. If you are a member of the mainstream media, or an establishment Republican, what you heard was this:
“I’m Donald Trump, I’m super rich, and I hate Mexicans.”
That’s not what I heard. What I heard was a not very coherent, but rarely heard appeal to the working classes of both parties:
-The country is in serious trouble.
-We’ve gotten the short end of trade deals, particularly NAFTA but also with Japan and China.
-The US is being taken advantage of.
-Illegal immigration is hurting us, not helping us. It’s bringing in crime, drugs, and illegals are stealing jobs.
-GDP and Employment is dropping, and the labor participation rate is skyrocketing.
-We need to bring jobs back to this country.
-The whole world is laughing at us, and I’m going to change that.
If you hadn’t heard his official announcement, it’s understandable if you think his oversized media attention is due mostly as a result of his celebrity status and his entertaining take downs of other Republican candidates. I’d urge you to listen to it. Yes, being a celebrity is part of it, but what everyone is trying to obscure is that if you take his mish mash of statements and boil it down, it comes down to a very clear policy direction.
Economic Nationalism used to be a fairly common populist trend in US politics, but in a certain sense, both parties have abandoned working class issues in favor of establishment concerns. The Democrats started to abandon the working class after the New Left take over that begin during the 1968 Democratic Convention. They support Labor Unions, but not labor. The Republicans picked up the language and culture of the working class beginning with Reagan, but never went beyond the cultural concerns. At this point, neither the Democrats nor Republicans provide more than lip service to real working class issues.
So multibillionaire real estate heir Donald Trump sounds like a breath of working class fresh air compared to the platforms of all of the other candidates. Illegal immigration cuts directly into wage rates for the unskilled and semi skilled working classes of this country, yet both parties to various degrees continue to support the idea; Democrats because they are courting future voters, and Republicans because they are courting a current low wage workforce with no employment or legal rights.
Opening trade with China and the expansion of NAFTA has resulted in losses on the order of one million to 3.7 million US jobs. Combined with the real threat that automation poses to both low end and high end jobs, the future isn’t very bright for the average worker, and even less bright for those on the left hand side of the Bell Curve.
So with 16 Republican candidates and 4 Democratic ones, only Trump is highlighting, and addressing these working class anxieties.
Try as I might, I just can’t take Trump seriously as a Presidential Candidate. He’s too much of narcissistic celebrity blowhard. But he’s a blowhard that has shown the Republicans a path to winning in 2016. A clever Republican candidate could cherry pick and refine some of Trump’s economic nationalism agenda into a ticket that would be attractive to working class voters in swing states.
Will that happen? I think it’s not too likely. Everything that Trump is for, the establishment Republican Party and its donor base opposes. Otherwise there would be multiple legitimate Republican candidates running on this platform instead of just Trump. For the Republicans, Santorum and Walker are just dancing on the edges of working class populism. For the Democrats: just Jim Webb. Bernie Sanders, as an old time class warfare leftist, started out that way, but has been shaped and molded by the identity politics left that now runs the Democrats out of that mold.
So the future for Trump candidacy? He’s not getting the Republican nomination. I think ultimately it’s too much work for a job that pays too little. But his influence could be positive on the Republican Party if they manage to learn from his success and see what worked and borrow from it. More likely though, the Republicans would rather form a circular firing squad and go after any candidate who shows any signs of “Trumpism” in order to please the donor class, with the end result that the Republican donor class will have helped to elect a Democratic candidate in 2016.