There should be no doubt that one of the more inauspicious Presidential contests in recent history produced an earthquake. Donald Trump, a businessman with no political experience and little policy knowledge, managed to win the Republican Presidential nomination and then the White House by running as an outsider. In so doing he has shaken up the leadership of both the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Trump carried states Republicans haven’t won in decades. They include Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa and (apparently) Michigan. In short, the blue wall in the rust belt crumbled. And it crumbled for a reason.
These are the states that elites refer to as “fly over territory”. And they are in revolt. Citizens in those states are tired of the relentless condescension heaped on them by political, media and financial elites. These citizens see themselves, their values and their culture as being under siege. Theirs is an insurgency fed by slow economic growth and social engineering that violates their sense of fairness. In short, they look very much like the 1980s Reagan Democrats of Macomb county Michigan.
So when Trump posed the question “What do you have to lose” they decided to take the leap, more out of desperation than hope.
Let’s not kid ourselves. As Lloyd Benston would say, Donald J Trump is no Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a two-term Governor of California, the nation’s largest state. Ronald Reagan had a core set of beliefs he carried with him throughout his political career. They included a belief in American exceptionalism; a determination to push back against a communism many saw as ascendant, and a commitment to liberty and free markets. Reagan was inclusive, an optimist and had no use for crony capitalism. And Reagan unambiguously promoted clear policies that were consistent with his beliefs.
It is not clear if Donald Trump has any core beliefs, much less a thought out political agenda. Speaker Paul Ryan has one that is ready to go. The real question is whether Ryan and Congressional Republicans are going to be able to get Trump to adopt and champion that policy agenda. Or whether Trump actually intends to fight to build his silly wall and take apart the global trading system to boot. Let’s hope it turns out to be the former, not the latter.