Cory Leonard

The Trump File

In politics on January 4, 2016 at 3:02 am


The Republican Party has some boundary issues. And a major populism problem. And calling the insurgent candidate names doesn’t seem to be working–even as fears of European-style far right support in the US appear in his visage.

Will Trump win? Can he win? Polls are a leading indicator, although not an accurate one, according to polling superstar Nate Silver.

But now that David Frum has offered his own “neoconservative” analysis that is raising the volume (he’s not loved by all, I should note) on a donor-derived “class war” that is tearing the party apart, here’s a rundown of recent commentary that marks efforts to identify and address this 2015 US electoral phenom known as The Donald:

Dylan Matthews (Vox), I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said.

To be blunt: Donald Trump is not a fascist. “Fascism” has been an all-purpose insult for many years now, but it has a real definition, and according to scholars of historical fascism, Trump doesn’t qualify. Rather, he’s a right-wing populist, or perhaps an “apartheid liberal” in the words of Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism.

Akim Reinhardt, Donald Trump is Not a Fascist or Your Next President

Trump is giving voice to some of the anger, fears, and frustrations that can be found in much of the United States, and which resonate most loudly on the right. And the voice he gives to them is largely unique, as other Republican presidential would-be’s stick much more closely to the established party line. And thus Trump finds his eager audiences, people on the right who are happy to hear someone acknowledge, validate, and champion their anger, fears, an frustrations in a way that no other big name American politician is.

Devin Foley, One sentence that explains Trump’s popularity: Keep in mind the mood of our times.

Whatever happens, for this particular moment of uneasy times there is a sentence from The New Dealers that seems rather relevant:

“The starveling saints may win shrines from posterity, but the full-blooded, hearty man is the hero of his own times.”

Whatever your position, never forget the power of mass human psychology and the potential of those who are able to exploit it.

Michael Lind, Interviewed by Brooke Gladstone, “Elite Traitors v. Fascist Morons,” (On The Media)

BROOKE: You say that these narratives that are put forward by the parties and repeated by the media not only fail to hold up factually but fail politically, too, because they leave a considerable swath of the public out in the cold? These are people who are too liberal to be conventionally conservative and too conservative to liberal?

LIND: That’s exactly right. Trump and Huckabee, two of the populists, have attacked the Republican party for wanting to cut social security and medicare, because their white working class voters depend upon it. The number of white Americans who want to combine less immigration with preserved or expanded social security and medicare is enormous. It’s nearly 50%. No one in either party represents pro social security anti immigrant voters. And yet they’re a huge part of the population. The conservatives have adopted the anti immigrant theme, but at the same time the mainstream conservatives all want to cut social security and voucher-ize medicare, which their own voters don’t want to do. 33% of Democratic voters want to cut immigration. Only 20% want to expand it. And yet that view is not represented in the Democratic party. When you get large groups in the population whose combinations of particular policies do not fit the combinations on offer by our two parties, you get a substantial part of the electorate turning to outsiders because of a lack of any other choices.

Ross Douthat, “The Secret of Trump’s Success” (NYT)

But for now support for Trump on foreign policy isn’t an endorsement of his policy vision. It’s more of a cathartic howl against twelve years of failure, which neither political party can quite call by its deserved name.

Damon Linker, “Can right-wing populism be stopped?”

No, what Trump’s supporters appear to want is someone to rail rudely against economic, racial, ethnic, and demographic aspects of contemporary American life that they find distasteful, dangerous, and unfair; to place the blame for these trends on somebody besides themselves (immigrants, liberals, big business, stupid people, Muslims, big government, the media, the president); and to promise a magical fix brought about by superhuman feats of commonsense competence. Trump gives them all of this, and his followers love him for it. That makes him a textbook example of a demagogue and them a political force that everyone from Aristotle to Alexander Hamilton would recognize as a mob.



  • James Zogby, C-Span Washington Journal, 12/15:  You have to “make him suffer in the pocketbook,” but regardless, “the Trump brand is destroyed.”
  • Michael Signer, author of the book Demagogue: The Fight To Save Democracy From Its Worst Enemies identifies John Fenimore Cooper’s four criteria required for a demagogue. “My study of demagogues shows that satire does not work… In Trump world, none of those things matter so when you lampoon him or when you satirize him or when you call him a clown or a carnival barker, none of that matters because they’re showmen, and they get how to agitate and connect with people in a way that ordinary mortals do not. So I think the thing is actually taking a demagogue seriously in their claims and educating the audience about how the demagogues claims and what they’re doing actually hurts the country, so that requires a slightly different approach: it doesn’t begin in this squawk of outrage, it doesn’t start with a temperament that the demagogue has initiated.”
  • Signer also writes in WaPo, updating his conclusion: “It was with demagogues in mind that the framers devised a series of constitutional checks and balances, including the United States Senate — which Madison described as a “necessary fence” against “fickleness and passion” — and the Electoral College, whose independent electors could, theoretically, stop a demagogue from becoming president…The American people understood what they were dealing with then: democracy’s enemy within. And we’d be wise to accurately diagnose it now. Trump is a demagogue. Not just in a casual sense, but in the most powerful meaning of the word, and he should be confronted as such.”
  • Just….wait…urges David Brooks, who suggested that the “pink rug theory” will be realized at a critical moment: “When this mental shift happens, I suspect Trump will slide. All the traits that seem charming will suddenly seem risky. The voters’ hopes for transformation will give way to a fear of chaos. When the polls shift from registered voters to likely voters, cautious party loyalists will make up a greater share of those counted.”
  • Damon Linker sums up the real challenge: “How can the members of this mob be persuaded to abandon their cultural populism and the candidate who assures them he will turn back the tide?I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure a list of sensible, wonky policy proposals isn’t going to do the trick.”
  • And finally, David Frum argues that “the Republican donor elite failed to impose its preferred candidate on an unwilling base in 2015 for big and important reasons,” leading to four possible strategies:
    • Double Down but maybe focus on someone other than Jeb, perhaps Rubio or Carson–and keep the same approach
    • Make Tactical Concesssions and go with Cruz and Christie campaign approach
    • Offer True Reform, addressing many concerns of the middle class with “a multiethnic center-right coalition”–as we have seen in other democracies recently
    • Change the Rules and concede that running one branch of the Federal government plus legislatures and governorships is an effective way to promote an agenda, “playing defense”

It now appears that Republic elites’ hopes for a quick burnout from the shining star will not occur. Now what?

It sounds like an urgent plea when Signer asks: “Who will confront him? Will our national hero come from the media, governing class, academia, or even among the Republican candidates?” But could Trump’s downfall come through co-option–with praise and flattery for his perceived strengths–and then we’ll see him turn into something less novel and powerful?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: