On the eve of the presidential primaries which will test the mettle of the Republican candidates, Trumpism is on the verge of transforming the Republican Party for a generation.
For many conservative advocates of limited government, both in America and Britain, the rise of Donald Trump has been baffling. What was once treated like the ego trip of a reality TV billionaire narcissist has now become the focal point of a debate over the future of American conservatism and the Republican Party.
After years of infighting between the GOP establishment and the conservative movement, Trump has broken all the rules of conventional politics and led a blue collar populist insurgency within the Republican Party. Trump commands 39% of the white working class Republican and Republican-leaning independents, which composes 55% of his support. This blue collar support has historically helped deliver majorities for Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980, and the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Now they could very well help Trump win concrete victories in the primaries and ultimately win the nomination.
Why has the GOP base gone into revolt and placed their faith in The Donald? There are a number of factors, but the key is to understand the clear disillusionment that many Republican voters feel toward the GOP establishment as well as the conservative movement. Ever since 9/11, America’s economic and national security has been undermined by the consequences of the War on Terror and the financial crash. The apparent failures of George W. Bush’s presidency and the Tea Party during these years has now led to a crisis of confidence in the Republicans.
But it’s more than that. Trump has successfully tapped into Republican voters’ concerns and provided an attractive vision for them. Underneath the overblown and provocative rhetoric, Trump is addressing the very real concerns of blue collar Republican voters by putting nationalism before conservatism, country before ideology.
His message is simple. It is to restore American greatness by protecting the economic and national security of America. Three major points constitute this message.
This is a clear return to an older style of right-wing politics harking back to the days of America First, and the kind of government activism which used to dominate the Republican Party before the rise of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Not only is it an effective and powerful message. It is also a profoundly anti-intellectual one. Instead of delivering speeches to think tanks to prove his ideological bona fides, Trump has relied on his reputation as a businessman to prove he can get the job done. Blue collar Republican voters have grown distrustful of policy wonks, journalists, and politicians after the perceived Republican failures of recent years. As a result, they are open to Trump’s populist and assertive nationalism.
If Trump can capitalize on this support and win the Iowa Caucus, and the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, then he will have the momentum required to win the nomination. Whether this will actually happen is still very uncertain. But if Trump becomes the new face of the GOP then the Republican Party may well return to its roots as the party of big government and splendid isolationism.