Trump's Legacy: Political Impact
Donald Trump is responsible for huge changes.
If there’s one thing you can say about Donald Trump, it’s that he motivates people. On the one hand, he motivates love and devotion that, for some folks, borders on cultish sycophancy. On the other hand, he provokes incoherent and sometimes violent wrath and hatred. We might argue that both extremes are manifestations of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Fortunately, the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere in the middle. They understand that Trump is a mixed bag of both good and bad, not a 2D caricature of either unblemished hero or unredeemable villain.
Before we get to where things stand for him and Republicans politically, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane. Trump spent most of his life as a wealthy New York City Democrat with fashionably liberal views about most things. Abortion? Generally for it. Guns? Generally against them. On the economy? “I probably identify more as a Democrat,” he once said. His personal life was a tabloid, and more has been learned since then. It was these “New York values” that led us and millions of other principled conservatives to oppose a New York Democrat’s attempt to win the Republican nomination in 2016. We didn’t trust him — because he hadn’t earned that trust. (On the policy front, he largely did earn trust in the ensuing four years.)
In 2015 and early 2016, we spent months warning that this ace card of anger affirmation was a loose cannon who presented taxing questions and a big character problem. We cautioned that the Leftmedia helped push him to the forefront because it thought he’d lose and bring down other Republicans with him. (Now it’s made him the face of supposedly detestable and racist policies, and his off-putting character makes that easier.)
Nevertheless, in a crowded GOP field, Trump won the nomination despite failing to win a majority of Republican voters. We spent time analyzing his appeal to disaffected grassroots folks who hated the GOP establishment as much as they hated the Left. There were millions of Americans who were tired of being told by the elites of both parties to shut up and get in line. They were sick of Republican officeholders promising things on immigration, jobs, and such, while only doing what the donor class wanted. And they no longer wanted milquetoast nice guys who’d just lose to the Democrat in November; they wanted a fighter.
For these Americans, Donald Trump, the blue-collar billionaire, spoke their language, and they wanted him to send a message to the power brokers in the swamp, a wrecking ball to the facade of “norms” that protected powerful hypocrites.
For the rest of the party, when it became clear that it was him or Hillary Clinton, the choice became obvious: It was time to back Trump.
He then won the 2016 election despite failing to win a majority of voters. Thank goodness for the Founders’ wisdom in establishing the Electoral College! But then he lost the 2020 election while again failing to win a majority of voters — in fact, even though he increased his vote total by more than 11 million, his margin of defeat grew.
Despite all his success, his most devoted supporters might take a moment to ponder why Trump has never won a majority of voters.
The answer can be boiled down to something simple: The people who love him are outnumbered by the people who hate him.
Now, don’t get us wrong. There are millions of Americans who judged Trump on the merits of his policies and not on (sometimes extreme) views of his personality. It should go without saying that we’re not in the category of people who hate Trump. Despite allegations from some of his most devoted followers, we’re not “Never-Trumpers.” We spent more than four years writing hundreds of articles advocating his policies, defending even his sometimes bizarre statements, and rejecting the arguments of those who opposed him, all while blanching at his Twitter account and his frustrating fratricidal attacks.
This author has recently written three “legacy” articles detailing what a great success Trump’s presidency actually was — with voter appeal and with both foreign and domestic policy. It was a load of achievements, and we noted them regularly.
It’s also worth noting that those who work closely with Trump, whether serving on his staff at various operations or working on business deals with him, view him as warm and decent. His private displays of humble hospitality are quite different from his public persona of the brash fighter.
But Donald Trump is not above criticism, which we’ve occasionally given when merited by his behavior. When all is said and done — and, yes, despite the Democrats’ bulk-mail ballot fraud — the manifold faults and flaws of Donald Trump the man are the real reason he lost. Those who love him would vehemently disagree, of course, while canceling us for heresy with a few choice words to boot.
Nevertheless, we began this review by stating a core truth that should be obvious to everyone: Many people love Trump; many more hate his guts.
That, in a nutshell, is why we had to offer two responses for the occasional reader who chooses to unsubscribe from our humble journal: “Too pro-Trump” and “Too anti-Trump” are both available options, and for most of the last four years it’s been a pretty equal number of both. That tells us we’re doing our job.
Beyond our own endeavor, however, that division is a good indicator of the deep problem facing the Republican Party in the years ahead. How can Republicans win votes when half the party is outraged at the other half and demanding their cancellation? Some Republicans are establishment globalists who’ve betrayed average Americans, while other Republicans are conspiracy kooks who have no business in polite society. So the two sides see each other.
Stuck in the middle are those of us who just want solid conservative policy and constitutionally limited government without the theatrics and hysterics. We happen to think — or at least hope — that still defines a majority of GOP voters.
We also think that once tempers cool after the events of the last two months, reconciliation is possible. But it’s going to involve some compromises.
First of all, Trump’s agenda is well worth keeping, and the millions of Americans who benefited from it know that. Thus, thanks to Trump’s work, the establishment can no longer ignore the grassroots. Constitutionalist judges, low taxes, reduced regulation, well-managed immigration, smart foreign engagement, appeals to minorities and the poor, and a focus on putting America and Americans first — all of that should have broad appeal, because it works, it’s fair, and it’s constitutional.
The trick is going to be packaging those policies in a way that still appeals to fans of Trump the man despite his absence while avoiding the stigma of Trump among his detractors when Democrats will do everything they can to brand conservative policies with Trump’s hated name. That was their primary agenda with impeaching him over the Capitol riot. And that’s to say nothing of the roiling animosity between and among Republican voters.
Will the establishment quit betraying the grassroots? Will the grassroots even show up to vote GOP ever again? Will Trump run again, simply become a kingmaker, or start a third party? Probably not the last one, but no matter what, Trump looms large.
All we can say to Republicans right now is, “Good luck.”
If there’s one thing all people on the Right should be thankful for, it’s that Trump fully exposed the gross hypocrisy and anti-American hatred so rampant on the Left. He revealed the Leftmedia and its incendiary fake news to be the real enemy of the people. He showed Democrats to be rank hypocrites who regularly eviscerate the “norms” of American politics, as well as conspiracy kooks in their own right who would spin a totally fake yarn just to take down a duly elected president.
The mask is off, and everyone can see the ugliness underneath. Leftists didn’t take that kindly, of course, and the fight has escalated in both tenor and stakes.
The bottom line: Donald Trump permanently changed the course and makeup of the GOP, and perhaps Democrats too. But if Republicans don’t take a lesson from Trump about how to fight the Left, then they may as well fold up the tents and go home.
(Updated, including with the following links to the series.)