An article at Vox got me thinking, Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Is Becoming Everything He Said He Hated. And of course: Donald Trump is an establishment Republican, and he always has been. He claimed not to be. But so does every Republican who ever runs for president.
The Export-Import Bank
Of particular interest to me is his reversal on the Export-Import Bank. That’s one of these things that conservatives and neoliberals alike just love. It’s really just corporate welfare. But you will hear otherwise reasonable liberals make claims like “80 percent of its loans are to small businesses.” In case that claim isn’t obviously ridiculous to you, just image if you gave out $10,000 loans to 8 small businesses, and then $50 billion each to Boeing and General electric. That would be 80 percent of its loans going to small businesses, yet no one would think the Export-Import Bank was a boon for small businesses.
Trump is now in favor of the Export-Import Bank. It’s one of many supposed reversals that Trump has made that have turned him from a populist into an entirely typical establishment Republican.
Trump on Afghanistan
Another example of this came yesterday with the dropping of the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan. In the reporting in The New York Times, it said, “The statement [from the Pentagon] did not say how many militants were killed, or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties.” Yeah, like the government can be trusted to tell us this; the US media is more of a government lapdog than Pravda ever was.
But what bugs me is to think back during the general election campaign for president and how many fellow Democrats — and my kind of Democrats — liberal or leftist Democrats — claimed that Hillary Clinton would be the hawk. I remember a friend of mine asking me with some fear about a report she had heard on (very liberal) KPFA claiming that Clinton would start Word War III.
I never have been a big Clinton booster, but I think everyone understoond that for all her faults — real and imagined — she wasn’t a liar. She is, by my standards, a hawk. But she isn’t an establishment Republican. And Trump is and was.
Trump’s 2020 Campaign Will Look Different
Yes, I suppose that a lot of us were hopeful (after Trump won) that the total chaos of his brain might make him more liberal than he appeared. But as Alfie Kohn has noted, his conservative beliefs are determined by his psychological dysfunction and are “far from accidental.” It seems that day by day Trump becomes more and more simply a typical Republican. Any pretense that Trump is the savior of the white working man is all gone.
In discussing Trump’s children, one insider said, “The fundamental assessment is that if they want to win the White House in 2020, they’re not going to do it the way they did in 2016, because the family brand would not sustain the collateral damage.” And what does that mean? In 2020, hopefully the economy will be doing well and Trump will run as Romney did in 2012. Because other than being mentally unstable, there really is no difference between Trump and Romney. That’s because Trump is an establishment Republican.
And that brings up the lie that we worker bees are going to be saved by some kind-hearted billionaire. That’s always been a joke. Remember when Trump came out with his big tax plan back in September 2015 and it was far more regressive than even establishment Republican Jeb Bush’s? Well, the other night, he told Fox News, “We haven’t failed [with Trumpcare] — we’re negotiating, and we continue to negotiate, and we will save perhaps $900 billion … we have to do health care first to pick up additional money so that we get great tax reform.” Great tax reform for him.
The Establishment Republican Tactics
For most of my life, the Republican Party has been based on tricking lower income people to vote for them on social issues, and then passing economic legislation that harmed the very people who voted for them. All Trump has done is to be more upfront and vulgar about it. His was just a variation on the establishment Republican con. And part of that is claiming each of your opponents is an establishment Republican.
Trump’s trick was that he didn’t specifically pick on black Americans. That’s the one minority group in the US that explicitly attacking really is a bridge too far for middle-of-the-road voters. (Being against them, as Trump is in his embrace of Blue Lives Matter, is totally fine.) So Trump came up with the brilliant idea of being blunt with regard to Latinos and Muslims. But that’s tactics. Just tactics.
Otherwise, it’s all the same: just another establishment Republican trying to get elected. Trump promised that his policies would be great for working people — just like Romney, McCain, and Bush. And just like them, he was lying. Thus far, Trump’s administration has been one after another giveaway to the rich. Republicans claim that they hate redistribution of wealth, but that’s not true. As Trump (and every other Republican president in recent history) shows, they are all for redistributing money from the poor and middle-class to the rich.
Trump’s Agenda: Tax Cuts for the Rich
So when Trump was told that the biggest losers under Trumpcare would be his own voters, his answer was a shrug and, “Oh, I know.” The fact that 24 million people would lose healthcare meant nothing compared to “great tax reform.” And this is what that great tax reform looks like:
Like every other establishment Republican, this is what it comes down to. Poor people die, but that doesn’t matter because rich people will be even more rich!
Trump’s Tricks Work — Just Like the Republican Establishment’s
What’s so concerning about all of this is that Trump has been so politically crude. He really did reinvent politics. He showed that you don’t have to even have a pretense at a plan. Just say that you are going to come up with something “terrific” and the people will buy it. Sure, 80 percent of the people who voted for Trump don’t have to worry. But there were some really important poor and middle-class voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania who voted for their own destruction based on absolute fairy tales. But this is only different from an establishment Republican in the most trivial ways.
And nothing will change in 2020. This has been a winning formula for Republicans for the last 4 decades. The only thing that has changed is the demographics. And I do hope that they will save us. But I’ve come to see the Republicans as being very good at winning elections. And the Democrats as being very good at losing them. So who knows?
But no one should be surprised that Donald Trump sounds less like a populist every day. It is more surprising that he still maintains the pretense. Because his kids are right: 2020 will be different. I can see the basic campaign strategy right now and it is totally establishment Republican: “1. The economy is good [or improving — one or the other will most likely be true]; 2. Trump didn’t get into a nuclear war and so is just like any other Republican.” If the economy is good, we’ll get a repeat of Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad. And nothing else will matter.
Trump Is an Establishment Republican President
The Republican establishment would have won no matter what because they couldn’t possibly lose. If Trump had been a real populist — even a racist one — he wouldn’t have gotten the nomination. The only sense in which he wasn’t an establishment Republican was that he was new to politics. And the establishment push against him was anemic. There are more people with more political activity at Frankly Curious than there ever was with #NeverTrump. Just look at the graph above. They knew they had their man. And they knew when he said he was going to drain the swamp, what he meant was that he was going to drain it of any nutrients that were left in it.
 I know the data on this. The richer you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican. But without the 10, maybe 20, percent of the poor who vote for them, the Republican Party would not be competitive.