The meaning of Trump

Most of the recent media focus has been on candidates who embark upon these ideological searches for purity. This is perfectly sensible, given that most of the upstart candidates, especially in 2010, won their primaries because they left little room to their right.

So it is natural, to some extent, that Trump also gets lumped into this category. It is also incorrect. The candidate for those seeking purity is Ted Cruz, who stands as sort of a pure refinement of the Gingrich Revolution. His core support is among the true believers, and his strategy is explicitly pitched to them (he believes, for example, that he can win by motivating millions of conservative voters who sat out the 2012 election).

Trump is different. He actually harkens back to the earliest post-Cold War insurgency against the Republican Party: The Pat Buchanan challenges of 1990s. Journalists tended to focus on Buchanan’s opposition to illegal immigration, but in so doing they missed the breadth of his appeal, which was planted squarely in the populist aspect of Reaganism. Buchanan, like his Nixon White House counterpart Kevin Phillips, lambasted the Republican Party for giving up its fight for the “little guy” and selling out to the rich (Phillips, in fairness, positioned himself further to the left than Buchanan). Buchananism stood as a challenge to what had become Republican orthodoxy not only on issues such as immigration, but also on trade, tax policy, foreign policy and a host of other economic issues.