Trump on the brink: Trumpism is an ideology, not just a catharsis

Now that Trump has been in first place for many months—now that it is becoming shockingly plausible that he might even win—it has finally occurred to the political professionals to try to understand his appeal. It has started to dawn on people that Trumpism is not just an attitude but a philosophy: protectionist, anti-immigration, anti-war. Trump put it succinctly: “We’re going to have a country with strong borders. We’re going to have a country with great trade agreements. We’re going to have a great military that hopefully we never have to use.”

These are popular views, but they are barely represented in think tanks and boardrooms, where the elites who control the political discourse generally see them as uncouth. The financier Steven Rattner, in an op-ed in the Times, recounted being given the turd-in-the-punch-bowl treatment when he endeavored to mention, on a D.C. think-tank panel, that globalization and the North American Free Trade Agreement had hollowed out many American factory towns (while enriching Mexico). Economists can argue that the net effect on jobs was positive, but that’s little comfort to laid-off manufacturing workers in places like Clinton, Iowa.

Bill Ebensberger, a 66-year-old Army veteran, watched the steel plant where he spent his working years get sold to a foreign company, which shut it down. He last caucused for Obama; he’s for Trump now.

Jim Luette, 69, lives on six acres outside Clinton with his wife, two horses, and two dogs. Since he retired just before the financial crash, his nest egg has shrunk and his cost of living has grown. “I think Trump is conservative because he believes in getting the jobs back, even if he’s short on details,” he told me. “If anybody could do it, he’s the man.” Luette would also consider voting for Bernie Sanders.