Trumpism without Trump is like an inkblot without ink

Trump’s rallies are famously fun. He’s a showman who doesn’t mind his tongue, unless you count making sure he keeps the audience laughing. “It’s a lot easier to act presidential than to do what I do; anybody can act presidential,” he told a Florida rally, stiffening and taking a few paces to great laughter before resuming: “Ladies and gentleman of the state of Florida, thank you very much for being here. You are tremendous people and I will leave now, because I am boring you to death.” Trump cares less about power than about applause. And he wins that applause by telling fans to let it all hang out.

Embodied in a man for whom bankruptcy is as routine as divorce, Trumpism’s radical departure from Republican Party tradition isn’t its protectionist economics but its anti-bourgeois character. It avoids hypocrisy, the tribute that vice pays to virtue, by scorning virtue. For people tired of being bossed around, Trumpism offers relief: from minding their manners and policing their speech, from regulatory niggling and environmental pieties, from wearing masks and being nice. Breaking norms is its emotional core.

With their message discipline and pristine resumes, conventional politicians like Cotton and Rubio offer no such release, however much they may adopt Trump’s policies and seek support among his followers. Trumpism without Trump is like chocolate chip ice cream without chocolate chips. Missing its defining ingredient, it’s plain vanilla.