How Trump ate populism

Now this kind of populist loyalty to Trump requires embracing the belief that he just had a landslide election stolen. And as long as that idea defines the right, the space to be a populist who isn’t just working to restore him or his family in 2024 (with all the prospects for Hawley-like debacles such work entails) seems somewhere between cramped and nonexistent.

Over the next few years, this will have two likely implications for the right’s sincere economic populists. First, they will watch the Biden administration poach issues that they once hoped to own, from big tax breaks for families to big spending on domestic infrastructure. Second, they will watch their party nominate self-proclaimed populists, in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Arkansas that should be the base for a working-class conservatism, who are just acolytes for the cult of Trump — figures like Jim Jordan and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, let’s say, with a policy agenda condensed to owning the libs and dog whistling to the QAnoners.

Such a future might seem to vindicate the left-wing view, expressed eloquently by Daniel Luban in a recent Dissent essay, that the general possibility of right-wing economic populism never materializes as specific political reality: “Protracted experience suggests that we should only believe the American right can move left on economics once we’ve witnessed it happen.”