The speech was an omnibus, covering just about every interest in the Republican party, including the new populist interests that Trump has brought into the GOP. The fusion that Trump and the GOP have settled into is a rather shapeless mass for the most part, without a clear head or tail — many policies, few obvious priorities. Yet there is something about this emerging condominium that’s better than what came before Trump. This passage, for example, is platitudinous — but not quite as empty as that old talk about the ‘opportunity society’: ‘The future of the Republican party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families of every race, color, and creed. That’s why the party is growing so rapidly and is becoming a different party. And it’s becoming a party of love.’ A party of love — Trump still has the capacity to say just what you least expect.
In 2016, Trump won with the power of negativity, though not in the way his harshest critics think. American politics is largely driven by negative partisanship: Republicans don’t love the GOP, but they hate the Democratic party; Democrats likewise loathe Republicans more than they love their own leaders. As an outsider who attacked Republicans within the Republican party and Democrats in the general election, Trump was in a unique position to capitalize on negative partisanship from both directions. If you hated the Republican party (as it was then), Trump was the best way to wreck it. If you hated the Democrats, Trump was the alternative. He was the antithesis and the nemesis of Bush Mk. III and Clinton Mk. II, and Americans were reasonably happy to give that alternative a shot. That Trump in 2016 spoke discomfiting truths about our inability to win wars and the ongoing loss of manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt helped him, too. He wasn’t just a politician selling new platitudes in the place of the old. He was a voice of reality — despite all the unreality that came with him, too.