But this isn’t the populism of yore. Back then, regardless of their party ID, populists rallied around folk heroes — like the far-right Coughlin, the old-school liberal Bryan, or the actual-literal Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs.
Today we have no faith in political heroes. We don’t want someone to deliver us, to lift us up. We want them to smash what’s left of our dysfunctional world, beat down our intransigent foes, and leave us enough of a shot to sort out our lives amongst ourselves.
While the longing for an anti-hero is apparent on the left — hence the rise of Bernie Sanders — it’s especially intense for Republicans. This marks the terminal stage of a long transformation.
Time and again, GOP primary voters have lashed out against the empty suits and mushy milquetoasts that the party establishment has thrown their way. Just ask Pat Buchanan, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, or Newt Gingrich. But that reflex, frustrated so many times, has given way to a deeper, more primal instinct.