The Republican base is far less consistent. It wants to cut taxes, and it likes speeches that rail against government spending. But when it comes to making real-world spending cuts, GOP voters (who tend to be older than Democrats and therefore more dependent on government programs that aid the elderly) agree with the person who famously (and absurdly) declared, ”Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” The grassroots want a free lunch, in other words, which is one important reason why the federal budget deficit has soared under every Republican president since Ronald Reagan.

Add in a growing willingness on the right to see the rich pay more in taxes, and Trump’s seemingly off-sides positioning begins to make sense in Republican terms. Yes, the mix of support for tax cuts and hikes, spending cuts and entitlement protections that one finds in the GOP base is contradictory, even incoherent. But it’s where conservative voters are, and Trump is the one candidate promising to give them exactly what they want.

Then there’s Trump’s blustery approach to foreign policy and trade relations: ”Elect me,” he seems to be saying, ”and I’ll be the toughest negotiator you’ve ever seen. I’ll get my way by sheer force of indefatigable will.” But of course, the Republican toughness fetish set in a long time before Trump. Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks and George W. Bush’s cowboy swagger and “Dead or Alive” threats to Osama bin Laden, the GOP has been obsessed with projecting strength — and assuming that the U.S. is bound to get its way if only the president unapologetically drives the hardest bargain at every moment. Trump is merely proving to be marginally more convincing than his rivals on this score because he’s been cultivating an omniconfident image in the public eye for decades.