And this may be the biggest problem for Trumpism: The president himself, who recently called himself a globalist and a nationalist, isn’t a reliable Trumpist.
Some of the core themes of his campaign could, it’s true, be combined into a reasonably coherent view of government policy. A Trumpist philosophy would feature skepticism of trade, immigration, and foreign intervention, a moderate social conservatism, and support for government activism to benefit the working class. Think of it as Buchananism with less zeal for small government and less religious traditionalism.
But Trump himself shows no signs of having thought about his program in this way, or of having thought much about a program of action he would undertake as president at all. Neither he nor any of his aides put any effort into rethinking a broad range of policies to fit with his new approach. On many issues, then, he simply defaulted to the conventional Republican position. He certainly didn’t build a new consensus in his party — or even among his own aides — for new positions.
If Trump were a different kind of political leader, his longstanding preoccupation with foreign trade might have moved him to develop strong convictions about the flaws of NAFTA and how to address them, or about whether designating China a currency manipulator would advance his objectives. Perhaps that kind of political leader would not have had the visceral appeal that Trump in fact had to many people. But if he had won office, there would have been more follow-through. Trump is instead up for grabs on these issues. He has already flip-flopped on the currency question, and nobody knows whether he will really press for major changes to NAFTA.