Trump distinguished himself from the other candidates in the 2016 Republican primary by his full-throated defense of the welfare state. Over and over again he heaped scorn on wonkish plans to privatize, “means-test,” or otherwise phase out entitlement programs. “Medicare is a program that works,” he said as millions of Americans cheered and a few lonely Heritage Foundation interns sobbed into their bow ties.
Trump’s support for the safety net as presently constituted was not an isolated phenomenon. It was part of a broader emphasis on solidarity at the expense of “entrepreneurship” and other GOP talking points that had fallen on deaf ears in purple states election after election. Trump dismissed NAFTA as a failure and promised to pull America out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. He argued that our recent adventures in the Middle East had cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars without making Americans safer. He even flirted with raising taxes on the wealthy and creating a single-payer health-care system. On social issues, he was a moderate. (His platform was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s when he campaigned for the Senate in 2004, as a glance at his collected speeches reveals.)
It has since become clear that if Trump ever believed these things it was only at the level of fantasy.