Three years into the Trump administration it is finally possible to say firmly that this is almost complete nonsense. On policy substance there has been a single actual change: the GOP is now far more nativist on immigration than it was from 1980 to 2008. Other than that, the only significant shift has been at the level of style. Trump is a lying, trash-talking BS artist who treats trolling as his preferred form of presidential address. A day during which he manages to “trigger the libs” is a good day for the Trump White House (and the days when he doesn’t are exceedingly rare). That is the only meaningful respect in which Trump is a populist: He talks down to and encourages the meanest sensibilities of Republican voters rather than seeking to elevate them and the rest of the country with exalted rhetoric.
That’s it. In every other respect, the Trump administration might as well be the third term of George W. Bush.
Think about it: The areas where Trump sounded like he aimed to make a change were immigration, trade, economic and social policy, and foreign policy. He ran for office talking about putting up a border wall and deporting undocumented immigrants, and that is indeed the one area where he’s tried to move in a genuinely new direction (while often implementing it with such cruelty and ineptitude that the courts have pushed back at every step).