Donald Trump's vows of vengeance against America's enemies could propel him to the White House. What would he do there?by Sam Tanenhaus / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
After the latest round of United States primaries and caucuses, more than half of the 50 states had chosen their preferred candidate—and Donald J Trump had galloped far ahead of the Republican field. He has kept winning, all over the map, some of the victories strikingly large, 19 states so far, from Alabama (rural, evangelical, low-income Deep South) to Massachusetts (urban, secular, prosperous New England), and Michigan (industrial, working-class) to Florida (urban and rural, ethnically diverse). The only question now is whether Trump’s two remaining opponents, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich, can deny him the nomination outright before the party’s delegates convene in Cleveland, Ohio, in mid-July.
No matter the outcome, Trump already seems to be remaking the Republican Party, if not in his garish image, then along the lines of his fixations and enthusiasms. It is fast becoming “the party of Trump,” as the New York Times has declared, in mingled horror and amusement.
But what is this new Republican Party? Who belongs to it? What do they want? What do they see in Trump? And what does he see in his own presidency? What would he do if he does get to the Oval Office?
No one, least of all Trump, can really say. His ideas, or effusions, on policy—domestic and foreign—come in soundbites, emotionally vivid, but frustratingly devoid of nutriment. His slogan, “Make America Great Again!” emblazoned on the caps he sells, is borrowed directly from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. Like Reagan, Trump combines nostalgia for simpler, happier times along with the promise that even simpler and happier times are just around the corner, if only we’ll stride forth to meet them.
But there are differences, and they reflect changing times. Reagan was a cheerful salesman of the Cold War dogma when America saw itself as the beacon of the “Free World.” Trump speaks of a nation that keeps “losing” and promises lewd vengeance on an array of villains, real and inflated. Abroad there are swindling trade partners (China, Japan, Mexico); leering Islamic State terrorists who torture Americans and get away with it; slippery allies and client states that feast on American “loans” and drag us into their wars. At home, things are no less bleak: stagnant wages and mounting debt for the middle class, even as the “one per cent” grow richer, and surging tides of immigrants, legal and undocumented alike, steal jobs and soak up welfare benefits. Worse are the elites in both parties—multiculturalist snobs on the Democratic left, plutocrats and “hedge fund guys” on the Republican right, who together ignore these mounting affronts or act as though ordinary Americans are to blame.