Whether Donald Trump wins or loses in 2020 he has proven how to win with just a minority of votes nationwide. This blueprint, which he may have stumbled on by accident, will be refined by the next Republican candidate. And it could be very difficult for the Democrats to overcome.
The next Trumpian candidate will have an outward facing campaign of nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. They will tone down the racism so some upper middle class and educated voters aren’t embarrassed to admit they support the candidate, while still making clear that true racists, and white nationalists won’t be pariahs in the party. In other words, don’t return to the dog whistles, but put down the blowhorn.
The inward facing campaign will be a pro wall street domestic and pro neo conservative foreign policy. These will be the actual policies of government that are discussed and debated inside the Republican caucuses. But not necessarily openly in Congress or at White House press conferences. Only behind closed doors or through private meetings and messaging among the policy elite and donor bases. This will relieve their heartburn about the outward facing positions.
The inward campaign is where the next Trumpian candidate will vastly improve over Trump 1.0.
Trump’s weakness within the GOP elite is due to two policy positions. His support for tariffs, which Wall Street and the finance industry despise, and his caution in using military intervention, which the neo cons despise. These are possibly the two most powerful policy sectors within the GOP donor base. The next Trumpian candidate will appease these two constituencies and unite the GOP using an inward / outward campaign and governing strategy.
The inward facing economic policies will reduce financial regulations lower taxes on capital and reduce trade barriers. The policies will always favor capital over labor. But outwardly the next Trumpian candidate won’t sell them that way. S/he’ll declare that the trade wars are over and we won and lift tariffs, or only impose new tariffs that create hardships on states or entities or industries that don’t support the GOP. They will return to trickle down economics and “freedom” as a rationale for their economic policies.
On foreign intervention, inwardly, the neo cons will be back in charge. They will impose foreign intervention strategies that focus on economic outcomes regardless of loss of life or moral basis. Outwardly the next Trumpian candidate will frame intervention opportunities as either protecting American pride, or killing foreigners before they come here and kill us.
Trump stumbled onto a strategy that could assure the GOP a long tenure in the White House. And he’s not even executing this strategy that well. The next GOP candidate will refine the strategy. Of course it isn’t new to say one thing and do another. Bu what makes this outward blatantly irrational populist – inward GOP elite candidate possible today? I think it’s several factors.
- Our electoral college, which allows a candidate to become president even though most voters support someone else.
- The recent knowledge of behavioral psychology as applied to politics. Fear is twice as powerful as hope. People have innate biases. We are tribal. (See Jonathan Haidt and Daniel Khaneman/Amos Tversky writings, among others)
- The acceptance among many voters in the GOP that our credentialed media is “fake news” when it reports on facts that the GOP doesn’t like. This allows campaigns to dismiss and not engage in debate with no consequences. The exact opposite of what western enlightenment has brought to the world and contrary to a foundation of American democracy.
- The rise of social media, allowing direct unfiltered voter communication so that the our news media can’t fact check the misinformation and lies (and when they do, they are dismissed as “fake news”)
- The continuing rise of the political industry including paid talking heads who frankly don’t believe half of what they’re saying, but are well paid for their hot takes, making these ill informed “hot takes” seem like reasoned positions to voters. When they’re not.
- And importantly and most depressing, the almost complete disappearance of the spirit of American democracy. The current willingness of Senator McConnell to breach all norms in how the Senate operates including nominations to the US Supreme Court is a prime example.
- Finally, our election architecture of first past the post voting. Which can be gamed by using all of the above to win elections with a minority of fervent supporters and pandering to the worst human instincts.
This election is going to be closer than Democrats believe. Trump could win a close election. If he does it will assuredly be with fewer votes than the Democratic candidate. The Neo Cons and Wall Street will support Trump, not because they like or admire him. They truly don’t like some of his policies and don’t trust him because his ego gets in the way of sound tactical decision making on policy. But they do see a path forward for a party that has what is in reality an unpopular economic agenda. They just need Trump to win in 2020, then in 2024 they will find a more appealing and compliant candidate to execute the strategy.