We understand why Hawley and Cruz played at least in a strictly political sense. But for their bet to bear fruit, there must be a tangible legacy that Trump can pass on to heirs, a Trumpism that goes beyond the man himself. Trump clearly believes this legend sees Tuesdays threatening to help Republicans who voted against him. However, it is far from clear that such a thing exists.
A lot of people think they see a larger movement, but often what they see seems eerily close to what interests them most. Liberal Democrats who think the Republican Party is driven by little more than hatred for racial and sexual minorities saw voters flock to a candidate cheeky enough to ditch code words and say horrible things right away. For heterodox conservative politicians upset with their own coalition, Trump has shown that their flavor of populism is key to the future of parties. Republicans who were primarily angered by the perceived disrespect on the part of liberal institutions tended to locate Trump’s appeal in his belligerent refusal to say liberal legs.
But what if those millions of supporters thought of something else?
For example, it’s clear that a lot of people liked the idea that Trump was a wealthy businessman. They assumed he must be very smart and knowledgeable to have made so much money. Others liked his political positions, but which ones? Immigration and trade have received the most attention, but Trump has said a lot on many topics.
He wouldn’t raise the minimum wage, then he would; he briefly approved a Canadian-style single-payer system and then reintroduced it. He was like the human version of those spam email marketing campaigns that send two versions of a mailer, see which one gets a better response, and then test two versions of the most successful mailing. Without any hindrance in principle, he could promise a thousand voters a thousand different and often contradictory things. Arguably, the core of Trumpism was less a political program than its complete absence.
Well, that and the celebrity character.
For the kind of people who write about politics for a living, there are few greater indictments of Trump than the reality TV star. But to achieve such stardom, you have to shine in front of the camera to catch the eyes of viewers, even in a setting crowded with famous and beautiful. Trump had this ability, a huge asset in a presidential campaign.
He was also fascinated by a rich man who spoke like a working class man, a rare breed these days. A poor idea of a rich man, its critics sniffed, which was quite true and, in fact, the point: Working class voters love and trust people who look like them, for the same reason that the Professional class collapsed in front of Barack Obama, impeccable credentials, soaring rhetoric and a poor record of concrete accomplishment.
But also, Trump was just famous. He got billions of dollars in free media partly because he was compulsively obsessive, but also simply because he is Donald Trump, the celebrity buff, rather than, say, Scott Walker, the sad-eyed governor. from one of the 50 states. Disgruntled voters who had watched The Apprentice season after season felt like they knew Trump. And just as we love and trust people who are like us, we love and trust our old friends. When these people flooded the primaries to vote for their friend, the GOP followed suit because political parties are ultimately there to win elections, not to make pyrrhic gestures of principle.
Obviously, this has not worked so well in practice. As president, Trump’s greatest political achievements have been to help the Republican Party establishment appoint exactly the kind of judges and pass the kind of tax cuts they had planned before they took over. throw in politics. The Trumpier thing has been abandoned, or done through executive orders that are now actively being overturned.
Which brings us back to the point of origin: there is no inheritance. Trump’s voters cannot be captured by a watered-down impersonator or servile servant because the only way to win his voters is to be him; there is no Trumpism that can be carried in the future by a new standard-bearer or even take an ambitious politician with him. There is only Trump, a singular, selfish figure whose coattails are far too tattered for anyone to grasp.
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