A New Populist Agenda: An Opportunity For Historic Political Realignment

Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

Robert Wasinger Contributor
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Rush Limbaugh said the other day that President Trump’s historic legacy may just be that he caused the demise of CNN.

While it’s of immense importance that Trump has successfully called the bluff of the fake news narrative on “Russian collusion,” provoking a credibility meltdown not just at CNN but encompassing the entire mainstream media obsessed with destroying his administration on the flimsiest of pretexts, it won’t be his biggest accomplishment if he plays his cards right. If the president takes advantage of this fortuitous political moment to push through key aspects of the populist agenda he ran on, it has the potential to bring to fruition an historic political realignment as transformative as those that took place with the New Deal or the Reagan Revolution.

Part and parcel of the false media narrative is the notion that the Trump Administration has been a complete failure on the policy front, hamstrung by scandal, incompetence, and the subsequent collapse of support from a political base that barely allowed him to squeak by with an Electoral College win last November. According to this version of events, Trump stumbled out of the box with a botched and unconstitutional travel ban and failed attempts by House leadership to push through an unpopular repeal of Obamacare. Because he’s failed to deliver on his signature issues, the mainstream media contends that he is hemorrhaging support with his constituency to the point where both Democrats and Republicans feel comfortable distancing themselves from a flailing presidency with tanking popularity, especially with the metastasizing Russia scandal.

In the real world, that narrative has just been thoroughly debunked by a quick succession of inconvenient events. First, there was the decisive win in the special election in Georgia, demonstrating that the Trump brand is alive and well and that the president is a big political plus, not a liability.  Trump’s political strength was borne out by the fact that he just raised a record amount in a fundraiser for Rep. MacArthur in New Jersey, not usually considered Trumpland.

Then, there is recent action of the Supreme Court in delivering Trump a big win by reversing the lower courts’ stay on the travel ban. Far from the massive disruptions and wholesale destruction of civil liberties predicted by opponents, the travel restrictions from select countries that are centers of terrorist activity is being implemented smoothly and efficiently. It will prove to be a huge political plus by demonstrating the seriousness of the president’s intent to protect middle Americans from those who would do them harm, regardless of the scorn of pearl clutching, hand wringing coastal elites.

With regard to continuing legislative gridlock, Trump’s initial instinct has been proved correct on the folly of leading with Obamacare repeal, and as Obamacare continues to collapse, it is unlikely that he will be hurt politically if Senate Republicans fail to agree on legislation and kick that can down the road. In fact, the fate of this health care bill will be irrelevant if the president capitalizes on the political moment and takes advantage of the collapse of the fake Russia conspiracy story by refocusing attention on his populist agenda.

That means—for starters—moving forward with building the wall and having Mexico pay for it either directly or indirectly by using the leverage of their massive trade surplus with the U.S., a tougher trade posture with China, more aggressive promotion of job creation and American exports, a bold plan for infrastructure renewal, and serious attention to the opioid crisis ravaging middle American communities. Oh, and the small matter of transforming the Supreme Court for generations to come, which Trump is already in the process of accomplishing.

All of this has the potential to redraw the political map in ways Republicans have only impotently dreamed about since the Reagan years. Even Trump himself may not fully recognize the scale of the transformative political opportunity that he represents, and which sends fear into the heart of his establishment opponents in both parties: a new winning political coalition—building on the working class, Rust Belt constituency that put him in the White House—comprised of forgotten Americans long abandoned by the Democratic Party and that an out-of-touch GOP establishment still doesn’t understand. Trump has single-handedly shown that the old Republican playbook of endless calls for lower taxes, spending cuts, and less regulation of business (with some social conservative window dressing thrown in that never achieves anything) is inadequate to address our current problems as a nation and ineffective in winning national elections. For all the suspicion of Trump on the part of economic conservatives, he has already done more on rolling back burdensome federal regulations and creating jobs than George W. Bush ever accomplished, and for all of the suspicion of Trump among social conservatives, in just five months Trump has arguably achieved more progress for the pro-life cause and in reining in the courts on social issues than the previous three Republican administrations combined. If the president now follows through aggressively on a substantial policy agenda for bringing back American jobs and fighting addiction crisis in middle America (while keeping us out of useless foreign conflicts), it will do more to stabilize imploding American families than all the high profile losing political battles over gay marriage the GOP engaged in over the last quarter century. He has permanently changed the whole dynamic of American politics.

Establishment Republicans and Democrats alike want to sideline the Trump populist agenda for their own reasons. Now is the time for the president to make it clear that he has no intention of letting that happen. In the process, he could potentially be putting the pieces in place for a reelection landslide that would shake the leadership of both parties to their core, and force them to reposition themselves within a new political reality.

To paraphrase Milton Friedman: we are all Trumpians now.