This week’s midterms raise a fascinating question many people are afraid to ask: is Trump a populist?
Pundits like t call President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) a populist, but is he? Notably, Trump is implementing and supporting many Republican policies far from populism.
Is Trump a Populist if he supports unpopular tax cuts?
For instance, a common dictionary definition of populism is “support for the concerns of ordinary people.” However, Trump’s signature legislative achievement is a $1.4 trillion tax reform package that critics attack as a “giveaway to the rich.”
In particular, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the top individual tax rate to 37%, The Balance points out. Moreover, the act could reduce the number of affordable housing units by 200,000 by cutting tax credits, Mother Jones notes.
Additionally, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act is wildly unpopular. For instance, only 27% of Americans called the act a “good idea,” an April 16, 2018, Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll estimates.
To be fair to Trump, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act is the work of Congressional Republicans. Those Republicans have vast ideological differences from the President.
Importantly, Congressional Republicans have the power to kill Trump’s agenda unless he goes along with their pet legislation. Thus, Trump the populist has no choice but to go along with whatever Congressional Republicans want.
Is Trump a Populist if he supports Voter Suppression?
Even greater questions about Trump’s populism are raised by his embrace of voter suppression. Is Trump a populist if he tries to keep average people from voting?
For example, Trump campaigned for Republican Brian Kemp in the Georgia Governor’s race. In particular, critics accuse Kemp of practicing widespread voter suppression by critics like historian Carol Anderson. To explain, the critics allege Kemp used his position as Georgia Secretary of State to suppress Democratic votes.
In addition, Trump appointed a Presidential Commission on Election Integrity that critics attacked as a sham. Markedly, critics like the ACLU allege the Commission was trying to implement voter suppression nationwide. Tellingly, the commission’s work collapsed because of popular outrage.
Logically, a true populist should oppose voter suppression. Yet Trump supports it and makes common cause with politicians accused of voter suppression.
However, there is a long history of American populists promoting voter suppression. For example, the grandfather of modern American populism George Wallace (D-Alabama) was an outspoken opponent of voting rights for African Americans.
Is Trump a Populist if he did not win the popular vote?
Finally, for all his populist bluster, Donald J. Trump did not win the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
For the record, Trump won 46.1% popular vote or 2.1% less than Hillary Clinton (D-New York). Thus Clinton won the popular vote of 48.2%. In detail, Trump won around 62.985 million votes and Clinton 65.854 million.
Under those circumstances, we can view Trump’s voter suppression agenda as a cynical attempt at self-preservation. On the other hand, Trump’s hypocritical actions are in keeping with historic American populism.
Is Trump a Populist on the campaign trail and a pragmatist in office?
Like many American politicians, Trump behaves like a populist only on the campaign trail.
For example, “Give em Hell” Harry Truman (D-Missouri) conducted a famous populist re-election campaign in 1948. Yet Truman was the same president who tried to draft striking steelworkers into the army to force them back to work.
In that tradition, Trump’s campaign rhetoric combines nationalist populism with moderate pro-welfare state Republicanism reminiscent of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (R-Kansas). However, Trump is governing as one of the most pro-business libertarian presidents in recent memory.
For instance, Trump’s administration has abolished national monuments, cut regulations and even pulled out of the Paris Agreement. To explain, the Paris Agreement is a climate change treaty that some of the most right-wing regimes on Earth; including Syria’s bloodthirsty Assad dictatorship, signed.
Hence, the answer to the question is Trump a populist is no. Instead, Donald J. Trump is a politician who uses populist tactics and rhetoric to win votes.