Few pundits or political observers appreciate the size and scope of the fissures that run through the Republican party.
Most Republicans in the House and Senate are establishment supporters of big business. They are more loyal to their corporate and billionaire donors than they are to their voters back home. A small number of congressional Republicans, and the Republican president, are populists.
The chasm between them is best exemplified by their positions on trade, most notably on the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Trump and his band of Tea Partiers in Congress opposed TPP. Most every other Republican supported it.
Last year, it was those establishment Republicans who gave Obama a win in the fight to pass Trade Promotion Authority (Fast Track) of the TPP. Democrats in the House soundly rejected Fast Track. Republicans gave Obama the power to ram TPP down the throat of Congress without allowing any amendments or debate.
The incoming Congress this year has the votes to pass TPP if given the opportunity. Most Republicans who support TPP were returned to office. The only difference being that Trump was elected president, and Trump will not be sending TPP to Congress for ratification.
On trade, Trump is closer to progressive Democrats than he is to most Republicans in Congress.
With Republicans controlling the House, Senate, and the presidency, one would think that the privitization of government roles in healthcare, education, retirement, postal service, etc, is almost a given. Those are certainly positions being advanced by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.
Trump, however, has other ideas.
Unlike every Republican presidential nominee for the past 50 years, Donald Trump is not a conservative. Trump is a populist. He is the legitimate political heir of George Wallace. Like Trump, Wallace was no conservative. And like Trump, Wallace crafted his political persona to ally with the disenfranchised, the ignored, and the unrepresented.
Trump cobbled together a coalition of evangelicals, pro-lifers, gun-toters, blue collar workers, veterans, and law-and-order types to successfully run the table to win the Republican nomination.
There was not a doctrinaire conservative in his inner circle. And precious few who voted for him.
He defeated the conservatives (led by Ted Cruz).
He defeated the libertarians (led by Rand Paul).
He defeated the establishment Republicans (led by Jeb Bush and John Kasich).
He defeated the military interventionists (led by Lindsay Graham).
He defeated the police state surveillance advocates (led by Chris Christie).
Trump may be the most naturally gifted politician since Abraham Lincoln. His political instincts border on the paranormal.
In the course of my career as a political strategist, I have known hundreds of politicians and political operatives. I have worked with presidents and governors, senators and congressmen. I have observed four presidents first hand. I have never seen anyone with the innate political talent of Donald Trump. Until Trump, my vote for the greatest political talent since Lincoln was Bill Clinton. I met him when he was governor of Arkansas, I was close to Mickey Kantor, who ran his presidential campaign and who became Clinton’s Trade Representative and later his Secretary of Commerce. I watched Clinton’s comeback in New Hampshire in 1992. As impressive as Clinton was on his feet and on the ground, Trump blows him away.
Once securing the Republican nomination, Trump faced a tsunami of opposition from all quarters. Republican governors, senators, and congressmen swore their opposition to him. Republican donors endorsed Hillary, All four living former presidents opposed him, as did all living former Republican presidential nominees.
Every major daily newspaper in the country endorsed Hillary. Mainstream media carried on relentless attacks on Trump. Pundits wrote him off as politically dead on an almost daily basis.
Trump concentrated on the Rust Belt and his message was trade and jobs, The failure of NAFTA, the horrors of TPP, the unfairness of Normalized Trade Relations with China. He hammered home the message that 60,000 American factories were shuttered since 2000. That millions of well paying jobs were outsourced by US corporations. He appealed to Blue Collar Democrats, the so called Reagan Democrats who crossed party lines in 1980. The Reagan Democrats this year were actually Bernie Sanders Democrats, Democrats who opposed Hillary Clinton for a host of reasons, not least of which was that she and the DNC cheated Sanders out of the Democratic nomination.
Trump won the presidency owing no one anything. No debts to big donors. No promises to keep except to his voter base. He owes the banks and Wall Street nothing. By and large, they opposed his candidacy.
We have never seen a president like Trump. He has obvious business management skills. He has demonstrated keen political skills. What remains to be seen is how he employs those skills, and to what end.
Trump can seek to remake the Republican party in his image or he could throw in the towel and play ball with the oligarchy.
Should he pursue remaking the Republican party, a political earthquake of Biblical proportions is in the offing.
And if he chooses that course of action, Trump could be the most significant president since Franklin Roosevelt.
In changing the Republican party from a party of corporate interests and the wealthy into one that represents the middle class and the working poor, Trump could realign the parties, forcing establishment Republicans into the Democratic party, leaving the Democrats as the party of war and Wall Street, with no room for progressives.
Observing Trump’s cabinet appointees, most pundits are predicting Republicanism as usual.
My take on his appointees is that Trump is doing what he has always done in business: selecting talented people without regard to their own positions and agendas, with the expectation that they will do what he wants them to do.
Whether the tail wags the dog or Trump wags the tail will play out in the months to come.
My money is on Trump. This is his show and I doubt he will let anyone steal his thunder.
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