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Jonathan Chait: All Hail Trump the Populist

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine:

In the brief period that the national political media has not been fixated on him, Donald Trump has undergone an important metastasis. His populist rhetoric has firmed up and identified a different and somewhat more specific band of enemies, including (but not limited to) oil companies, insurance companies, defense contractors, and wealthy “bloodsuckers” in general. The conservative analyst Byron York reports on Trump’s new rhetorical direction in a story headlined “As vote nears, a more radical Trump emerges,” and the report is highly perceptive, except for one crucial detail: The new version of Trump is less radical, not more.

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One of the important underlying facts of American politics is that rich people tend to have more socially liberal and economically conservative beliefs than the country as a whole. The elite criticism of the structure of party politics usually boils down to demanding that the parties reflect elite beliefs even more closely than they already do. Hence the endless demands for a socially liberal third party that will reduce spending on retirement programs, or the fantasy that America is entering a “libertarian moment.” The truth is just the opposite: The underserved political market is voters who want less libertarianism. They oppose free trade, want to keep every penny of promised Social Security and Medicare, distrust big business, think immigrants hurt the country, and generally distrust the rest of the world.

Trump’s campaign initially emphasized his nativist position on immigration, which caused him to be identified with the Republican right. But Trump has repositioned himself increasingly as the candidate of the populist, disaffected center. Even though Trump has proposed a huge tax cut for the rich, he draws support from Republican voters who are most heavily in favor of raising taxes on the rich. (They have no other candidates to choose from within their party.)

Trump’s populism has slowly intensified. “I don’t get along that well with the rich. I don’t even like the rich people very much,” he recently said. “It’s like a weird deal.”

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