Chait: Trump Is GOP Nightmare They Won’t Awake From

Donald Trump
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

From Jonathan Chait writing at New York magazine:

When Donald Trump initially rocketed to the top of national Republican polls, it was fashionable to compare him to Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich — a flamboyant media personality, briefly capturing the spotlight, but doomed to immolate. But Trump is not running a race like those other candidates, nor is he mimicking their results. Instead, he is following the pattern more like a candidate from an earlier cycle: Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan, a former speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Reagan turned cable-television host, ran for president in 1992 and then in 1996. In his first run, Buchanan — who had held down the right flank of both administrations in which he served — channeled conservative angst with George Bush. It was during his second run that Buchanan fully developed the ideological persona he has maintained since: a populist, paleoconservative. Buchanan was anti-immigration, anti-free trade, isolationist on foreign policy, and a defender of cultural traditionalism. He deemphasized the anti-tax — and, especially, anti-social spending — themes preferred by his party’s elite. Buchanan tapped into a durable constituency within the Republican Party that allowed him to capture more than 20 percent of the primary vote, and more than 30 percent of the caucus vote. The party leadership, remembering his white-hot social conservative address in 1992, denied him a speaking role at the convention, leading to Buchanan holding a bizarre quasi-independent rally for disgruntled rightists just before the convention, at which he gave a halfhearted, anti-climactic endorsement for the nominee, Bob Dole.

Trump appeals to a similar, though not identical, constituency. His natural connection to the evangelical, anti-abortion, and anti-gay-rights wing is much weaker than Buchanan’s. But Trump does have the same mix of cultural and economic nationalism. Like Buchanan, he opposes the hawkish interventionism favored by the Republican elite while still positioning himself as an ardent supporter of the military. (“I’m the most militaristic person there is,” Trump has declared, displaying either a lack of awareness of the meaning of the word militaristic, or a shrewd realization that he can afford to forfeit the support of anybody who does know what the word means.) He has tapped into the very real anxiety and economic pain of the white working class, a strategy on clear display in hisrecent tour of Flint, Michigan.

Read the rest of the story at New York magazine.