What’s the Secret to Donald Trump’s Appeal? Nationalism

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I liked Donald Trump before it was cool–or a controversy big enough to rival a dead lion, at least.

It was mostly a trollish fondness for his persona and its more bizarre iterations–but as he’s continued a truly shocking, unpredictable rise in the polls, there’s clearly something more to it than novelty.

I would maybe attribute half of Trump’s rise to how much he’s making the establishment media’s heads explode, but beneath all the bluster, there is a very sincere idea that may explain why so many primary voters are flocking to him. And to understand it, we need to look back a few years.

At my very first CPAC, I watched a broadcast of the businessman and reality TV star’s speech, and his message stuck with me more than any of the politicians’ (or pizza executive’s) applause lines from the weekend.

If I remember correctly, the typical conservative pitch one year before Obama’s successful reelection campaign was: Obamacare is terrible, the economy is terrible, etc. Conservative principles will fix that. I enthusiastically retweeted a lot of that white noise.

With Trump, however, he spent exactly one sentence on ObamaCare, and his economic critique instead fixated on the idea of our wounded national pride:

The reason I’m thinking about [running for office] is that the United States has become a whipping post for the rest of the world. The world is treating us without respect… America today is missing quality leadership, and foreign countries have quickly realized this. It’s for this reason that The United States is becoming the laughingstock of the world… I deal with people from China, I deal with people from Mexico. They cannot believe what they’re getting away with. I’ve said on numerous occasions that countries like China, like India, South Korea, Mexico, and the OPEC nations view our leaders as weak and ineffective and have repeatedly taken advantage of them to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

He focused his ire mostly on China for manipulating currency and OPEC for gouging prices at every opportunity (he did incorrectly predict $7-9 per gallon gasoline–maybe he wasn’t in the know on the fracking boom yet). The argument boiled down to two appeals: 1) Foreign countries are making out better than us, and 2) We look weak.

In his signoff, Trump delivered a prototype of his current slogan: “if I run and if I win, this country will be respected again… Our country will be great again.”

That vow didn’t come from some overblown promise to get possessed by Ronald Reagan’s ghost. Trump simply stated he’s had a lot of success in negotiations and business deals–because he cares about and relentlessly fights to get the best outcome for his interests. Therefore, he would take that same relentless fight to get the best outcome for America’s interests. That might mean screwing over China, Saudi Arabia, or Mexico–home to plenty more poor citizens than ours–but their leaders care nothing about poverty, and it’s a screw-or-be-screwed world.

Re-watching that speech, his message and pet issue haven’t changed much in four years–and I doubt many of us could honestly claim the same feat.

As he’s officially thrown his hat (and what a hat) into the ring, the Donald has expanded on that message. Not only is his approach the best to fix America’s problems, he’s saying, but none of his rivals can do it–not because they’re not competent enough (though, in time, he’ll surely call them all dummy losers)–but because they’re not rich enough.

In Thursday night’s debate, Trump hammered on a theme of his budding campaign: big-money donations have strings attached–take it from a guy who pulled them.

“I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding,” he said. “You know why? She had no choice because I gave.”

And, of course, very few big donors pull strings for favors as benign as a wedding RSVP (see: Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash). The big business types with enough disposable income to donate so much cash to politicians, like Trump himself, have operations around the world–and they’re not quite as concerned with America’s pride as DJT.

Indeed, as the Chamber of Commerce crowd has proven with support of a wage-depressing immigration law, they’re concerned with growth above all else. And the fastest path to their businesses’ growth does not include the step of “More Money for America’s Workers.” There’s a reason we don’t allow foreign nationals to donate to U.S. political campaigns. Trump is sounding the alarm on U.S. citizens whose interests and income can be effectively the same.

This issue has been made all the more salient from two major stories coinciding with the start of the Republican primary: Obamatrade and the Iran nuclear deal. Part of a President’s job, in a world more connected than ever, is negotiation with other world powers on economic and defense agreements. Over the past 7 years and beyond (most notably, the push for immigration paydirt during Bush 43’s tenure), globalists–fueled by left-wing ideology or corporate cronyism–have been representing America, while nationalists have been representing our greatest rivals.

Obama’s failures in defense are seemingly endless–Trump’s reminder of the Bergdahl prisoner swap seems like an eternity ago, followed by so much more–but warnings on donor influence resonate most deeply after the GOP’s handling of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) for the White House.

Indeed, even Ted Cruz, darling of the purest conservatives, inexplicably stood with the Republican establishment on TPA–a massive globalist power grab–until a last-minute blink, likely thanks to intense grassroots anger at his support. Over a month before Cruz’s change of heart, Trump was riffing on a familiar theme:

The trade deal is a disaster for many reasons. Number one, we don’t have any good negotiators in our government. That’s possibly the single greatest reason—we don’t have our best and our brightest negotiating for us. That’s a real problem… What happens is all of these countries get the best of everything and we get the worst of everything.

And one day before Cruz announced his opposition, Trump took to Twitter, saying, “Any Senator who votes for it is disqualified for being POTUS.” And he didn’t forget his primary objection to the deal: “Protect the American worker and manufacturer!”

Through all of Trump’s controversial life, I see plenty of reasons why reasonable people would balk at his run. I can see why conservatives want detailed policies from him and pledges of allegiance. But I don’t see any reason to doubt his love for America.

When he’s talking about making America great again, I know he’s not thinking some WASPy suburban paradise. He’s thinking about Manhattan in the 1970s, where he first made a name for himself. He’s talking about Weird America–where “flash and excess” rule, where you can run for president after getting a WWE bio page.

I like that America, where people file $500 million lawsuits over beauty pageants’ Spanish-language broadcasts. I’d like an America that makes 7 “Fast & Furious” movies without making concessions to Ayatollah Khamenei. I’d like an America that humiliates the likes of Vladimir Putin, not vice-versa. An America that punches back eight times as hard over a tiny offense. An America that everyone might laugh at but ultimately stop attacking because it can only end poorly for them.

And if I trust that Trump likes America almost as much as he likes Donald Trump, then I trust that he will defend America’s pride almost as much as does Donald Trump’s. The rest of the GOP/Democrat field–up to their necks in donors they’ll need to mount a national campaign? Not so much.


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