Laura Ingraham was one of the few people who saw Donald Trump’s shocking victory coming. More importantly, as a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan who saw firsthand how viciously the Bush-aligned establishment despised Reagan’s working-class voters, Ingraham understands how powerful the conservative-populist movement is and why the elites in the permanent political class have spent gazillions and worked overtime for three decades to thwart it.
In her blockbuster new book, Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump, Ingraham, the best-selling author, explains how Trump got elected and the forces he—and other economic nationalists—will have to battle to implement the people’s agenda.
Billionaire at the Barricades is a must-read because Ingraham, who still gets chills when she sees footage of the crowd at Kemper Arena in 1976 realizing they had nominated the wrong man in Gerald Ford, takes readers on a fast-paced journey through the 2016 campaign cycle and shows how everyone who was blindsided by Trump’s rise should have seen it coming, especially after Dave Brat’s shocking primary victory over then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) in 2014.
But the book is worth keeping on bookshelves and Kindles because it explains the timeless tenets of the “conservative-populist movement that powered” Reagan to historic landslide victories that reemerged with Trump’s 2016 win and why Trump’s supporters must fight for the America-first agenda against the permanent political class of both parties whose business models are threatened by it.
During Brat’s campaign against Cantor in which amnesty was the primary issue that galvanized voters, it seemed like it was Breitbart News, Ingraham, who appeared at a seminal campaign event for Brat, and Mark Levin against the world. Brat’s improbable win, writes Ingraham, “was cataclysmic—and gave encouragement to conservative-populist activists coast to coast” who finally had proof that “the Establishment doesn’t always win.”
Two years later, Trump won the White House “because his message of economic nationalism and a less-interventionist foreign policy” reflected the will of the people in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Voters “didn’t care about his rough language,” Ingraham writes. Instead, “they cared about saving their country and knew the only way to do it was to elect a renegade—a disruptor—someone who owed the Old Guard nothing.”
Ingraham saw that very Old Guard cringing at Trump’s inauguration and says it was “surreal” seeing George W. Bush, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton “sitting so close to witness the swearing in of a man they loathed.” Dubya was apparently “so unnerved by Trump’s remarks, when the light rain began, he temporarily forgot how to put a poncho over his head.” Michelle Obama “scowled and eye-rolled her way through the entire speech.” And Hillary, according to Ingraham, “looked like she had eaten a bad clam. All in all, a great day.”
Trump’s opponents on the both sides of the aisle, though, did not pout for too long. They immediately went into overdrive to oppose Trump’s agenda, especially his border wall. A source told Ingraham that during a private meeting with GOP Senators, they all “laughed out loud at the idea that Trump’s border wall would ever be built.”
Ingraham points out that this is a “reminder that the populist movement that delivered Trump into office must remain vigilant and keep the heat on the GOP Establishment” and reminds Trump that he must build the wall if he does not want to turn into George H.W. Bush.
“Mark these words: If a wall—a physical wall—is not erected along our southern border, the president and his party will pay a severe political price,” she writes. “Like George Bush’s promise to ‘Read [his] lips: no new taxes,’ the promise of a border wall was a searing pledge to the American people. To renege on it, or in any way get around it, will be considered a breach of faith in the minds of voters, and they will not forget at election time. Neither will the president’s opponents.”
Ingraham points out that “Democrats and NeverTrumpers know that defeating Trump’s border wall would deliver a crushing and demoralizing blow to his base” and that is why they are “going to do everything in their power to stop it.”
“Trump’s victory was only the beginning. The forces he overcame during the campaign have now created a barricade to block his—and the people’s—agenda permanently,” Ingraham warns. “Choreographed and well-funded protests, endless investigations, and a slow-walking of his agenda on Capitol Hill have reinforced the barricades to real reform. To overcome this, the president will have to avoid the mistakes of his predecessors and remain close to the principles and people that got him elected.”
Elites give off the impression that Trump’s populism on the campaign trail was something they had never seen before when, in fact, every candidate who has won the presidency in the television age has been the one who was the most populist. As Ingraham writes, “presidential candidates invoke the populist style because it connects with working people.”
But she notes that “except for Reagan, all modern presidents of both parties campaigned as populists but governed as globalists.”
Conservatism and populism, according to Ingraham, “overlap in their opposition to ‘big things’—big government, big international organizations, big media, big business cronyism.”
Reagan understood that “these distant, uncaring entities rob people of decision making and ignore their interests,” and Ingraham notes that “Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump summarized conservative populism best when each vowed to put ‘America first.’”
“Conservative populists tend to support a policy of economic nationalism—people-centered economic policies that put the nation and its workers first. They oppose a massive national debt because it weakens America and makes its citizens beholden to lenders,” she continues. “They also believe high taxes are bad because they sap workers’ wages and economic freedom. Similarly, they are against huge trade deals and international organizations like the World Trade Organization because they take power out of the hands of voters and give it to a far-away and often hostile global elite.”
When it comes to foreign policy, Ingraham explains that “conservative populists oppose broad military interventionism and believe military force should only be used when American interests are threatened.” She slams populism’s critics who foolishly toss around “the term ‘isolationism’ to dismiss populist foreign policy,” even though that label does not describe any populist she has ever known.
Ingraham points out that “throughout the Cold War, populists were among the strongest voices opposing Soviet communism.” In addition, populists have always believed that “squandering the nation’s wealth and blood on un-winnable wars and nation-building is unwise. Instead, they support a pragmatic foreign policy based on achieving ‘peace through strength’ by maintaining a strong military and using it prudently.”
All of this sounds familiar “because conservative-populist Ronald Reagan remade American politics with his two landslide presidential victories in 1980 and 1984.”
Unfortunately, as Ingraham details, “some conservatives took a dangerous detour” and “thrust us into a bizarre world of globalization, wars based on idealism and nation-building, and intense hatred toward the very voters who accounted for the Reagan coalition in the first place.”
The betrayal started almost immediately after George H.W. Bush won Reagan’s third term. The Bush administration purged Reaganites, and Ingraham recalls that Margaret Tutwiler told Reaganite Ed Rollins at a party that “there are a lot of us who had to suffer during the eight years of Reagan, and now it’s our turn.”
“We were Reagan people. They were Bush people. We all knew what the differences were,” Ingraham writes. “Many of the GOP Establishment types who behind closed doors scoffed at Reagan as a dim-witted former actor with an’“ultraconservative’ outlook were now working in the Bush administration. They thought it was time to return the Republican Party to what they believed was its more genteel, respectable roots. In effect, it meant the return to power of the Rockefeller Republicans who had worked to deny Reagan the presidency in 1976.”
She adds that “this antagonistic dynamic between the populist, small government conservatism of Reagan, versus the more idealistic, big government conservatism of the Bushes, would continue to surface in Republican politics over the three decades that followed.”
Bush’s Office of Management and Budget Director Richard Darman convinced Bush to infamously abandon his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes, and, in the end, Ingraham argues that “George H. W. Bush stalled the conservative-populist engine that powered Reaganism.” As Rollins said, “George Bush was the beneficiary of the greatest baton pass in presidential history in 1988, and he and his people tossed it away.”
After the Bush crowd pissed off the Reaganites and Ross Perot got the support of working-class Reagan Democrats due to his opposition to NAFTA, America would get eight years of Bill Clinton and globalism on steroids.
“Globalism is fundamentally anti-American because it aims to raze American sovereignty by atrophying our ability to take independent actions that are in our nation’s best interests,” Ingraham writes, pointing out that globalists do not understand that “because of the enormous anti-American sentiment around the world, it’s almost impossible to create a multinational organization where U.S. interests don’t become compromised or harmed.”
Just like his father, George W. Bush campaigned as a populist but governed as a globalist. Ingraham blames “Bush’s decision to aggressively pursue amnesty after his unpopular war” for insulting the “millions of conservative-populists who had worked so hard to put him in power.”
“Because of Bush, conservatives lost everything,” she continues. “We lost the House. We lost the Senate. And we lost the White House.”
Bush’s embrace of the amnesty bill that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) crafted with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) just added more fuel to the populist revolt that would end up destroying Bushism in 2016. Ingraham was on the front lines opposing Bush’s amnesty push, and the Bush White House was apparently not too thrilled. In fact, Ingraham recalls that the “pettiest of the Bush snubs occurred during the 2008 papal visit to the White House” when “someone in the West Wing” removed Ingraham’s name from the list of invitees.
“Very Christian of them,” she jabs.
In 2014, Cantor’s “cozy relationship with K Street and his overall disregard of the concerns of his constituents” reminded voters of everything they hated about the George W. Bush years. Cantor, Ingraham observes, “had become everything that the Tea Party and other grassroots conservatives hated about the GOP.”
But even after Cantor’s primary loss heard around the world, Jeb! “Act of Love” Bush “and his wealthy enablers” and incompetent consultants like Mike Murphy who fleece the wealthy enablers never grasped that “conservatives were tired of the buddy-buddy Republican approach to governance” and “relished the idea of an outsider who fought for them more than the Super PAC donors.”
Trump, as Ingraham notes, was the fearless “pugilist who would enter the arena and stand strong.”
“The rise of Trump represented a total break with the old Bush order, which is precisely what grassroots Republicans had wanted for years,” Ingraham writes. “But what the pundits and consultants didn’t understand was that most GOP voters felt as if they had been callously ignored, lied to, and let down by Republican politicians and their policies.”
In her book, Ingraham also does not mince words for the Never Trump saboteurs. She begins by pointing out that though “we remember Ronald Reagan in almost mythic terms” today, “many of those who claim to have been with Reagan all along weren’t.” Libertarians and the GOP establishment tried to thwart Reagan on everything from trade to government spending to “cram unpopular and unwanted Donor Class–directed policies down our throats.”
Ingraham details why Trump threatened the NeverTrumpers’ consultancy scams and the so-called conservative intelligentsia and think thanks that for decades “had convinced rich donors that their white papers and conferences must be funded and that their money-losing publications must be subsidized so that their message could ‘shape the debate’ and ‘move the needle.’”
She rips National Review for its disastrous “Never Trump” issue and recalls the time the publication used a Canadian to smear American patriots Pat Buchanan and the late Bob Novak as “Unpatriotic Conservatives” for daring to ask legitimate questions about the Iraq War. Ingraham writes that the “real tragedy” was “the fact that by maintaining a country club–like air of exclusivity toward Trump’s working-class and populist supporters National Review created the impression that the tenets of Bushism had become an orthodoxy conservatives weren’t allowed to question.”
One man who was unafraid to battle the professional conservatives, the GOP establishment, the legacy media, the left, and Democrats was none other than Breitbart News Executive Chairman Steve Bannon, who turned around Trump’s flailing campaign when he took over as chairman by ensuring that every day would be about hammering home the themes of economic nationalism.
Ingraham describes Bannon as “a true populist believer who came from a blue-collar, Catholic, working-class Virginia family.” Ingraham notes that “Bannon says it was watching the toll the 2008 financial collapse took on his father, Marty Bannon, that ignited his passion for combating the effects of globalism and big, unaccountable institutions on everyday Americans.”
Bannon’s dad had “accumulated AT&T stock during his lifelong career with the company” and lost $100,000 when he sold his shares during the financial crisis. Bannon embraced economic nationalism after “seeing his father lose so much so fast due to the recklessness of the big banks.”
Ingraham recalls how Bannon’s appointment triggered the political and media establishments that “rightly feared his hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style and penchant for populist policies.” Facts do not matter to these smug elites, who smeared Bannon as a “racist” even though everyone who knows Bannon is more than familiar with “Bannon’s professional reputation for hiring and mentoring minority journalists” and his insistence that economic nationalism is the key to uniting Americans of all races and backgrounds.
There are many blue-collar Americans of all races and backgrounds, including my father, who identify with Marty Bannon, and Ingraham realized that is why a lot of voters overlooked Trump’s indefensible Access Hollywood tape. Ingraham was scheduled to speak at an event in Bakersfield, California, right after the tape was released. Dr. Ben Carson, who was also at the event, said to her, “Never a dull moment.” Ingraham notes that Bakersfield is the home of two of her musical heroes—the late Buck Owens and Merle Haggard—and “one of the last conservative strongholds of California.”
It is worth pointing out as well that two of Reagan’s most influential advisers—Michael Deaver and Lyn Nofziger—were also from Bakersfield. The salt-of-earth folks in Bakersfield were “obviously not happy with Trump’s comments,” but “most chose to look past” them, Ingraham writes. She knew then that voters were so fed up with the permanent political class that the Access Hollywood tape would not be fatal.
These Trump supporters, many of whom had not been involved in politics for a long time because they did not want to go to the polls to vote for the lesser of two evils, “were maligned, sneered at, ridiculed, called ‘deplorable,’ and in some cases physically assaulted.” But “none of that stopped them” from “heading to the polls to vote in an election experts and elites guaranteed would be a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton.”
In order for Trump to now have the backs of those who had his during the 2016 election, Ingraham advises Trump to have more message discipline, trust his populist instincts over the advice of the Democrats and globalists in the White House, stop the incessant leaks, and adopt a new media strategy to help President Trump successfully get his message to Americans like candidate Trump did.
There are plenty of other nuggets in the book that make it compelling, riveting and fascinating. Ingraham writes about the first time she met Trump in 2002 and learned that he was, in fact, a germaphobe when he handed her disinfectant wipes to ensure she did not get sick in New York City before her next television appearance. Who knew Trump has something in common with germaphobe Bob Costas? Carly Fiorina asked Ingraham for her endorsement at a famous D.C. bar, but her “record as CEO of Hewlett Packard was difficult to defend,” Ingrham reveals. A sheepish Ted Cruz gave her a “quick awkward hug” when he ran into her at the Republican National Convention before Cruz got jeered for not endorsing Trump. Her convention speech was so impressive that she was urged to run for office herself and even amnesty advocate Jorge Ramos magnanimously praised it when he saw her at the convention.
After reading Ingraham’s Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump, two things become evident. Though she went to fancy schools (Dartmouth and University of Virginia School of Law), worked in the White House, socializes with power players, and is a wildly successful author and radio host, Ingraham, unlike many who share her background and experiences, has never sold out and always fights for working-class Americans on issues—like immigration—that matter to them. She has always has been “one of us.”
And battling for the Americans who have built this country and have always made it great comes naturally to Ingraham because she loves and is in awe of America and wants to ensure that it always remains “a place where where a girl from Glastonbury, Connecticut, the daughter of a waitress and carwash owner, could end up working at the White House.”
The establishment elites who hated Reagan and despise Trump want a country that favors the connected and their cronies. They will spend gazillions to thwart the will of working-class Americans. To bring more people into the economic nationalist movement, it is important to remember, as Ingraham writes, that “in his 1980 victory, Reagan converted Democrats not by adopting Democrat views but by convincing them that conservative-populist solutions offered the only hope for American renewal.”
“We need to do that same thing again,” she declares.
Billionaire at the Barricades offers the playbook for how to do so, and it is essential reading for those of all political stripes who just want to understand how Trump managed to get elected, everyone in the so-called silent majority who intend to keep their elected officials accountable, and anyone who is looking to run for office on an economic nationalist platform that vows to back the agenda that got Trump elected and put America—and her citizens—first.