The Populism Trump Needs

Donald Trump has lost his Republican Congress and must now come up with an agenda that saves his presidency and preserves the Republican party from a potential disaster in 2020.

The danger for the Trump presidency, one that the president obviously senses and fears, is that the second half of his first term will become completely mired in legal fights, assertions of executive privilege, and rearguard actions against a Democratic House majority that is baying for blood. He may not be able to avoid that battle, but he can pick another, more propitious fight at the same time. Freed from the Paul Ryan House majority and its legacy-Republican policy goals, the president should pursue an openly populist agenda.

What did we learn from the 2018 election? The Republican party continues to move down-market. In 2016 Trump lost white voters with household incomes over $200,000. At every step downward in income from there, Trump increased his vote-getting power. Republicans running in Congress do not significantly reverse the trend. They lost 42 of the 50 richest congressional districts in November.

The first two years of the Trump administration did not convince the Rust Belt areas that narrowly elected Trump president to support his Congress. This is a key constituency for the Trump coalition. Timothy P. Carney has shown that Donald Trump got half a million votes from union households in Michigan, compared with Romney’s 430,000 four years earlier. Trump won Michigan by 12,000 votes. But outside of Ohio, working-class white voters in the Rust Belt snapped back to supporting Democrats in 2018.

Republicans held on to the Senate, where they had just completed a gruesome fight for the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. That fight united Republicans. But Re­publican candidates were beaten badly in the House, where the conflict between some of the party’s long-held principles and political reality ran hottest. Republicans had promised to repeal Obamacare. Doing so in any meaningful way would have meant another dramatic round of policy cancellations that made voters anxious and put them in a vengeful mood. It was abandoned.

 Read more at National Review

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