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The cult of Trump

Trump
Photo: Andrew Harrer, Pool / Getty Images

Rarely has a president changed his party as fast and profoundly as Donald J. Trump. Love him or hate him, you can no longer argue his ability to bend an entire party to his will.

In the two and a half years since he announced his candidacy, he has moved the party away from decades of orthodoxy on trade, Russia, deficits and more — and has helped make the law-and-order party skeptical of FBI leadership.

Quote“We are all MAGAs now."
— A source close to GOP leadership, referencing devotees of Make America Great Again

Perhaps the most profound thing Trump has done is show how many movement leaders and Republicans in Congress are out of touch with Republican voters:

  • There’s a massive cohort of Republican voters who are socially conservative and culturally reactionary but fiscally liberal, even if they don't know it.
  • The base is very skeptical of trade deals — convinced that ordinary Americans have lost at globalization.
  • Huge swaths of Trump Country are dependent on Social Security, Medicaid and other government programs.

While much of the GOP donor class is passionate about issues like criminal justice reform and expanded high-skilled immigration, many GOP voters want the exact opposite:

  • The ratio between the number of Republicans who think that way, versus number of conservatives who talk that way on cable TV or at the Capitol, is way out of whack. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum were their lonely on-air champions.
  • If Trump has tapped into a silent majority, it’s those voters — the opposite of Paul Ryan voters, the opposite of Rubio, the opposite of Jeb.
  • The source close to GOP leadership said: "All evidence in the last two years points to the fact that the R base was never as 'conservative' on economic policy as we portrayed them during the Obama years."

There’s also tons of big money for liberalism, establishment conservatism and libertarianism. But you don’t have fancy think tanks representing these Trump Country voters:

  • One example of the money discrepancy is the amount of funding for pro-immigration groups versus immigration restrictionists.
  • Trump instinctively understands these Huckabee-Santorum voters, and he instinctively understands they are vastly underrepresented in Washington.
  • The vast majority of lawmakers in Washington don’t understand them, feel deeply uncomfortable with their social conservatism and don’t understand their concerns about trade or immigration.

Be smart: Trump's remodeling of the Republican Party is as much a culture change as a policy change.

  • That means he has the ability to create realities that Republicans in Washington will either silently tolerate, or willingly believe and embrace.
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