Explaining Trump to Democrats (and a Few Republicans)

Lots of Democrats like to ask “What is going on with Trump and the Republican Party?” Some are really curious; most are just enjoying the discomfort of mainline Republican Party adherents, and gloating over what they perceive as as the suicide of their political opponents. Just one week removed from the pivotal Indiana primary, however, there is a decent response to the question – one which is very attractive to the Sanders wing of the Democratic party.

It is helpful to think of the presidential election contest in three dimensions: personality; party loyalty; and policy.

Personality. Granted, Donald Trump is a deeply flawed human being. So is Hillary Clinton. If this is to be the discussion, equal time should be devoted to both. Democrats do not want to talk about Clinton’s dishonesty any more than Republicans want to talk about Trump’s bombast. Move on.

Party Loyalty. There is legitimate reason for Democrats to vote party lines for the president, given the power to appoint judges, promulgate regulations, and negotiate foreign relationships. Ditto for Republicans. That is a short discussion. Move on.

Policy. Here is where Democrats who get their news and opinions from only their traditional sources get blindsided by not understanding or caring that Donald Trump represents a significant move away from traditional Republican policies. It is this shift as much as his personality which causes tension within the Republican Party – and political opportunity to attract voters not firmly attached to the party of Obama and Clinton. Again, three components of Trump’s “America First” policy theme.

– Foreign Policy. Since at least 2002 Republican and Democratic administrations alike have pursued policies in the broader Middle East of deposing leaders which we did not like without a clear plan for a replacement – the Taliban in Afghanistan; Hussein in Iraq; Qaddafi in Libya; Assad in Syria. (Bush was at least a bit more competent, winning the wars and tamping down the opposition to the successor governments.) Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq War and was a chief architect for the Obama administration’s policies in Libya and Syria. Trump sounds like Bernie Sanders.

Since World War II the United States has been the world’s policeman, maintaining bases in Europe and Asia and paying about 4% of our gross domestic product for the military while our allies are generally in the 2% range. With $19 trillion of debt, we can no longer afford to continue this disparity. Trump sounds like Bernie Sanders.

– Domestic Policy. Since the beginning of the George W Bush administration the median family income in the United States has declined about 8%. The top economic tier has done quite well; the bottom tier has benefited from a growing range of welfare programs; the middle class has been screwed – by Democrats and Republicans alike. Obamacare; the “War on Coal”; regulations on small business; an unaccountable Wall Street; paltry returns on retirement investments; a flood of immigrants pushing wages down. All would be part of Hillary’s “third Obama term”.

The big kahuna is foreign trade – Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement; Hillary Clinton’s Trans Pacific Partnership (the “gold standard” when she negotiated it); the rise of 200 million Chinese from poverty while millions of American manufacturing jobs were lost amid a decades-long trade imbalance of $60 billion per month. The commercial relationship with the rest of the world needs to be renegotiated.

– Social Policy. Trump utters nary a word about abortion or gay rights. In fact, it is easy to argue that Trump’s women employees have been better treated in his companies than those at the White House, and that the Bill and Hillary team have done more to degrade women than any pronouncement attributed to The Donald.  Within the Party, the evangelicals went with Ted Cruz and will be among the hardest to re-recruit to a unified party. Bad for the Party; good for independents and Democrats contemplating Trump.

This will, indeed, be a transformative election. Many Republicans would have preferred a different standard-bearer, but on policy, Donald Trump has tapped into the mood of the American public. Just think what he could do if he knew how to get access to the public dialogue.


This week’s video is a timely book review by Jimmy Kimmel.