Trump's Agenda and the Will of the People

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s unwillingness to support Trump as the nominee has made massive waves in the political landscape. It has sparked a very important debate about the nature of the Republican Party and its platform. If Trump is the nominee, does that mean his stances are now the standard of the party? Or does Trump have an obligation as the Republican nominee to uphold and promote the party’s platform?

Donald Trump’s campaign strategist, Paul Manafort, strongly believes that Donald Trump’s agenda must be accepted by people like Paul Ryan because, well, “the voters have spoken.” In an interview Sunday on Fox News, Manafort said:

Let’s make something very clear: Donald Trump just won a Republican primary. So, it’s his agenda that has just been cemented as what the American people, or at least Republicans and independents who voted for him, want.

How correct is Manafort’s statement? Is Donald Trump’s agenda what Republican voters want?

At a first glance at this statement, a correction needs to be made: Manafort talks about the “Republicans and independents” who voted for Trump. He forgot to mention all of the Democrats who crossed over to vote for Trump in the Republican primaries. I don’t say this to give Trump any kind of credit for being a “uniter of parties.” Rather, it just serves at evidence that perhaps Trump is liberal enough for Democrats to vote for him. Trump’s stances on important election issues are either extremely vague or ever-changing, which manages to trick both conservatives and liberals into believing that Trump agrees with them on the issues. Honestly, Manafort, you need to give Donald a little more credit for getting those Democrat votes.

Second, the contention that Trump’s agenda is “what voters want” is simply not correct from a statistical perspective. According to the RealClearPolitics Republican primary popular vote count, the cumulative vote totals for the candidates throughout all primaries thus far are as follows:

Donald Trump 10,647,150
Ted Cruz 7,260,491
Marco Rubio 3,466,432
John Kasich 3,756,745
Total  25,130,818

This is not counting the handful of other candidates who got a much smaller number of votes early on. Anyone capable of some sixth grade math can use these numbers to figure out that only 42.4% of primary voters have cast a vote for Trump. In order for a certain policy or stance on an issue to be deemed “the will of the people,” the policy itself would have to have at the very least the support of 50% of the electorate. The fact that Donald Trump has essentially clinched the Republican nomination does not necessarily imply that a majority of Republican voters support him or his policies. This is because the structure and rules of the Republican Party nomination process make it completely possible for someone to clinch the nomination without ever receiving a majority of the votes. Trump may have a plurality in terms of the popular vote, but it is a simple fact that about 60% of Republicans did not cast a vote in support of him or, by extension, his agenda. A majority of Republicans might be supporting him over and against Hillary now that he is the presumptive nominee, but the fact remains that a majority have not formally voted for Trump. So the assertion of both Manafort and Trump that his agenda is now synonymous with the “will of the people” is fundamentally false.

This assertion also falls flat on its face for numerous another reasons:

  • Someone’s vote for a candidate does not automatically equate to an endorsement of every single one of their policy positions. Many conservatives voted for McCain in 2008 simply because they agreed with him on more issues than with Obama. They didn’t agree with him on every issue.
  • Think of how many of Trump’s policy positions have changed drastically throughout this primary cycle. Maybe someone voted for Trump because they liked the fact that he wouldn’t raise taxes on the rich. However, Trump has now essentially guaranteed that taxes will go up if he is elected. That person’s vote was intended to endorse his previous position, not his new one.
  • A good number of the people who voted for Trump were either independents or Democrats who voted in open primaries, or people who have no ideological investment in the Republican Party and only see it as a vehicle for getting Trump elected. Why should the Republican Party be forced to fall in line behind policies that were selected by people outside of the party?

This is not to say that none of Trump’s policies are in line with what voters want. I’m sure that many of them are. The fact that Trump’s policy positions shift every 24 hours is enough reason to be skeptical of endorsing his agenda. The GOP nomination does not entitle the nominee to some kind of absolute power where his personal policies must be approved by every member of the party. The very fact that Trump believes every Republican is now beholden to him alone as the presumptive nominee is disconcerting. One of his recent tweets sums up his profoundly narcissistic attitude towards his status as nominee:

“Paul Ryan said that I inherited something very special, the Republican Party. Wrong, I didn’t inherit it, I won it with millions of voters!”

For Trump, it is all about winning. It has nothing to do with personal values, conservatism, or even any kind of ideology. He will use any means possible to get what he wants. The most dangerous thing about Trump is not a belief that the ends justify the means. It’s more simple: in his eyes, nothing he does needs to be justified at all.