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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Whether it takes two years or ten, Trump will break the ruling class

Two years ago last Friday Donald Trump rocked the political world by announcing he was running for president as a Republican. The iconic and fabulously wealthy New York businessman and celebrity hinted for over two decades that he was contemplating such a move but had always deferred, claiming the timing wasn’t right. On this occasion he was serious.

Trump was flanked by his family in making the announcement, strongly suggesting the full force of the Trump Donald Trumpbrand was behind his decision. The press conference at Trump Tower had an air of formality and gravity at the same time, yet also offered a little bit of show biz flair. From the start Trump was unique; here was a man who possessed the name recognition and personal resources to instantly compete with anyone in the country. This was no flash in the pan.

Still, not many took Trump seriously on that hot summer day; after all, any number of prominent outsiders had tried the same thing, fellow billionaire Ross Perot probably being the one closest to making it work in the early 90’s. Some made splashes in the primaries, others just faded from lack of sustainable interest.

Trump staked his campaign on a simple yet easily identifiable and repeatable concept: to make America great again. From the outset he talked tough on immigration and trade. He stated America didn’t win anymore. He said things that instantly caught the attention of millions – it was exactly what they’d been saying for years on their front porches and at the dinner table.

Trump was a populist with a message. The staid ruling class didn’t know what to make of him.

Two years later Trump has accomplished the impossible – he won the Constitution’s only nationally-sanctioned election and was sworn-in as president in January.

It’s only natural the establishment was thrown into a panic. The shock was so complete some are even talking of impeachment. Rich Lowry wrote at National Review, “No one is saying it explicitly, but these are the stakes in the Russia controversy and its spinoffs and in the 2018 midterms. If Democrats take the House with anything like a comfortable majority, they will be hard-pressed to resist their base’s drive to give Trump a mark of dishonor shared only by Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

“Presidents have been hated by the other side before, but rarely with this sort of intensity and immediacy. With the exception of Abraham Lincoln (seven Southern states seceded before he took office), it usually takes time for critics to work up a good, unbridled loathing. Herbert Hoover had to preside over the beginning of the Great Depression. Richard Nixon had to bomb Cambodia and get embroiled in Watergate. Donald Trump just had to show up.”

Show up indeed. In his article Lowry discussed Trump’s most recent problems with the Democrats’ charges of obstruction of justice and collusion with the Russians, but I would argue the anti-Trump hate started the same day he announced his candidacy for president.

The Washington establishment never quite settled on how to treat Trump. First they acted like he was a joke with his Republican opponents dismissing questions about his candidacy with an arrogant wave saying, “Donald Trump is not going to be the nominee.”

Six months and a host of primary victories later the establishment panicked when faced with the prospect of Trump being the first true outsider to head a major party ticket. The Republican ruling class (as embodied by the Bush family) refused to commit to supporting him. Conservatives were split with most deciding to back Trump when it became obvious he was going to be on the November ballot and others taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

The small band of #NeverTrumpers – perhaps five percent of the Republican Party – swore that never meant never and began searching for possible independent candidates. In doing so they figured they could retain their dignity and relevancy by ignoring Trump entirely. They were wrong.

All along, Trump never pretended to play ball with the establishment. Even in running for president he did it his way. Trump refused to dump millions into traditional campaign infrastructure and data operations; he didn’t accept big donations; he avoided hiring high-priced professional political consultants to tell him what he should do; he was intentionally provocative to the point where the media was forced to cover him. He loved social media, gathering tens of millions of followers.

Perhaps most of all, Trump struck back hard; heck, sometimes he didn’t even wait to be hit – he punched first.

Trump traveled the country on his own dime drawing large crowds wherever he went. He made bold hyperbolic predictions of winning everywhere, including in places where Republicans couldn’t hope to compete. He projected an aura of confidence, never backed down and didn’t apologize. For the half of the American electorate looking for a different kind of leader Trump fit the bill perfectly.

Trump defied convention and definition. Every time the media claimed to have him pinned down he did something new. He feasted on unpredictability. And he’s still doing it. Victor Davis Hanson wrote in National Review, “The large minority of conservative Trump supporters who did not join him in the primary are thus confused now. Traditional wisdom declares that Trump’s personal behavior is counterproductive and unsustainable, but traditional wisdom has so far been wrong both during the campaign and in the first four months of the Trump’s presidency.

“It may not be that Trump earns hatred for unnecessary provocation and vitriol, but instead that he or any other Republican would have earned such venom anyway; thus his own searing tactics and narcissistic belief in his own destiny are predicated on the assumption that his unhinged enemies will vaporize first. And he may be right. James Comey has underestimated Donald Trump every bit as much as Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did. In the end, the pragmatists apparently believe conservatives will hang together or hang separately.”

The “pragmatists” Hanson mentioned are cut from the same elite cloth as those who dismissed Ronald Reagan’s candidacy forty years ago. The political similarities between Trump and Reagan are striking, not the least of which is the unapologetic notion that America is superior and should come first. Unlike his predecessor Trump has never seen it necessary to express regret for the greatness of America and its traditions and culture.

Ever since his announcement two years ago Trump has been better than his word. He won the Republican nomination by attacking his opponents’ assertions that he wasn’t a real conservative and he wouldn’t govern as a conservative. He won the general election by attacking Hillary Clinton’s character and corruption. He didn’t make nice in order to get ahead.

Perhaps for that reason Trump continues to struggle in national opinion. As of last week his overall approval rating was below 40 percent in the Real Clear Politics Average. The polls have been wrong in the past and there is plenty of evidence to suggest Trump still maintains the strong support of his base.

He may have some work to do in convincing his skeptics, however. Erick Erickson wrote at The Resurgent last week, “My feelings on Donald Trump have been well known for a long time. I think he is a detriment to the GOP and the party is on the verge of annihilation because of him. I think the sooner the party stands up to Trump to sooner the party can figure out how to survive. I think the man needed some latitude as a novice chosen to sit in the big chair, but the man has doubled down on ignorance instead of trying to learn on the job.

“But I do not think the man is guilty of obstruction of justice. I do not think the man even tried to obstruct justice. I think it is notable that all the people screaming the loudest about this are partisan Democrats…”

Even Trump’s #NeverTrump detractors see the fallacy in the ridiculous Russian collusion allegations. But they still don’t get Trump.

Time will tell if they ever will. The phenomenon that is President Donald Trump will continue to break new ground in American politics. Impeachment will never work and he simply will not quit – ever. Trump will battle the establishment in a fight to the death. If I were you I wouldn’t bet against him winning.

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