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Outsiders vs. Insiders: ‘Trumpism’ may be a myth but grassroots contempt for the elites is real

Does Donald Trump’s movement exist outside of Donald Trump himself?

It’s a question on the minds of many ever since Trump confirmed he was serious about running for president in early 2015. Some questioned whether any such movement ever actually materialized but after two years of Donald Trumpseeing Trump on TV at all hours of the day and witnessing him improbably (to some) win America’s quadrennial national election last year it’s safe to say Trump is the real deal.

Of course the president is just the stylized living embodiment of what he represents, which is essentially the issue portfolio of the Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party uprising of 2010 and through extension, the conservative movement. It’s a bit odd to say so considering Trump himself is no ideological conservative and seems much more enthralled with breaking the system (a.k.a. draining the swamp) and taking names than he does with making government smaller and less intrusive.

Regardless of the status of Trump, many wonder whether the movement he created carries over to other politicians or if it’s entirely confined to him. After last week’s Alabama GOP primary run-off (won by Judge Roy Moore) some believe Trump the man may not matter as much anymore.

W. James Antle III wrote at the Washington Examiner last week, “If Luther Strange hadn't accepted Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's appointment to the Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there's a good chance he or someone else might have beaten Roy Moore in the Republican primary runoff Tuesday night.

“The perception, fair or not, that there was some sort of corrupt bargain between Bentley and Strange loomed larger in the race than any grand ideological struggle between nationalists and globalists. So in that sense, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon's victory lap is premature.

“But there are signs that ‘the populist nationalist conservative revolt’ Bannon describes is starting to exist independently of President Trump, even if it is too early to determine whether it will ever take hold of a significant section of the Republican Party. Some of them are popping up in unusual places.”

In other words, Antle implies Moore may not have beaten a less tarnished opponent if Trump’s distinctive transformation of conservative political culture had never taken place. The president’s endorsement (of Strange) obviously didn’t sway the results of the contest but the passion for overturning the proverbial tables of the ruling class money-changers was so strong that people set aside their common sense to elevate a revolutionary take-no-prisoners conservative crusader like Roy Moore.

Would they have done so even if Trump had never entered politics? I think yes.

It’s all too easy to forget that the movement people now label “Trumpism” launched long ago, perhaps as early as the financial crisis of 2008 when GOP presidential nominee John McCain abruptly suspended his campaign and all-but handed the presidency to a first-term lightweight Democrat senator from Illinois with a golden speaking voice and a penchant for dribbling lofty rhetoric such as “Hope and Change.”

Upon further consideration the voter angst could’ve even begun the year before when wishy-washy Republicans led by John McCain and George W. Bush cut an amnesty deal with Teddy Kennedy and the congressional Democrat majorities that if enacted would have opened the floodgates to an avalanche of both legal and illegal immigrants. This seemed to be the point where the grassroots really began stirring, a restlessness that remains in evidence today.

That “bipartisan” sellout was enough to get people to consider active participation in politics as a necessity, not a privilege. 2007’s amnesty push also shattered the falsely advanced notion that “bipartisan” cooperation always produces good legislation and happy outcomes. Far from it. A lot of Republicans learned an important lesson from those days roughly a decade ago (and there was also a good deal of opposition to the amnesty effort from leftist unions as well).

But regardless of the movement’s founding point, Trump recognized there was a huge opening for someone outside the political system to come in and break the gridlock. Hence the New York real estate developer and reality TV star began his campaign by hammering both parties and the ruling class in Washington. Trump’s was just as much of a battle against the GOP elites as the Democrats and the people understood it.

It was clear from the outset that Trump’s wasn’t a purely Republican undertaking – it was an effort predicated on confronting the Washington establishment and ruling class. Judging by the elites’ reaction to Trump and his supporters, the contempt was mutual. Poor Crooked Hillary Clinton got caught up in the massive food fight over the status quo in government. As a leading representative of the privileged she had no strategy other than to propose dumping more money into various programs, advancing the liberal social agenda and dividing the nation into subgroups who hated each other.

Hillary bet her subgroups were bigger than Trump’s. She might’ve been correct with the popular vote but not where it counts in the Electoral College. Divide and conquer for Hillary resulted in her guzzling lots of chardonnay after the election and writing a book that no one likes.

As for the Republicans, everyone’s speculating who’s now in control of the party.

Caitlin Huey-Burns reported at Real Clear Politics, “Polling bears out Trump's influence. A recent survey by NBC/Wall Street Journal found a significant divide between Republican Party supporters and Trump supporters. For example, while 51 percent of party supporters are satisfied with GOP leaders, only 27 percent of Trump supporters are satisfied with them. Just 36 percent of party supporters had a positive view of Mitch McConnell, but only 13 percent of Trump supporters viewed him positively.

“’Its deep, vitriolic and abiding,’ says one conservative operative about this dislike. ‘I've never seen the gulf this deep or this broad between Republican leadership and the rank-and-file Republican voter. It's a dramatic break.’”

Again, the rift between the grassroots and the GOP congressional establishment has endured for years but the media and Republican leaders talk as though it’s sprung up only on Trump’s watch.

Perhaps the first manifestation of it (at least in recent times) was in 2010 when Utah Republicans took it upon themselves to nominate Mike Lee for senate rather than honor the re-election bid of establishment Senator Bob Bennett at the state party convention. Then, in 2012, long-time Republican “bipartisan” collaborator Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana was voted out in a primary.

Republican voters in these election years also chose conservative challengers in Colorado, Nevada, Delaware and Missouri – fine people who would’ve made excellent senators if only the party ruling class had supported them in their general election contests instead of sanctioning the media and Democrats to tear them to shreds. Think of how large the Republican senate majority would be today if only more of a “team” endeavor had been waged on their behalf back then.

Senator Ted Cruz is now in Washington because he waged his own grassroots-based campaign in Texas in 2012. Cruz defeated establishment Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in one of the year’s biggest primary upsets and went on to convincingly win the general election as well.

Cruz’s second-place finish in the 2016 GOP presidential campaign was also almost entirely fueled by grassroots efforts to allow him first to separate himself from the pack and then compete head-to-head with Trump late into the season. Together with fellow outsiders Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina the non-establishment candidates attracted a fairly consistent two-thirds of the Republican primary vote.

Cruz’s conservative campaign generated the same kind of anti-establishment enthusiasm as Trump’s and most of the senator’s supporters easily made the transition to the outsider nominee for his battle against Hillary.

Cruz himself underestimated the depth of grassroots anger at the establishment when he initially refused to endorse Trump at the party convention last year, perhaps thinking that maybe the nasty campaign and differences in personality would allow him to maintain a separate political identity from what was taking place all around Trump.

He couldn’t. The train went forward and Cruz eventually jumped onboard. Trump was elected. The movement carried the day.

Now commentators are saying the voters got exactly what they bargained for in Trump. Jim Geraghty wrote at National Review, “His quick agreement with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on the debt ceiling was allegedly driven by spite for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Paul Ryan. Is it really surprising that a figure so erratic and temperamental would be unsuccessful in persuading the likes of John McCain, Rand Paul, and Susan Collins to accept a compromise [on healthcare]?

“Trump’s specialty is ‘fighting’ — that is, lashing out at perceived slights, insults, and criticism. It doesn’t change law, set policy, or last much longer than a news cycle. But it sure makes for good television, and it probably makes a lot of Trump’s supporters feel good. From their perspective, after all, he’s doing just what he said he’d do.”

Geraghty’s is an awful cynical view of Trump for what has turned out to be an unquestionably substantive administration on a number of fronts. But yes, Trump’s figure is at the center of it.

Clearly the answer to the “Trumpism” question is yes, the movement could exist outside of Trump; but it wouldn’t be nearly as successful without his compelling personality to drive it. History suggests voters were ready for Trump even before he climbed into the political ring and they’ll stay motivated until the ruling class is destroyed and the Constitution once again reigns supreme.

Trump will be around a while longer; but the movement will last indefinitely.

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