During the seemingly endless presidential campaign, Donald Trump was often both courageous and decisive, repeatedly refusing to back down from “gaffes” that were unpopular with the media because they were actually expressions of the populist nationalism that won him the White House. Since entering the White House, though, it often seems that, rather than draining the Swamp, Trump is being drained by it. The Wall is not even a blueprint yet, there has been no effort to introduce a tariff-like mechanism to address the decline of U.S. manufacturing, and there has been no détente with Russia—all items Trump campaigned on.
Some of this failure to advance his campaign agenda is the result of the unprecedented attack leveled at Trump by the media, the left, and the leading lights of our debased popular culture. But much of it is owing to the indifference or even hostility to the concerns of those who elected Trump among congressional Republicans and those whom Trump chose to guide him through the Swamp.
A recent survey of congressional Republicans by USA Today found only a quarter of them telling the newspaper that they supported building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a signature issue for Trump. To be sure, a number of GOP congressmen simply ignored the paper’s survey. But Congress’s actions since Trump’s inauguration are in accord with the paper’s findings, with many congressional Republicans rallying around such issues as condemning the neo-Nazis who came to Charlottesville (but not their violent leftist opponents) and codifying the amnesty Obama unconstitutionally bestowed on illegal immigrants brought here as minors. The congressional GOP definitively demonstrated its uselessness by making the repeal of ObamaCare its first legislative priority, even though it was far from the first priority of most Trump voters, and then by failing to repeal it, even though those same Republicans had voted many times for a repeal when they knew their votes were safely meaningless thanks to Obama’s veto.
The ascendancy within the Trump White House of Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and a coterie of Goldman Sachs alumni and former Pentagon bureaucrats has also helped to stall many of the nationalist and populist items on Trump’s agenda. These advisors have succeeded in preventing the President from following his instincts, as he admitted in his speech justifying his decision to expand the American military presence in Afghanistan. They have also driven from the White House some of those most committed to populist nationalism, including Steve Bannon, who stated after his departure that “The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”
That hardly means, though, that populist nationalism is over as the main oppositional force in American politics. There have already been many achievements Trump can point to, including ending covert support for “moderate” jihadists in Syria; the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement, both of which threatened American jobs; excellent judicial appointments; and significant nationalist speeches at Warsaw and the U.N., where Trump told delegates that “All responsible leaders have the obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.” Then there is the decline in immigration brought about by the enforcement of immigration laws already on the books and by Trump’s widely publicized promises to do even more. This could bring a significant economic benefit to ordinary Americans. According to Edwin S. Rubenstein, during the Obama years increased “immigration pushed as many as 3.16 million native-born Americans” out of the workforce.
Increasingly, Trumpian policies define the American right. As Alan Tonelson notes, a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found that 58 percent of Republican voters now see themselves more as supporters of Trump than as supporters of the GOP, as opposed to 38 percent who say the opposite. David Brooks just admitted in the New York Times that Sam Francis, who predicted the Middle American Revolution in these pages, was “one of the most prescient writers of the last 50 years.” And Democrats and other leftists can’t refrain from reminding Middle Americans that the elites’ hatred of Trump is an expression of the elites’ hatred of them, with leftists now defacing or seeking to topple statues of Christopher Columbus, Leif Eriksson, St. Junipero Serra, Thomas Jefferson, and even Revolutionary War hero Col. William Crawford—not to mention anyone remotely connected to the Confederacy—and Democratic senators subtly chiding Catholic judicial nominee Amy Barrett by declaring that “the dogma lives loudly within you” and asking her if she is “an orthodox Catholic.”
Trump has made many mistakes, but his enemies keep making more.