I’ve suspected that the America First mandate perished sometime in early 2017. The Alabama Senate GOP primary runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville, where Trump endorsed the latter and mocked the former when he lost, is something like a nail in the coffin.

Sessions, regardless of what Trump’s most devoted followers have to say about his time as attorney general, has been more faithful to the America First mandate than Trump himself. Tuberville, on the other hand, is a quintessential Republican sellout. Whereas Sessions is an enemy to amnesty and legalized mass immigration, Tuberville embraces the Republican Party’s fondness for cheap labor. His media consultant Rob Jesmer is a campaign manager for FWD.us, an immigration lobbying organization that pushes DACA amnesty and visas for foreign workers over Americans.

Some will insist that Sessions did such a lousy job as attorney general that Trump couldn’t get anything done. These people must accept, however, that Trump has spent his time doing the exact opposite of what he promised on the campaign. The Trump administration spent all of 2017 working on the First Step Act, which fundamentally transformed the criminal justice system in favor of criminals and amounted to a betrayal of the promise of law and order. Sessions stood as the last boy scout opposed. 

The corporate tax cuts on which the administration labored as well can’t be overlooked in light of recent events. 

With heaps of cash saved thanks to the administration, uniformly left-wing corporations are bankrolling the candidacies of Democrats, buying seats for liberal district attorneys who use their discretionary power to set dangerous criminals loose, and funding the systematic deconstruction of our way of life. 

Put another way, Trump’s first term was a resounding success for all the wrong people. The outcome of the Sessions-Tuberville race is, therefore, unsurprising because it is consistent with this pattern.

Since about 2017, President Trump increasingly has wedded himself to the Republican Party establishment and failed conservative political orthodoxy. As journalist Neil Munroe said: “Donald Trump is letting himself be walked by advisors to George W. Bush’s happy place.” 

That is: “A stock market binge fuelled by cheap labor, migration, and amnesty.” 

Recall that in August 2015, Trump said of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): “They have to go.” In September 2017, Trump said, “we’re not looking at citizenship, we’re not looking at amnesty” for DACA. By January 2019, however, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner floated a DACA amnesty deal. In July 2020, Trump let slip that the administration has considered a “road to citizenship” for DACA beneficiaries. Trump adviser Mercedes Schlapp attempted to run damage control, clarifying that Trump merely meant to “provide support” for DACA beneficiaries and that he earnestly desires to import “the brightest and the best” foreign workers to take well-paying American jobs.

Despite his campaign promise of an immigration system that puts Americans first, by 2018, legal permanent residency approvals—including citizenship applications—reached a five-year high. By 2020 it could no longer be denied that President Barack Obama delivered a more aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration than Trump. 

Obama routinely deployed National Guard troops to reinforce Customs and Border Patrol. During his first term, Obama’s administration deported 1.5 million individuals. By contrast, the Trump administration will have removed fewer than 80,000 individuals in the same period. There are more sanctuary cities today than at any point during Obama’s two terms.

Only due to extreme pressure from media personalities such as Tucker Carlson and grassroots organizations has the president occasionally delivered on the 2016 immigration mandate. On this and other issues, Trump no longer strays far from Republican party orthodoxy—his rhetoric is populist, but his policy has all the “radicalism” of Marco Rubio. 

Amid the euphoria that pervaded the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016, radio host Rush Limbaugh took to the air with an essay in hand which, he said, explained the real-estate tycoon’s appeal to so many Americans. That essay, “From Household to Nation,” remains the single most insightful thing written about the Trump phenomenon, and it was published in March 1996 by Chronicles columnist Samuel T. Francis. It is worth revisiting now more than ever.

Francis wrote then to explain the appeal of Pat Buchanan when he saddled up for another run at the White House in 1995. The first part, which Limbaugh highlighted, explained why the populist platform on which Trump campaigned appealed to voters now as it did in 1995:

The significant polarization within American society is between the elites, increasingly unified as a ruling class that relies on the national state as its principal instrument of power, and Middle America itself, which lacks the technocratic and managerial skills that yield control of the machinery of power. Other polarities and conflicts within American society—between religious and secular, white and black, national and global, worker and management—are beginning to fit into this larger polarity of Middle American and Ruling Class. The Ruling Class uses and is used by secularist, globalist, anti-white, and anti-Western forces for its and their advantage.

Who can argue now that Francis has not been vindicated on the point that ethnopolitics is a vehicle for growth and consolidation of managerial power? 

Trump, like Buchanan, took up the sword on behalf of Middle America against the ruling class when he ran against both cultural leftism and business class conservatism, thus answering what Francis called the “Middle American political dilemma.”

Thus, there emerged a chronic Middle American political dilemma: while the left could win Middle Americans through its economic measures, it lost them through its social and cultural radicalism, and while the right could attract Middle Americans through appeals to law and order and defense of sexual normality, conventional morals and religion, traditional social institutions, and invocations of nationalism and patriotism, it lost Middle Americans when it rehearsed its old bourgeois economic formulas. Middle American votes could be won by whichever side of the political spectrum was better at feeding anxieties over cultural rot or economic catastrophe, but neither an increasingly antinational and countercultural left nor an increasingly pro-business right could expect to stabilize Middle American political loyalties sufficiently to sustain a national coalition.

The second half of Francis’ essay, the most relevant part now, touches where Buchanan went wrong: his attempt to court the GOP establishment. If Francis explains why Trump was successful, he also shows us where Trump went astray.

Yet, if Buchanan has one major flaw as a spokesman for and an architect of the new Middle American political identity that transcends and synthesizes both left and right, it is that he exhibits a proclivity to draw back from the implications of his own radicalism. … Buchanan, for all the radicalism of his ideas and campaign, remains deeply wedded to the Republican Party and to a conservative political label, and he tends to greet criticism of his deviations from conservative orthodoxy with affirmations of doctrine.

Though it doesn’t appear Limbaugh will return to Francis’ essay anytime soon, those who have left behind blind partisanship will be well-served to consider the second half of his seminal article in light of the Trump administration’s turning away from the 2016 mandate.