by Jay Lorenz
At National Review, Ben Shapiro celebrated the victory of conservatism during Trump’s first year with an article titled “Conservative Policy, Populist Attitude.” It’s hard to disagree with that summation. The conservative policy agenda has largely won out. Trump might have been better on immigration than a typical Republican, but, for the most part, his policies came straight off the conservative wish list:
“President Trump’s governance this year has been more conservative than that of George W. Bush or even Reagan. He has slashed the bureaucracy, cutting regulations at a maniacal clip. He has inserted constitutionalist appellate judges at a historic rate. He’s cut taxes. He’s looked to box in Russia in Ukraine while building up our alliances in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. He’s ended the individual mandate and he’s cut taxes. Trump’s governing philosophy, it turns out, looks almost exactly like Ted Cruz’s.”
— Ben Shapiro
Shapiro sees the Trump presidency thus far as a rebuke of “nationalist populism.” Conservatism, thought by many to be replaced as Trump came into office, has triumphed over the ideologically stunted Trumpism.
He’s right—Trump has no ideology. As Richard Spencer has said, the Trump movement was a body without a head. A nationalist energy was there to be tapped into, as Trump’s victory proved, but Trump had no coherent governing philosophy, no real vision. Though Spencer argued that the Alt Right should strive to become the ideological “head” of this movement, the establishment GOP has more or less taken that mantle.
In the two biggest Republican bills of the year, healthcare and tax reform, Trump had almost no influence over the contents. These are the same bills that Congress would have brought a President Jeb Bush. Trump simply endorsed the bill put on his desk, craving a major legislative “victory.” Though the incompetent Republican Congress was only able to pass one of those two bills, mainstream conservative leaders were at the ideological head of nearly every Trump administration policy.
But there is an additional story to tell and an additional side to Trump—one Shapiro wants to contain. He worries that Trump’s populist streak will derail the conservative agenda. There is a good chance that it will. Already, Trump’s rhetoric and persona have set in motion a series of events that will change American politics forever. His nationalist campaign awakened a dormant element of American politics. White Americans finally felt like someone was talking to them and standing up for their country. At the same time, the Left saw someone who completely contradicted their worldview. Trump’s election made this feel like a divided country more than any time in recent memory. The immigration question was thrust to the forefront, and with it the race question.
But will this ever translate into major nationalist policy victories? One wonders how motivated Trump is to pursue serious immigration restriction. Trump recently bragged on Twitter that “DACA activists and Hispanics will go hard against Dems, will start ‘falling in love’ with Republicans and their President!” One wonders what he is thinking when he tweets something like this. Trump’s main support comes from an anti-immigration base, and notions like these only please people who never supported him in the first place. However, his presidency has shifted the Overton window to the right. Trump, in no small measure, assisted in the rise of White identity politics in America. Nationalism in the streets and conservatism in the (legislative) sheets works for now, but what happens when the voters realize their energy has been channeled into the GOPe agenda? This relationship is not built to last. Establishment Republicans will not be able to control the nationalist energy after Trump is gone, if they can even last that long. Whether or not he follows through on his promises, Donald Trump has put the immigration issue (and the race issue) on the table, and it cannot be taken off.
This is the best conservatives like Shapiro can hope for:
“We can only hope and pray that President Trump realizes that a dash of Trump is more than enough—that he’s the salt, and that conservatism is the stew. Too much salt ruins the stew, even if the occasional dash adds necessary flavor.”
Ben isn’t going to like the taste of the stew simmering in the United States right now. Even if Trump remains the conservative policy and populist attitude president, this road only leads one way. Before long, America will get what it truly needs: a nationalist policy and a nationalist attitude.