Populism is a political phenomenon when a huckster runs for office on a few “popular’ issues. For the most part they take positions, which are not well thought out, but are vote winners. In addition the populist adopts a cause at or near its peak in popularity.
Imagine a populist going to a grocery store. They take a red basket and fill it with a few liberal positions and a few conservative positions there is no ideologically consistent theme, but every position is popular.
William Jennings Bryan is perhaps the most famous of the populists. His main issue was the gold standard. The masses thought the gold standard unfairly benefited the rich bankers back east. Bryan seized on the issue and won the Democrat nomination in 1896. In fact virtually his entire nomination speech was on abandoning the gold standard, it was known as the “Cross of Gold” speech.
However, Bryan lost the general election to the Republican William McKinley. Bryan spent the rest of his life trying to latch on to another popular issue.
The last major Presidential candidate to run on a platform of building a wall at the southern border was Patrick Buchanan in 1992. As a student I volunteered for the campaign. I spent many hours addressing envelopes, licking stamps, answering phones. And I even went to Houston for the Republican convention that year to root Pat on. I was a member of the Buchanan Brigade!
We could have used Trump’s help 23 years ago, but, he didn’t join the strengthen the border movement until 6 months ago.
Trump has no ideology. He has never been a committed conservative, yes, he may have voted Republican many times, but he does not understand conservatism.
He is a populist. Some examples:
In the Fox GOP debate Trump claimed that “Washington is run by stupid people”, this is a very populist notion. And if Washington is run by smart people, like him, all will be well. But a conservative would tell you that Washington is not run by stupid people, rather smart liberals and progressives committed to weakening America and expanding the Federal government. This is by design and we need a principled conservative who will roll back the tide of the Federal government.
Along these lines Trump said last week that he would appoint Warren Buffet to the cabinet. Buffet is a Democrat and an ardent Obama supporter. But the populist Trump believes that putting smart people in charge is the answer. Buffet is a smart person so Trump wants him in the cabinet. Wrong, putting conservatives in office is the way to restore America to greatness.
Last week Trump attacked Jeb Bush for taking campaign contributions claiming that a candidate becomes beholden to a contributor once he accepts the check. This is populist nonsense.
People give money to a candidate because they believe in that person. They want the person to win because they agree with him or her on the issues.
Trump believes that people contribute to a candidate because they want to buy them. He is dead wrong, people contribute because they want people who share their values in office.
The more Trump talks the clearer it becomes that he is a populist. Conservatives should should stay far away from him.
Cross-posted at The Virginia Gentleman