This formula is still Donald Trump’s best bet to win now. There has always been some question just how committed Trump is to orthodox Republican policies. He has already quite successfully broken with the GOP on trade policy, promising to renegotiate free trade deals that harm American workers and bring jobs back to the United States. He could break with the GOP on tax policy as well, and commit to reducing inequality and reinvesting in American jobs and infrastructure. He could promise to upend the tuition infrastructure and make college affordable, and he could claim the mantle of his knowledge of real estate to promise to address the housing affordability crisis. He could promise to decriminalize marijuana and put an end to overseas interventions.Atkins can't imagine Trump actually doing all this:
... for all his faux populism, Trump is still a plutocrat who is unlikely to back any tax policies that don’t enrich him, nor is he empathetic enough to understand what he would need to do to have a prayer of winning over anyone not already in his alt-right camp.But I can imagine a lot of mainstream pundits nodding in agreement, because they think Trump really is a different kind of Republican whose populism is genuine and whose differences with the GOP establishment are profound.
I suspect Richard Branson would know better.
Branson, the founder of the Virgin corporate empire, tells us that he got the measure of Trump when he first met him:
Some years ago, Mr Trump invited me to lunch for a one-to-one meeting at his apartment in Manhattan. We had not met before and I accepted. Even before the starters arrived he began telling me about how he had asked a number of people for help after his latest bankruptcy and how five of them were unwilling to help. He told me he was going to spend the rest of his life destroying these five people.For Trump, of course, everything is about vengeance.
He didn’t speak about anything else and I found it very bizarre. I told him I didn’t think it was the best way of spending his life. I said it was going to eat him up, and do more damage to him than them. There must be more constructive ways to spend the rest of your life.
But what does that have to do with the hypothetical populist message laid out by David Atkins? Well, here's the reason it's unimaginable that Trump would ever deliver that message. It's true that Trump has broken with the GOP on trade policy -- but that's because he wants to get back at foreigners with whom his business dealings haven't always gone well. As for the rest?
He could break with the GOP on tax policy as well, and commit to reducing inequality and reinvesting in American jobs and infrastructure. He could promise to upend the tuition infrastructure and make college affordable, and he could claim the mantle of his knowledge of real estate to promise to address the housing affordability crisis. He could promise to decriminalize marijuana and put an end to overseas interventions.He was never going to do any of that because he's not angry at anyone about America's many generous tax loopholes, he's not angry about inequality, he's not angry about the cost of tuition, he's not angry about housing affordability, and he's not angry about the war on drugs. He's only an angry (pseudo-)populist about the things that affect him personally -- dealings with the Chinese and other foreigners, and perhaps infrastructure (because he thinks New York's airports are shabby).
For more than a year, pundits have treated Trump's occasional populist talk as sincere. It never was. It was about getting back at people. That's Trump's prime motivation in life.