Is there such a thing as Trumpism?

Saturday 28 October, 10:0011:30, Frobisher Auditorium 1Understanding America

Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination by discarding nearly every ideological tenet of the modern conservative movement in America. He slammed free trade, promised to invest in infrastructure, disparaged the so-called liberal world order, questioned the purpose of NATO and shunned the idea that American foreign policy should pursue regime change and promote democracy around the world. All this raised questions over what sort of worldview was actually driving him. Some called him a fascist, others a populist, still others an unprincipled opportunist.

Some identified an obscure group of academics and writers around the conservative Claremont Review of Books as being the ideological force behind Trump. Of particular interest was an article published during the campaign, ‘The Flight 93 Election’. The article made an analogy with the plane hijacked on 9/11, whose passengers had chosen to storm the cockpit rather than face certain disaster. Voting for Trump might seem reckless, the author suggested, but a Hillary Clinton presidency would be immeasurably worse.

That article’s author, Publius Decius Mus (now revealed to be Trump staffer Michael Anton), said there are three key pillars to Trump’s ideology: closed borders, economic nationalism and an interests-based foreign policy. Yet within his first 100 days in office, many viewed Trump as having betrayed these very principles, chiefly with his decision to attack Syria. Key allies assumed to be behind his Trumpist ideology fell to the wayside, while more orthodox members of the Republican Party gained ground in the administration.

So does this prove that those who called Trump an opportunist were closest to the mark? Many now contend that there never was a coherent Trumpist ideology. In this view, Trumpism was a fantasy invented by those who desperately wanted to believe in a coherent alternative to the establishment assumptions shared by mainstream Democrats and Republicans alike.

Nevertheless, Trump is now president and is attempting to further his agenda, coherent or otherwise. Is Trumpism still a useful concept, either for those supporters who want to hold him to it, or opponents who want to resist or defeat it? With many now speculating that the president won’t see out even his first term, would a future President Pence keep the Trumpist flame alive? Or does the term Trumpism afford too much credibility to Trump?