The Power of Populism
Republican elites aren't the influencers they think they are.
1. Popular Power
I don’t know about you, but I am already tired of the Trump 2024 fight in which anti-anti-Trumpers won’t stop telling us how they think Trump is tired; they think that he can’t win; they think—
Here’s what they’re not getting: Conservative / Republican elites will not determine whether or not Donald Trump wins the nomination. They have little-to-no power to influence that outcome.
Trump is a populist. His power emanates from the voters. And Republican voters have spent the last seven years refusing to do what they were told. They want what they want.
In 2016 they were told to want Jeb! or Little Marco or Lyin’ Ted—literally anyone except Trump.
They wanted Trump.
In 2018 they were told to distance themselves from MAGA.1 They didn’t want to.
After the 2020 presidential loss they were told to lay low with Team Normal. They did not.
In 2022 they were told to choose establishment candidates. They picked Don Bolduc and Blake Masters and Kari Lake and Doug Mastriano and Adam Laxalt and Dan Cox and Geoff Diehl.
The Republican party as currently constituted is a populist party. This brings certain advantages. For instance, the party has broadened its appeal to racial minorities by focusing on working-class voters.
It also comes with disadvantages. For instance, the party’s voters are anti-establishment—up to and including their party’s own establishment. So elites have less influence over the direction of the institution.
When people in Conservatism Inc. talk about Trump vs. DeSantis there’s a lot of conflation between “should,” “want,” and “will.” They claim that something will happen when they really mean either that they want it to happen or that they think it should happen.
We try to avoid that confusion around here. I’m happy to tell you that I want Trump not to be the nominee. I’m happy to tell you how I believe the Republican party should, as either a moral or a strategic matter, handle his candidacy.
But when it gets to what will likely happen, that’s different.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Conservatism Inc. wants. It doesn’t matter what you or I want, either. Because none of us constitute the populist base of the Republican party. Here’s some recent poll data:
62 percent of Republicans think Trump’s candidacy is a good thing.
70 percent of Republicans think Trump is good for their party.
79 percent of Republicans consider themselves “MAGA.”
Half of all Americans—not just Republicans, but everyone—think Trump is likely to win the general election in 2024.
And have a look at these splits from Emerson’s latest poll: “There is also an age divide in the Republican primary: younger voters under 50 break for Trump over DeSantis 67% to 14%, voters between 50 and 64 break for Trump 54% to 32%, while Republicans over 65 are more split: 39% support Trump and 32% DeSantis.”
You can’t want or should these numbers away. And you can’t really construct a theory of how Trump can be beaten if you begin from the premise that: