The Story So Far

Donald Trump has engineered an unfriendly takeover of the Republican Party. <ost of the GOP leadership is turning away from him in order to bend to the task of preserving its Congressional representation.

To explain Trump’s success, Economic Principals has stressed the resemblance of that the 2016 primaries to the run-up to the 1992 election.  Then the shock of Japan’s rapid export growth in the 1980s was a major factor. It combined with fear of big government deficits, and with dissatisfaction with the cost of first Iraq war to produce a self-financing third party candidate, software billionaire H. Ross Perot. He won 19 percent of the vote in the general election and helped tip the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton.

Today the US is suffering from a China shock to US employment of much greater magnitude than the earlier experience with Japan’s integration (and of Mexico and Brazil) into the world economy.  Especially among workers and their families formerly insulated from global competition, slow growth since the financial crisis of 2007-09 has produced a widespread sense of being left behind.

The aftermath of unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has added to the general chagrin, giving rise to an impulse in both major parties to kick over the traces.  Real estate billionaire Trump succeeded with the Republican Party; socialist Senator Bernie Sanders has failed with the Democrats.

Assuming Trump loses in November to Hillary Clinton, his influence can be expected to diminish rapidly, though probably not as completely as that of Perot. (Perot ran in 1996 and got 9 percent of the vote but had no effect on the outcome.  Another GOP populist, Pat Buchanan, ran his strongest race in 1996, on the slogan “The peasants are coming, with pitchforks.” I don’t see Trump running again, but neither do I see him going away.) However unsettling it is to have so dangerous a man on the ballot, no more distant from the presidency than a terrorist crisis, a sudden recession, or a Reichstag fire, Trump seems highly unlikely to poll well in the autumn election.

Spontaneity and the semblance of authenticity has got Trump this far. It  may be turn out to be his valuable gift to a political party that, in the quarter-century since 1988, has tied itself in knots. The habit of saying what he thinks, or, rather, what he thinks his audience wants to hear, without regard for various Republican pieties, has set in motion a considerable reformation of the party’s platform. A couple more election cycles, at least, will be required to learn what stays and what goes.

To be continued!

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