A theory of Trump

My friend Charles Kesler is a learned and a witty man. He is the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College and presides over the Claremont Review of Books as its editor. He puts his his historical knowledge to use in postulating a theory of Trump for readers of the New York Times in — hold on to your hat! — “Donald Trump is a real Republican, and that’s a good thing.” Wait, you can’t say that in the Times without preparing readers for some kind of shock, can you?

What the headline terms a “real Republican” is, on Professor Kesler’s theory, a throwback to “the pre-New Deal, pre-Cold War party of William McKinley and Coolidge, with its roots in the party of Abraham Lincoln.” Professor Kesler explains:

Mr. Trump’s policies suggest that what he calls his “common sense” conservatism harks back to the principles and agenda of the old Republican Party, which reached its peak before the New Deal.

In those days the party stood for protective tariffs, immigration tied to assimilation (or what Theodore Roosevelt called Americanization), judges prepared to strike down state and sometimes federal laws encroaching on constitutional limitations, tax cuts, internal improvements (infrastructure spending, in today’s parlance) and a firm but restrained foreign policy tailored to the defense of the national interest. Are these not the main elements of Trump administration policies?

It’s not that Mr. Trump set out consciously to return the Republican Party to its roots. By temperament and style he’s more attracted to President Andrew Jackson, whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office. “I’m a fan,” he said after visiting Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, near Nashville, in March. It’s more likely that his own independent reading of our situation led him to similar conclusions and to similar ways of thinking.

By way of allusion to Hansel and Gretel, he adds: “The bread crumbs [Trump] dropped at the joint session pointed in that direction.”

The allusion to a Germanic fairy tale may be purposeful. It makes me wonder if Charles is fully committed to his theory. When I saw him at the reception for conservative media at the White House on Monday, he summarized his Times column for me. “It’s my theory and I’m sticking with it until the evidence proves to the contrary,” he said and laughed.

NOTE: If you are a fan of Charles, as I am, you will also want to catch his debunking of the “hundred days” metric in general and also specifically with respect to FDR. Charles puts his historical knowledge to good use once again in the Wall Street Journal column adapted from his editorial in the forthcoming CRB: “The ‘hundred days’ humbug” (behind the Journal’s impenetrable paywall).


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