We are past Super Tuesday. After tremendous buildup by the national media, the 11 primaries that took place earlier this week added little clarity to an already convoluted presidential race. On the Democratic side, Hillary won seven states and Bernie won four. It was a good day for Clinton, but one that relied heavily on her much-touted “Southern firewall.” On the Republican side, Donald J. Trump won seven states, while Messrs. Cruz and Rubio garnered three and one apiece. Perhaps the only certain winner on Super Tuesday was the media industry, whose executives have delighted in soaring ratings.
For all their elections coverage, however, media outlets have largely neglected to address an important question about the GOP front-runner: What is Trump’s political ideology?
The familiar journalistic attacks on Trump usually come in some variety of, “Did he really just say that?” Liberal pundits typically accuse him of peddling phobias and -isms, whereas conservative pundits often object that he is not a real conservative. Neither attack gets to the core of Trump’s ideology. They address its implications rather than its premises. To sincerely elevate political discourse, the journalistic corps must engage Trump on his own terms.
Trump’s ideology envisions countries as businesses in a competitive marketplace. In his view, America is a high-potential but underperforming asset. Despite its excellent people and resources, America loses to its competitors because of mismanagement. At the root of this problem are American leaders, who Trump deems to be incompetent or “just stupid.” The governing class, as Trump would have it, is beholden to special interests, lacking in innate ability, and — in select cases — disloyal to the American enterprise.
For Trump, the solution to this problem is one that frequently arises in the corporate world: Fire the current managers and hire better ones. Trump’s essential pitch to voters is that he and his business partners — smart, loyal and not wanting for money — are the better managers. Under their stead, the United States would “beat” its competitors in trade, diplomacy and health care. It would earn back its rightful place in the marketplace of nations. This ideology seems to be resonating with Trump’s supporters, who are among the most steadfast in the primary electorate.
The conservative and liberal media have overlooked Trump’s ideology because he initially masked it with doctrinaire conservative policy stances. Yet Under the veneer of lower taxes, limited abortion and repealing Obamacare, Trump never adopted the conservative ideology of small government. Indeed, Trumpism has more to do with smart government than small government. While the journalists focus their 24/7 coverage on his outlandish policy proposals, provocative language and interpersonal feuds, Trump spends the majority of his speeches outlining the premise that he and a few billionaire pals — notably Carl Icahn — would make better stewards of American interests than the current political-media elite. Unlike his policy stances, his ideology did not change when he entered the public arena.
Trump’s worldview poses a serious problem for the Republican Party, because it has nothing to do with conservatism. Shaped by the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and President Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement fundamentally aims to shrink the federal government and restore power to the people. Government is the problem, conservatives hold, not its lackluster overseers.
Whether or not Trump wins the Republican nomination, the success of his candidacy has serious implications for the American political landscape. It demonstrates that many Americans care more about nationalist “winning” than they do about social conservatism, constitutional originalism, or global policing. The rise of Trump indicates that the Republican Party lacks ideological consensus. No matter who wins in November, it is clear that the GOP will have to contend with a new truth: the conservatism of its voters cannot be taken for granted. Republican voters may care more about America the business than America the nation.
Zach Young is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .