Trump and the Party Establishment

The 2016 election cycle is shaping up to be the most interesting in years. This is the result of a “revolution” brewing among both Democratic and Republican bases alike — where “outsider” candidates garner major support and their party establishments try to tear them down. The Democratic Party has had some success keeping Bernie Sanders at bay; while Sanders has about 900 delegates under his belt at the time of this writing, Hillary Clinton has about 1,223 and has an edge in the polls.[1] However, the Republican Party has failed to take down Donald Trump, who has consistently remained the primary frontrunner over the past nine months. Many believe the party establishment dislikes Trump because it lacks control over his messaging. Others think it’s because he’s too much of a divisive figure — given his controversial comments about building a wall on the Mexican border, his proposal to bar the entry of Muslims into the U.S., and his initial refusal to denounce the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke.[2] However, another powerful reason relates to the fact that Trump’s views on many economic issues don’t appear to align with traditional Republican dogma; in fact, many of these views could be classified as liberal. Trump wouldn’t represent Republicans’ fiscal beliefs if he were in office. This contributes significantly to the Republican party’s aversion to the idea of a Trump presidency. Many would probably be puzzled and surprised that a somewhat fiscal liberal would have so much support from a conservative voter base. The reality of this situation is that Trump seems to have awakened the party establishment to a key aspect of its voter base: most Republican constituents align with the party’s social ideologies, but less so with its economic ones.

Since the Reagan era, the Republican Party has proudly associated itself with Christianity, pro-gun policies, free trade, supply-side economics, and hands-off fiscal policies.[3] Most Republican presidential candidates since Reagan have embraced these views. The reason behind this could be attributed to close association with the “party” – Super PACs and wealthy donors who are closely tied with the RNC. This resulted in the Republican candidates essentially pledging allegiance to traditional Republican orthodoxy — fiscal as well as social. Since this went on for about three decades, the establishment developed the impression that their supporters agreed with all of these views — after all, nearly every eventual Republican presidential nominee seemed to share them. But this impression was only an illusion. If Republican constituents were truly in favor of traditional Republican economic policies, it would be unlikely for Trump to be the frontrunner — given his somewhat liberal stance on many fiscal issues. Now, if you were to tell Trump’s supporters that he was a fiscal liberal, many would probably deny it, due to years of party loyalty and a complete rejection of anything associated with the word “liberal.” However, upon examination of Trump’s positions, it becomes quite clear that Trump is not a fiscal conservative.

The first and most prominent position that Trump rejects is one of the core tenets of Republican orthodoxy: supply-side economics. In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump was asked, “Do you believe in supply-side economics?” to which he responded, “I don’t fully believe in it.”[4] Going further than simply disagreeing with the economic theory, Trump also said that he doesn’t favor a flat tax, and has even said that implementing one would be unfair.[5] In addition, Trump made it quite clear that he favors a graduated income tax, albeit one with very low brackets.[6] Trump and his campaign have also continually stressed the need for the United States to abandon “free trade” in exchange for “fair trade.” His solution is to have tariffs on imports and to have taxes levied against corporations that don’t open jobs in the United States but still operate here.[7] To a fiscally conservative voter base, these positions should have signalled Trump’s rejection of fiscal conservatism. And to an extent, it did. Conservative pundits like Glenn Beck picked up on this and said, “Donald Trump is a progressive. A progressive believes in high tariffs. A progressive believes the government is the answer. Donald Trump has shown time and time again he believes the government is the problem, and if it is run properly, it is the answer. Well that’s what a progressive believes.”[8] Despite Beck’s efforts to awaken conservative voters, Trump’s support didn’t wane.

When it comes to Wall Street, Trump has repeatedly stated that he wants to close tax loopholes for the ultra-rich.[9] Though this particular view may not be “liberal” per se, his views are shared by Occupy Wall Street, a movement despised by conservative Republicans.[10] Trump has said that Wall Streeters (like hedge fund managers) only “push money around” and aren’t paying much in taxes — and that that CEO pay is too high in America (though Trump acknowledged that the Boards of Directors are willing to pay CEOs such high salaries, so it’s not a major problem).[11] And yet Trump still maintains his popularity with much of the Republican base — even though conservative Republicans usually defend Wall Street from the liberals’ accusations of greed. In addition to this, the fact that Trump doesn’t embrace traditional Republican orthodoxy can be emphasized by Paul Krugman’s support; the liberal economist recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times with the headline “Trump Is Right on Economics.”[12] The fact that such a liberal figure would ever say anything remotely positive about a Republican candidate’s economic views speaks volumes about the political leanings of Trump’s economic beliefs.

Given all of these left-leaning views, one would wonder how exactly Trump’s social views may contribute to his support. The answer is that Trump hits all the right spots when it comes to social conservatism, with stern views on immigration (strong border defense) and foreign policy (a ground war with ISIS).[13] He frequently says that his favorite book is the Bible, that he would rather hear “Merry Christmas” than “Happy Holidays,” and that he absolutely despises “political correctness.”[14] All of these views fuel the zeal of his supporters.

Trump’s staying power has shown the Republican establishment that the true views of its constituents are different than it previously believed. Trump’s support mostly comes from those who embrace the social views of the Republicans but hold Democratic views on economic issues. These specific voters have voted Republican in the past because they were more loyal to conservative social issues than to liberal economic issues. Now that these voters have Trump, who embraces their social conservatism and economic liberalism, it seems that they will refuse to give up their support for him. In order for the Republican Party to maintain its voter base and loyalty among its constituents, it must change or adapt rather than attack. Otherwise, the party will either split or become irrelevant.


[1] “Election 2016 – 2016 Democratic Presidential Nomination.” RealClearPolitics. Accessed March 30, 2016.

[2] Gabrielle Levy, “David Duke: Voting Against Trump Is ‘Treason to Your Heritage’.” US News. February 26, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2016.

[3] “Republican Views on the Economy.” RepublicanViewsOnTheIssues. 2014. Accessed March 16, 2016.

[4] Ian Hanchett, “Trump: People ‘Can Pay a Higher Percentage’ In Taxes ‘As They Make More’ – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 2015. Accessed March 11, 2016.

[5] Ian Hanchett, “Trump: People ‘Can Pay a Higher Percentage’ In Taxes ‘As They Make More’ – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 2015. Accessed March 11, 2016.

[6] Donald J Trump, “Tax Reform.” Donald J Trump For President. Accessed March 26, 2016.  

[7] Donald J Trump, “U.S.-China Trade Reform.” Donald J Trump For President. Accessed March 08, 2016.

[8] Alex Griswold, “Glenn Beck: Donald Trump Is ‘Progressive,’ ‘He’s Not a Conservative’.” Mediaite. June 17, 2015. Accessed March 28, 2016.

[9] Pam Key, “Trump: Hedge Fund Managers Are ‘Going to Be Paying Up,’ CEO Pay ‘Total and Complete Joke’ – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 2015. Accessed March 28, 2016.

[10] William Lazonick, “How High CEO Pay Hurts the 99 Percent.” OCCUPY WALL STREET. Accessed March 13, 2016.

[11] Pam Key, “Trump: Hedge Fund Managers Are ‘Going to Be Paying Up,’ CEO Pay ‘Total and Complete Joke’ – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 2015. Accessed March 28, 2016.

[12] Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Right on Economics.” The New York Times. 2015. Accessed March 09, 2016.

[13] Jeremy P Kelley and Andy Sedlak, “Supporters in Dayton Say They Back Trump Because of Immigration.” MyDaytonDailyNews. March 12, 2016. Accessed March 30, 2016.

[14]  MJ Lee, “Donald Trump’s Pledge: We Will Say ‘Merry Christmas'” CNN. October 22, 2015. Accessed March 30, 2016.

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