Understanding Trump and Trumpism: Part I

Newt discusses the phenomenon of Trumpism in Part I of his “Understanding Trump and Trumpism” series hosted by The Heritage Foundation.


Thank you all very much for coming today. I’m going to talk today on why it is important to understand Trump and Trumpism. I want to start by thanking Senator DeMint. It had not occurred to me when we first scheduled this for today that he had so much riding on last night, so I’m delighted for him that Clemson won. I’m not going to comment for those of you who are Alabama fans. I want to thank Senator DeMint and Ed Feulner and the entire Heritage Foundation for allowing me to come and make this series of talks.

Heritage was the decisive intellectual center in the Reagan Administration’s bold policy changes, with over 2,200 recommendations in a 1,093-page report entitled Mandate for Leadership, which Heritage did back in 1980. In this transition, Heritage is once again playing a leadership role, and these speeches are designed to reinforce the case for bold change. I can’t imagine a better place to give it than here at Heritage because it’s so much in the tradition of Heritage’s vision statement, which is, quote, “To build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish,” which sounds pretty much like making America great again. I think that there’s a real parallelism here.

These speeches are an initial attempt to outline the dramatic changes brought about by the rise of President-elect Trump and Trumpism. I’m also going to include as a part of this package the speech I gave the National Defense University on Trump and national security, which will be made available both at Heritage and at Gingrich Productions, in text form. It doesn’t exist in video form.

It is important to understand both the president-elect and the powerful populist movement which propelled Trump to victory. It was the combination of President-elect Trump’s key policies and proposals, the emerging empowering technologies and techniques, and the underlying movement of the American people that I would call Trumpism. It’s all three together. By the way, Victor Davis Hanson has a very fine column out this morning on defining Trumpism, which I recommend to you. Victor Davis Hanson is a brilliant scholar and writer, and I was delighted and I’ve actually tweeted out his column on defining Trumpism. It’s a very helpful contribution to the conversation.

It is important to codify, clarify, and explore the concept of Trumpism, because implementing it will require the work, initiative, and creativity of thousands of Americans. Because our national media focuses so much on the president, we have a very misleading sense of how fundamental change occurs in America. Despite 84 years of liberal efforts to dominate America from Washington through a bureaucracy, America remains a remarkably decentralized system with enormous depths of local leadership.

Consider there are over 513,000 elected officials. Republicans have over 4,100 state legislators, the most in the 162-year history of the Republican Party. There are 33 Republican governors, the most since 1922. In fact, in 25 states, there’s absolute Republican control of the Executive and Legislative branches. This is a remarkable opportunity to implement Trumpism at the state and local level. It’s also a remarkable opportunity to create an active state-federal transformation, which targets the worst aspects of the liberal system and transfers them into the new Trump model.

In Washington, the decentralization continues. There are 52 Republican senators, 247 Republican House members. They have an estimated 7,500 staff, both personal and committee and leadership. Even in the Executive Branch there is a vast army of people necessary to implement President Trump’s plans. There’s a cabinet with the vice president and the heads of 15 executive agencies. There are over 4,000 presidential appointees.

The senior executive service has around 7,700 members. There are over 900 general officers in the military. So even in the Executive Branch, the president has to have a lot of cooperation in order to get things done. This huge number of active players is why it is important to create a clear understanding of both President-elect Trump and of Trumpism as a movement that has to be implemented by many people, in many different arenas, working on many different challenges.

The central proposition of the series is that November 8, 2016, was a watershed. A watershed is a very large, excuse me, President-elect Trump might say huge change. The old order is on one side of the watershed, and a not-yet understood, slowly emerging and clarifying new order is growing on the new side of the watershed. We’ll know in a year if this is a real watershed or just a temporary aberration.

Are there “jobs, jobs, jobs,” to quote President-elect Trump? Have tough pro-American trade negotiations begun? Has the new public-private approach to space dramatically accelerated our emergence as the leader in space manufacturing, tourism, travel, and science? Are there dramatically fewer federal regulations in January 2018? Has Medicaid been largely transferred to the states to manage and experiment? I use the word “experiment” deliberately. There is no national model of successfully delivering healthcare for the poor, and we’re far better off to have all 50 states experimenting to find out how to do it than we are to pretend that enough bureaucracy in Washington will magically find a solution.

Has the replacement of Obamacare with a decentralized, transparent, doctor-patient-centered system of health and healthcare begun? Has the public and private investment in health research begun to lower future cost through dramatic breakthroughs in knowledge and cures? Do dramatically more children have school choice so they can be liberated from bad schools? Are political correctness and anti-American intellectuals being confronted at every turn with honest reality and American values and traditions?

Is the military being rebuilt? Is the military rebuilding based on a bold, 21st century model of dynamic adaptation of radical new technologies? Do we have a coherent strategy for defeating Islamic supremacists? Is the wasteful defense bureaucracy and procurement system being overhauled? Are we actually creating a better infrastructure rapidly and cost-effectively with minimum red tape? Has the wall been completed and the Southern border secured? Are the poorest parts of our cities and our rural and small town areas begun to grow and have hope?

Is there a New Deal for African-Americans as candidate Trump promised in Charlotte in October? Have we shifted from disabilities to capabilities using the inspirational lessons of the Wounded Warrior Program? Has the overhaul of the Veterans Administration begun with veterans at the center and bad, incompetent, and corrupt bureaucrats being replaced? Have bold steps been taken to have the federal bureaucracy stop paying crooks, saving billions a year? Are we on a path to combine rapid economic growth, economic use of federal assets, and dramatic reforms in spending to get back to a balanced budget?

These would represent real change. In a sense, what I’m trying to do is build an outcome checklist, not an activity checklist, not a promises checklist, but outcomes, which is the essence of Trumpism. Trumpism measures results, not effort. It measures outputs, not inputs. Fundamentally different approach from the bureaucratic welfare state.

If the answer to a significant number of questions like this is yes, then we have truly crossed the watershed. We’re not going to cross the watershed simultaneously everywhere, in all zones, but it gives you a beginning. I’m sure others could add additional questions. You really could have a checklist in January of 2018, and Heritage could hold a conference summarizing the first year and asking was this a watershed or not.

On one side of the watershed was liberalism as usual, big government as usual, political correctness as usual, centralized Washington bureaucracy as usual, an ever more liberal Supreme Court as usual, and weakness and confusion in national security and foreign policy as usual. If Secretary Clinton had become President Clinton, those patterns would have continued. They had been set by the 84-year evolution of the New Deal system and the assumptions it established about government and politics in America. Excuse me. Despite the best efforts of President Reagan in the ’80s and with the Contract with America in the 1990s, the basic underlying patterns have continued moving America toward a big government, politically correct, Washington-defined vision of the future.

November 8, 2016, was actually a very close election. Only a few thousand votes change would have shifted the outcome. However, the outcome gave the Electoral College to Donald Trump by a surprisingly decisive margin. The shock of that outcome was caused in part by the Democratic consultants and the elite media’s assumption that Clinton was on the edge of winning by a landslide. Up until late Tuesday evening, most Democrats and most reporters believed Clinton would win. I have often thought about the conversation where they tried to figure out who was going to go in and break the news to her. Because literally, until some time around eight or nine or ten o’clock Tuesday night, they all thought she was going to win, so you can imagine the scale of the shock.

The shock was magnified by the difference in personality, in campaign style, in issues, and in the degree of outsider status embodied in the Trump candidacy. It just wasn’t conceivable to members of the establishment that someone this randomly noisy, running a campaign that was so radically different, articulating issues that were clearly politically taboo, and at times engaging in behavior and language that was unthinkable to the establishment definition of appropriate leadership, that such a person could become President of the United States was inconceivable until it became a fact.

For some members of the elite, it is still inconceivable two months later. I think that’s part of what you can see in Meryl Streep’s rant about, that it’s not just ideology, but there’s a total vision of appropriate behavior, political correctness, safe space, et cetera, all of which are violated 24 hours a day by Trump. There’s a very core identity problem that’s underway, particularly for the left.

President-elect Trump would be worthy of study just for the scale of his achievement. Think about this. No one in all of American history has won the presidency without either holding public office or serving as a general in the Army. Trump would be unique for that reason alone. Furthermore, he defeated 16 other Republicans for the nomination, including a number of current and former governors and senators who were considered much more likely nominees by the establishment.

However, there are two other big factors that make studying Trump and Trumpism a very useful, indeed I would argue a necessary undertaking for anyone who wants to understand where America is going. First, Trump was more than a clever personality with a very sophisticated and powerful approach to social media. Trump was the personification of a deep American desire for profound change and for a brute honesty that cut through the baloney. In many ways, the person met the moment, and the moment was looking for a person like that, and it was the duality that made it so powerful.

The elites do not want to admit it, but what made Trump’s use of Facebook and Twitter so powerful was the actual messages he was sending. People were flocking to his sites to hear from him. There was a hunger for an anti-Washington, pro-jobs, anti-bad trade deals, defeat terrorism, control immigration, control the Southern border, apply common sense, put America first message. It was actually the substance which powered the technology. Yet, the left by definition couldn’t come to grips with that because the substance repudiated the entire left, so it couldn’t have been the substance.

What made Trump so powerful was his willingness to listen to the American people and develop a Trumpism that did not allow traditional conservatism, the national security foreign policy establishment or the political consultant class to limit what he could say. It’s very important to understand this. He is different. There are profound reasons even traditional Conservatives are made nervous. Because Trump’s substance was so out of the mainstream, it was defined by the establishment media as lacking substance.

Trump started a major argument about immigration and controlling the border, but the entire first wave of attacks on him was about his style, not the substance. The voters were responding to the substance while the reporters and his opponents were responding to how he said, not what he said. There’s a real parallel in 2016 between reporting and polling. Both kept trying to push Trump back into the models they already knew. This is very typical when you cross a watershed, because everybody who has all of their lifetime invested on the old order keeps trying to drag things back across so they make sense in the old order.

Pollsters as a group had a fixed idea about the voting pattern. They assumed a 2012 President Obama-level turnout among African-Americans and the white turnout would resemble Romney in 2012. Even on Election Day, the analysts were modifying the numbers to reflect their model, so whatever was happening in the exit polling, they were then re-rigging. The result was the conviction all day and into the early evening that Clinton would win in a landslide and the Republicans would lose the Senate. I listened to one pollster about five o’clock in the evening, and it was dismal. She was going to win in a landslide, the Senate was gone, it was all terrible. It was just all wrong, and it was wrong because they were taking a fixed idea from the world of the past, applying it to the present, rejecting everything the present was telling them.

Similarly, reporters knew that certain issues were so inappropriate, they could not possibly be successful. They kept covering Trump by avoiding the substance with which he was mobilizing a country. Since reporters knew trade, immigration, fighting Islamic supremacism, school choice, et cetera were not legitimate topics, they kept wondering why Trump was growing such massive crowds. Because the elite media had such contempt for the average American, they simply could not conceive that something profound was happening. The average American was hearing messages despite the media. That was the impact of the evolution in social media.

Trump’s Twitter and Facebook followers dwarfed the three networks and drowned the top 10 newspapers combined. It was this intersection of message, social media, and personality which made the 2016 victory possible. I comment on this process in a small electronic book called Electing Trump, which really captured my essays and newsletters and Facebook Lives over the course of a two-year period. It’s fascinating to watch it evolve, because it’s not obvious at the beginning. You just gradually see the momentum building over the course of two years.

A key example of media misunderstanding substance comes from the Detroit black church speech in September and the Charlotte speech on a New Deal for African-Americans in October. More than any Republican since Jack Kemp, these speeches were part of a pattern in which Trump was actively meeting with and communicating with the African-American community. The elite media largely ignored this effort to reach African-Americans. They could point to the modest increase in the black vote for Trump compared to Romney and argue it didn’t matter.

However, the shortsightedness misses three key points about this effort. First, appealing to African-Americans as directly as Trump did in a number of speeches and debates allowed moderate whites to relax and see him as a leader who wanted to unify rather than divide the races. Second, by talking so directly about African-American concerns, outlining issues that could help them and appealing for their vote, Trump blunted most of the left-wing Democratic fear tactics. By the way, the exact same fear tactics we’re seeing used against Senator Session right now in a despicable and utterly dishonest effort to discredit him.

Without this effort, black turnout might have been substantially higher, as black leaders demonized Trump. However, Trump’s repeated statements of concern and commitment made it much harder to demonize Trump in the black community, unlike liberal white Americans, which has terrified itself with fear of a Trump future. Three, the combination of the modest increase in the black vote and the decline in black turnout were very important in states like Michigan and might have been the margin of carrying them. All of these things were coming together. The point of all this is that there’s a foundation of substance to the Trump appeal which is worthy of analysis and understanding and which can be applied to state and local government across the country.

Second, Trumpism is a manifestation and focus of patterns which have been building for a long time. As Nassim Taleb points out in his brief essay, which I recommend to everyone, and you can Google it, Intellectual Yet Idiot, the governing systems have been decaying in competence and in practical knowledge. They just don’t work, and people know that. Just as Conservatives predicted, centralized bureaucracies become more and more arrogant, more corrupt, more inefficient, and more micro-managing while developing mechanisms to defend themselves against change. They become prison guards of the past, fighting the pioneers of the future.

Ed Feulner this morning, my great friend and mentor with whom I worked in the earliest years of Heritage, brought a very interesting piece in and said, “This is perfect for what we’re doing today,” so I want to share it with you for a minute. This is actually the 10th anniversary. January is the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone. Now this is smaller type, so I’m putting on my glasses.

TechCrunch, analyzing the iPhone, said, “We predict the iPhone will bomb,” and went on to say, “The iPhone had probably been rushed out before it was ready,” and said, “The touch screen would prove useless. That virtual keyboard will be about as useful for tapping out e-mails and text messages as a rotary phone. Don’t be surprised if a sizeable contingent of iPhone buyers express some remorse at ditching their BlackBerry when they spend an extra hour each day pumping out e-mails.”

Steve Ballmer, then the head of Microsoft, said, “There’s no chance that iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500.00 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money, but if you actually look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I prefer to have our software than have the 2% or 3%, which is what Apple is going to get.” John Dvorak said, “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone.” He said, “The mobile phone business dominated by Nokia and Motorola will prove too competitive.”

One more example. This is, by the way, why Conservatives can cheerfully with historic strength, talk about the impossibility of competent government capitalism. If I wasn’t reading this, I wouldn’t believe it. Massachusetts barred the sale of Apple’s initial stock offering as too risky. If you were a citizen in Massachusetts, you were not allowed to buy the IPO for Apple because your government was protecting you because it was too risky.

Here was the result. On December 12, 1980, Apple launched its IPO selling 4.6 million shares at $22.00 a share. The shares sold out almost immediately, and the IPO generated more capital than any IPO since Ford Motor Company in 1956. But if you’re in Massachusetts, your liberal politicians have protected you from risking your money inappropriately, and thereby if you got in at $22.00 … I don’t know what Apple is today, but you got in at $22.00, and I don’t know how many times it split, but you did just fine. It’s just a reminder that governments really are prison guards of the past, and they really haven’t got a clue about the future.

This is a key part of what happened and what underlies the rise of Trumpism. As technology entrepreneurship and the pressure of competition drove the business community to evolve to better serve customers with greater convenience and reliability and lower cost, the gap between private systems and public bureaucracies grew wider and wider. Citizens used to automatic teller machines, Google, text messaging, Amazon, and Uber find bureaucracy more and more frustrating. As the values of liberal victimization, dependency and redistribution get stronger, the damage they do to people and the perverse incentives they create for dependency, despair, and loss of dreams gets bigger and bigger.

As the bureaucratic prison guards protecting the past kill the pioneers of the future, the system spirals downward. The disaster of education for the poor cannot be understood without looking at the role of the teachers union in protecting the incompetent and turning a missionary profession into a bureaucratic job. Inefficient, ineffective bureaucracies giving away money attract predators who want the money.

As we proved in our book Stop Paying the Crooks, just the theft in Medicare and Medicaid, is probably more than $110 billion a year, over a trillion dollars in the [inaudible 00:28:07]. The deliberate inefficiencies for profit among large government contractors creates a disastrous environment of overruns, under-production cost increases, and disappointing products. The F-35 is a case in point.

Finally, political correctness has driven the establishment into estrangement from most Americans on a scale which is only now beginning to be obvious, one side worried about transgender bathrooms; the other side worried about jobs. Jobs won. One side worried about sanctuary campuses and safe spaces; the other side worried about defeating ISIS and attacking radical Islamic terrorism to create genuine safety. Strength won.

These patterns are going to continue to grow, and political correctness is going to continue to lose to reality. The great opportunity is for President-elect Trump to turn the immediate election into the beginning of a movement which comes to permeate all of America and make America great again for all Americans. To explore both the strength of the Trump personal characteristics and the nature of Trumpism, I’m going to outline a number of key areas in additional speeches here at Heritage this month. The next speech will be on Thursday at 11:00 a.m.

I look forward to your questions and comments. Yes, sir.

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