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Donald Trump, Orthodox-Innovator


In Stephen Skowronek’s “political time” framework, “orthodox-innovators” are presidents who claim authority from an established political tradition, but in some ways extend it an achieve a less compromised version of the original — Monroe, Polk, LBJ. In policy terms, at least, Trump an orthodox-innovator in Reagan’s tradition:

Consider instead an alternative theory: The current state of the Republican Party is an indication not that conservatives have lost, but that they have won.


And so, while Trump may have little personal grounding in conservative theory, there are no longer any other sources of ideas or political support on which he can draw. The Trump presidency represents an apex of conservative power. His adherence to doctrine is absolute. Where Trump has wavered, it has been on issues like trade and immigration, where conservatives themselves have long-standing divisions. Conservatives like to imagine Reagan as the beau ideal of a president who faithfully adhered to their principles, but Trump is the president who has actually done it.


Trump’s base within the party lies on its right, not its left. The Republicans who most adore him are the most conservative ones, and those most alienated from him are the most moderate…

Trump has taken Reagan’s legacy as conservatives now define it: debt-funded upper-class tax cuts, increases in defense spending, young reactionary judges, and the deregulation of business — in a much more refined and uncompromising form than Reagan himself did, sometimes going to lengths that would be cartoonish if the consequences weren’t so dire. And as Chait observes, the same goes for the civil rights rollbacks that conservatives would prefer not to discuss:

Trump’s racism, paranoia, and authoritarianism are all deeply rooted in the American conservative tradition. William F. Buckley supported segregation and white supremacy, and after his shouts of “Stop!” failed to halt the civil-rights train, he again supported white supremacy and segregation in South Africa until that, too, was a lost cause. Buckley had fulsome praise for right-wing dictators like Francisco Franco. These beliefs may not have defined the entirety of his worldview, but they formed an important foundation for it.

The one caveat, as I said in the wake of Trump’s election and obviously believe even more strongly now, is that we no longer have the single dominant regime that Skowronek assumes, but two parties trying to extend competing traditions on parallel tracks. This has implications I’ll come back to. But hopes about Trump’s “populism” shattering the GOP notwithstanding, ever-more-extreme versions of Reagan’s ideology are the only warrant for governing authority available to a Republican president, and as far as I can tell there’s no reason to believe the next Republican president won’t be the same.

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