2016 And Beyond
Where Are the Proto-Trumps?

Even as Donald Trump looks likely to effectively walk away with the GOP nomination later tonight, anti-Trump Republicans can (perhaps) take some amount of comfort in one thing: there is little evidence that Trumpism, as a political ideology and mode of presentation, has caught on in the hundreds of GOP primary races for lower offices. The Washington Post surveys the GOP Congressional landscape, and finds no proto-Trumps on the horizon:

Just because millions of voters are won over by Trump’s outsider appeal doesn’t mean they’ll automatically vote for any candidate playing up their outsider credentials or attaching themselves to Trump.

In other words: The Trump Effect seems pretty difficult to replicate if you’re not a once-in-a-lifetime, incredibly unique candidate named Donald Trump. And there haven’t been outside GOP candidates this primary season who remotely resemble Trump.

Thanks in part to that, Senate Republicans are actually having a better primary year than in some recent cycles.

Many analysts have argued that Trump’s popularity shows that elite GOP orthodoxy—limited government, lower taxes, entitlement reform, hawkish foreign policy—is a dead letter, and what Republican primary voters really want is Trump-style welfare state ethnocentrism at home coupled with America First-ism abroad. There may well be some truth to this (especially the first part; the tenets of traditional Republicanism really are in desperate need of re-imagination if the party wants to address today’s problems). But are voters dead-set on Trumpism as the alternative? The absence of successful Trump-like candidates for Congress raises some doubts. After all, if there were a huge, unfulfilled demand in the Republican primary electorate for white identity politics, wouldn’t we expect enterprising candidates for state, local, and Congressional offices start supplying it? European far-right parties, like Front National, don’t just run candidates for the presidency—they compete for seats in Parliament as well.

Pundits will be debating the source of Donald Trump’s appeal for years to come. But the stability of GOP Congressional incumbents, at least for now, is a real stumbling block for grand theories of Trumpism that see the Donald as the leader of a massive political realignment, or the face of the new Republican Party agenda for years to come. And unless his approach is adopted by other candidates for other offices, it seems plausible that Trumpism is a personality-driven anomaly, fomented more by the intersection of celebrity culture, the ratings-chasing habits of the presidential press, and, yes, the weakness of the old-school Republican brand and the cravenness of many of its elites, than by the actual policy preferences of GOP primary voters.

Of course, it may well be that Trump is a leading indicator, and that in the coming years, Republican aspirants to Congressional seats and statehouses across the country will see welfare state-ism plus explicit racial resentment plus hostility to trade and NATO as the key to winning primaries. But that hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, the Donald seems more like a man than a movement.

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