10:41 AM, Oct 6, 2015 • By BENJAMIN WELTON
It has become common to liken Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders. They’re both “outsiders” who have seemingly bucked the system and have struck a nerve with the base of their respective parties. For Sanders, a self-described social democrat from the most liberal state in the union, his anti-Wall Street, big government message has earned him plenty of huzzahs from the callow voters who want “free” college, while Hollywood celebrities and other well-heeled donors have jumped so far behind the wild-haired man from Vermont (by way of Brooklyn) that he’s currently on pace to match Hillary Clinton’s far more professional and slick campaign. As for Trump, the billionaire’s rakish charm, his unwillingness to apologize for any gaffe or seemingly ugly phrase, and his loud denunciations of illegal immigration have netted him a consistent spot at the top of the GOP’s presidential race. Currently, CNN has Trump holding fast to his “commanding lead.”
So what’s the secret ingredient?
Despite Nate Silver’s breathless protest that we should all “Stop Comparing Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders,” and despite Sanders’s own claim that Trump ‘s rhetoric is “an embarrassment for our country,” the truth is that both men, while representing some of the farthest reaches of the left/right divide, have tapped into a common element. Namely, they appeal to the “Forgotten Man,” that usually white working individual who has always been skeptical of big money and the interventionist spirit begat by Woodrow Wilson. The difference here is between Sanders’s “Forgotten Man,” who is more akin to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era unemployed worker needing a lift up from the New Deal’s alphabet soup, and Trump’s own “Forgotten Man,” who shares an affinity with the William Graham Sumner original: a hard-working middle class individual forced to pay for needlessly burdensome economic policies.
We can call this populism. In order to separate the heart from the guts, it’s best to define our primary concern (populism) before describing the people who follow Sanders and Trump.
While, logically speaking, “populism” simply refers to things that are popular or that appeal to a wide audience, the term itself has taken on a more nuanced meaning ever since appearing on the American political scene in the 19th century. The original populists were members of the Grange, a pre-Civil War movement made up of western and southern farmers riled up by debt, droughts, and railroad barons. The later Populist party effectively split the Democrats in the 1880s and 1890s, when the populist faction made economic inequality a major concern, along with a preference for agrarianism and a push for bimetallism, or the use of gold and silver money as legal tender. While the latter crusade inspired L. Frank Baum to write a childish allegory in the form of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the populists saw their apex in 1896 when William Jennings Bryan, a populist Democrat from Nebraska, won the party nomination. Despite Bryan’s well-known eloquence, William McKinley and the Republicans took the day with 51.02 percent of the popular vote and 60.6 percent of the electoral vote.
In many U.S. history books, this is where the story of populism stops. Rather than members of an explicit Populist party, post-1896 populists have become an amorphous, mostly faceless bunch who have somehow managed to support both FDR’s socialistic New Deal programs and Richard Nixon’s socially conservative “silent majority” agenda within living memory. Populists can be found on the left and right, of course, often on the fringes of both parties. In the current coinage, MSNBC blowhard Ed Schultz is as much of a populist as any member of the Tea Party. The disparity is rarely called into question. Maybe it’s the indeterminate meaning of the word itself, or maybe it’s the fact that populism really is a set of ideas or ideals that have managed to appeal to the left and the right.
8:10 AM, Sep 30, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Jeff Bell found a lot to like in Donald Trump's tax plan.
The 2012 runner-up lowers expectations for Iowa.8:33 PM, Jul 20, 2015 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Rick Santorum is keeping expectations low for his second presidential campaign. Asked if he would need to win the Iowa caucuses to stay in the race, the former senator said it “depends.”
“If I finish third and half a percent behind first, I think I feel pretty good. If I finish third and I’m ten points out, well, that’s a different story,” he told a small group of reporters in a Washington restaurant Monday afternoon.
8:36 AM, May 29, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a 41-second video that's set to be released later this morning, the Republican National Committee is using a populist message to hit Hillary Clinton for "hypocrisy."
The video mainly features a snippet from a speech Clinton delivered on Wednesday, May 27, at the South Carolina Democratic Women's Council. "Because we're going to have to stand up to the people who want to keep the deck stacked in favor of those at the top. We're going to have to fight to make sure that the success of our country is shared across the economy," Clinton says in the RNC ad.
11:52 AM, Jan 22, 2015 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
Hillary Clinton has not been especially aggressive on ideas and policy. On money, however, it is a different story.
5:52 PM, Apr 7, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A taste of the boss's newsletter (which is sent out every Monday):
Today's conservatism should be reasonably populist. A populist conservatism is right for the times—the people are in many ways healthier than our elites. A reasonably and reasonable populist conservatism is also a winning conservatism in today's America.
8:02 AM, Feb 28, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
A brilliant essay by James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal on why Santorum might well be electable, on populist conservatism, and on a "clarifying sentence" by Clive Crook with commentary by Mickey Kaus and Jeffrey Bell. Here's a taste—but read the whole thing:
Barack Obama has managed a rare feat: The longer he holds office, the more he diminishes in stature. Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By JAMES W. CEASER
From charisma to populism—this is the slippery slope down which Barack Obama has been sliding over the past two years. In June 2008, Obama the candidate described his nomination as “the moment when . . . our planet began to heal.” In June 2010, Obama the president promised his partisans he would find an “ass to kick.”
The insurgents meet the insiders.Mar 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 23 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
It was a good week for proclamations, with Washington conservative leaders, tea party activists, and the GOP all touting statements of principle as thousands of conservatives came to town for the annual CPAC conference. The GOP’s statement has yet to be released, but each group’s intentions have nonetheless been scrutinized and parsed by the media in what feels like a political version of the eHarmony compatibility test.
1:53 PM, Feb 10, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
First, it was the spending freeze that sent economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman into a tantrum, saying that Obama "liquidated himself" by "embrac[ing] and validat[ing] the Republican world-view."