Donald Trump found common ground with tens of millions of Americans in 2016, confounding establishment Republicans and large swaths of the conservative movement, and now talk-show host and author Chris Buskirk asserts the GOP must embrace the Trump agenda if it wants to succeed in the next few election cycles.
Buskirk is also co-author of “American Greatness: How Conservatism Inc. Missed the 2016 Election and What the D.C Establishment Needs to Learn.”
Trump’s political inexperience and his brash personality led political professionals from across the spectrum to write him off at countless stages of the campaign, but Buskirk says it wasn’t Trump that was missing what voters wanted.
“This is someone who understands America in a way that, believe it or not, so many voices on the right that we’ve listened to, that I’ve listened to for a long, long time just don’t,” said Buskirk.
So did the American people respond to Trump or did Trump understand what millions of frustrated voters wanted in their next president? Buskirk says it’s both.
“I think he had and has fully formed opinions about this country, about the right way to govern and about what’s right for America, and the American people responded to him,” said Buskirk.
“Did he respond to them in kind? I think so. If we look back at the late summer of 2015 and Donald Trump started to talk a whole lot more about immigration. Why? Because every time he did it, his lead in the polls over his primary rivals would grow and grow and grow,” said Buskirk.
Millions of Americans believed Trump was speaking their language, but most of the GOP establishment and many figures and institutions within the conservative movement rejected him. The latter is a group that Buskirk calls “Conservative Inc.”
“This is the intellectual infrastructure of the American right, has been for 40 years and they’ve done a lot of good over those years. Reagan I don’t think was possible without Bill Buckley and National Review. All honor to them for that work, but something changed,” said Buskirk.
He says conservative groups and media outlets based in Washington spend about $500 million per year with increasingly little to show for it. He says the conservatives based in D.C. simply didn’t like Trump as a result of his abrasive demeanor, and they also feared that their comfortable positions in Washington would be jeopardized.
“We have developed our own class on the right of people who never, ever leave Washington. They’re permanent fixtures in Washington, and, over time, that has made them beholden not to people and not to principles but to Washington itself,” said Buskirk.
“[Trump] was signaling up front, ‘I’m going to change things,’ and that means that he threatened a lot of people’s livelihoods, their prerogatives and their power. They wanted one of their own. If you’re one of these institutions, you want somebody who comes and kisses the ring. Donald Trump explicitly didn’t kiss the ring,” said Buskirk.
Buskirk says while reporters and activists focused on Trump’s style and antics, the American people he spoke to over the radio were paying attention to what he wanted to do if elected.
“Even the people for whom Trump was a second, or a third, or a fourth, or a fifth choice call us all the time and they say, ‘We agree with his agenda. We support that agenda. We do not support the agenda even of the establishment Republican Party. We support this idea of an America first foreign policy, a pro-worker trade policy and a pro-citizen immigration and border policy,'” said Buskirk.
As a result, Buskirk says the people passionate about the Trump agenda could not care less about the media’s focus on the Russia investigation. He says more casual conversations at his recent book launch bear that out.
“To a person, nobody cares. Nobody cares. They say, ‘Why are we still talking about this?’ The prevailing opinion is this is a D.C. story. It’s manufactured by D.C. media to talk about process. Meanwhile, people out here in Phoenix, people in Bangor, Maine, people in Wichita, Kansas, are wondering, ‘What is Washington doing for us?'” said Buskirk.
And because it’s the agenda that Buskirk believes put Trump over the top, he says the movement will outlast Trump and the GOP had better get on board with the issues that propelled the president to the White House.
“The Republican Party needs to come to terms with his agenda. They need to come to terms with what he represents, with the agenda that he has outlined, because that is what won him the presidency. It wasn’t his personality. In fact it was explicitly the opposite. There were a lot of people who were turned off by his personality but they rallied to the agenda they outlined,” said Buskirk.
He says if the GOP doesn’t grasp what voters want, voters will find people who do.
“It’ll be very, very interesting to see what the Republican Party does. I think it’s going to be a new crop of candidates over the next two, four, six, eight years, who figure out this is actually a very traditional Republican agenda. If we get back to basics, we can win elections the way Republicans have been doing at the state level very successfully for 20 years,” said Buskirk.
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