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Trump may win, but Trumpism is over

Is Trump turning his back on Trumpism? (Photo: Getty Images)

March 28, 2024 - 10:00am

Donald Trump is riding high. He demolished his Republican rivals in his party’s primaries without even bothering to show up to debate them. The Supreme Court found in his favour when Colorado tried to take him off the state ballot. Now not only is Trump beating US President Joe Biden in the polls, he is also prising apart the Democratic Party’s stranglehold on America’s minority vote, as he accumulates ever more support among US black and Latino voters.

Despite all this, and whoever wins the US presidential election in November this year, it is increasingly clear that the political phenomenon of Trumpism is over. The signs have been there for a while now, but it was most obvious in Trump’s recent interview with GB News presenter Nigel Farage, where he explicitly rolled back from his threats to pull the US out of Nato.

The shilly-shallying with Nato is classic Trump: a bold and dramatic sally, and then a quick fumbling retreat back to conventional lines. It is a political style combining the cut and thrust of the New York real estate market and municipal politics with the canny artifice of reality TV and social media. It is a style suited to dominating new cycles and fluffing up stock market valuations, but it is not intended to build new institutions and structures.

In this case, rather than clearing away the legacy of outdated 20th-century alliances, Trump’s bluffing about Nato is a straightforward shakedown, intended to scare European governments into spending more on defence in order to relieve the burden on the US. His retreat on the matter will set the pattern for his presidency if he wins another term in office.

It is worth recalling that very little new came out of Trump’s first term in office. Beyond the populist grandstanding, his big tax cuts comprised the standard Republican domestic fare; to that extent it was, as the political scientists would have it, an “ordinary presidency”. Trump’s clumsy trade war with China has been refined, expanded and systematised by the Biden administration. For all his bluster about being the anti-war candidate, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was carried out under Biden in 2022, while Trump was forced to backtrack on a promise to take US troops out of Syria.

The former president repeatedly fumbled the administrative levers that would have allowed him to deliver on electoral promises, instead finding himself reduced to fending off insistent conspiracy-mongering that he was a Russian agent and wasting political energy that could have been spent on policy.

His opponents fear a second Trump presidency will be a more solid, sophisticated and professional effort, with the Heritage Foundation having marshalled teams of technical experts and dense policy plans to guide him. But these teams are intended to contain Trump, not empower him. This new caste of mandarins will doubtless find ways to flatter Trump’s vanity and keep him distracted while they set about constructing a new administrative state built around tariffs and geopolitical rivalry with China. Far from draining the swamp, his newfound followers will populate it with MAGA-supporting bureaucrats.

Trump’s concession to Nato shows that, just as the national populists have been absorbed by the EU, he is being absorbed by the Blob. He is en route to becoming the Giorgia Meloni of Washington DC, and a second term will confirm what has already been evident to Europeans for some time now: the age of the populist insurrection at the ballot box is drawing to a close. The real political question is what will happen when voters realise that populists cannot offer meaningful change. Or in other words: what comes after Trump?


Philip Cunliffe is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London. He is author or editor of eight books, as well as a co-author of Taking Control: Sovereignty and Democracy After Brexit (2023). He is one of the hosts of the Bungacast podcast.

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Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago

More than a little wishful thinking going on here, I think.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago

The report of my death was an exaggeration.
D. J. Trump

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago

Why does the author imagine there ever was such a thing as “Trumpism” ? Incidentally, a term he never defines.
These names – Bidenomics, securonomics, etc – are just meaningless tags used by lazy politicians and journalists.

Jim McDonnell
Jim McDonnell
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

“Trumpism” is a personality cult, nothing more. As long as he continues to personify the middle finger his acolytes want to give to everything and everyone they don’t like, he’ll continue to have his following.

Arthur King
Arthur King
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Trump is a result of neglecting the white working class. Unless their concerns are address expect more Trumpism.

Jim McDonnell
Jim McDonnell
3 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Those with grievances will always find outlets for them, true, but there can be no Trumpism without Trump.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

It’s not just the white working class. It’s the entire working class.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

And academics.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

No actually Trumpism is alive and well, regardless of whether Trump is part of it. People have had enough of lies, open borders, people openly and legally raiding stores, open use of drugs on streets. People have had enough of a president with obvious dementia and himself with a history of corruption. People have had enough of rampant inflation and money printing. People have had enough of a corrupt legacy media enabling all of this and more.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
3 months ago

It seems to me that Trump is more likely to be the inflexion point. The point at which the whole trajectory set by the liberal globalists is rejected, gradually at first but later more forcefully, by those that it failed i.e. the majority.

Philip May
Philip May
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

I hope that you are right.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
3 months ago
Reply to  Philip May

You beat me to that comment.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
3 months ago

Trump has inspired a generation. He’s made me and others more confident, more honest with myself and others, more brave, and more pleasant in personal interactions. This is a more lasting legacy than a few pretty buildings or golf courses.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago

Does UnHerd actually pay for this wishcasting?

Daniel P
Daniel P
3 months ago

I think the author is mistaken.

Yes, Trump was always more conventional than the media played him out to be, but that said, the populism of the last 10 yrs IS conventional, it is actually a call to be conventional against the radicalism and corporatism of globalists and an elite.

Controlling the border — Very conventional

Declining to go to endless war — Very conventional

Pushing back against the Trans Agenda — Very conventional

Enforcing the laws — Very conventional

Having an industrial policy – Very conventional prior to 1992

Pushing for the development of domestic energy sources – Very conventional before Obama

Not signing treaties and foreign agreements that hand power to globalist institutions — Very conventional for the US.

Pushing for trade deals that benefit the nation & Not just Wall Street and Silicon Valley — That is NOT conventional since 1980 but before that it was Very conventional.

His pushing back against China was unique only at the time he did it because China policy had been at the mercy of lobbyists for Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Otherwise it was VERY conventional.

Trump’s populism, his radicalism, is actually just conventional, normal policy and is only radical in pushing back against the truly radical policies of Clinton, Bush and Obama. He is radical by being conventional.

What do most people want, what is the populist agenda? A simple return to normalcy and the destruction of the globalist agenda.

In this day and age, being conventional IS radical and populist because the elites and the globalists have been shoving a truly radical agenda down our throats for at least 2 decades.

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

“In a time of deceit. telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Well said

Rob N
Rob N
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel P

While I agree with the wisdom of those policy areas I took the writer’s point as just that Trump will be managed by the blob (like Meloni has been) and none of those policy aims will be pushed for let alone achieved. Seems a very reasonable worry to me.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
3 months ago

It’s more like the reverse. The chaos of the individual administration will put off enough voters. But the populist philosophy will live on because enough voters again are appalled by the mess of policy in Ukraine and Afghanistan before, not to mention the borders, the fentanyl and connected homelessness and crime.

R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago

A load of utter bunk from a UCL academic.

Kieran P
Kieran P
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It pays the bills for said academic I imagine. Nice tie in to the book sales and podcast. Keeps the algorithms ‘spinning’.
‘The End of the End of History’? Couldn’t even be original with the title.
I wager that Fukuyama (for all his faults) would shred him in a debate.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

This says more about the fantasies that the author and his colleagues projected on Trump rather than Trump’s own policy agenda. Trump laid out his ideas in 2016: control and reduce immigration, strengthen the military but stop unnecessary foreign interventions, equalise the tariff barriers with foreign countries (particularly China), re-shore high skilled jobs (through tax incentives and penalties) and resist political correctness. These were anathema to the commentariat and in particular the Republican Establishment for whom open borders, free trade, liberal interventionism and appeasing the left on social issues were their stock-in-trade. This was the reason for the Republican “Never Trump” movement. “Trumpism” is really just a set of sane policies designed to prioritise the well-being of US citizens over that of foreigners. America First!

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

Where to begin? Trump isn’t shaking down NATO. He’s pushing them to meet their commitments. IDK if Trump is the anti war candidate, it’s just that he did t start any new wars. The world is a much, much more dangerous place today and a lot of that can be pinned on Biden.

No one is mistaking Trump for a policy wonk. They simply want a political leader who will push back against the blob. Most of all, they want a leader who isn’t consumed by silly luxury beliefs that are driving the political class today – open borders, net zero, DEI/CRT, safe supply drug programs, bail reform etc.

There are a lot of people out there who don’t like Trump, but will vote for him anyway. What they truly despise are the untethered politicians currently in power.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Way too many people, like the author, fail to recognize that Trump is a result of failure within the entrenched political class. In a healthy, well-functioning republic, his candidacy would not have occurred.

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Is there a healthy, well-functioning AND competitive republic anywhere on planet Earth where there Trump’s candidacy would not occur?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

And the unaccountable bureaucrats who beaver away at undermining decency and common sense and replace them with Marxist-influenced DEI and other such wokery

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

It is worth recalling that very little new came out of Trump’s first term in office
No new wars came out, and that was new. Black and Hispanic unemployment dipped to historic lows, also new. The US Embassy in Israel moved to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords were struck, two things that were also new. But sure, very little.
On the other hand, there was NOT a new wall on the southern border, and hasn’t that turned out well? There was not an assault on proven, reliable, and abundant energy resources, nor was there rampant inflation and massive credit card debt. But you can’t have everything.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
3 months ago

The former president repeatedly fumbled the administrative levers that would have allowed him to deliver on electoral promises, instead finding himself reduced to fending off insistent conspiracy-mongering that he was a Russian agent and wasting political energy that could have been spent on policy.
Just when I’ve come to believe, again, I can’t be surprised by journalistic ignorance and gaslighting, a gem like this comes along.
How could anyone with a functioning brain write this?

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

He’s an academic. Enough said.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
3 months ago

I appreciate the use of “cut and thrust” real estate dealings as a metaphor for Trump’s methods. I think this idea is also applicable to the current Pope who sallies forth then retreats, leaving confusion in his wake. But whereas I’m uncertain whether Trump can be described as “fumbling,” I’m sure that the Pope is definitely intent upon creating confusion.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

The Pope has been blackmailed since his investiture by someone in Argentina. The man has a past, the only explanation for his actions

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
3 months ago

Trump loses again in another landslide. He’ll be remembered as a national joke, a punchline. People will shake their heads and say “remember when America somehow elected that clown?!?!?”

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

The Plonk Socialist is wrong on just about every subject he holds up to the dark.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 months ago

…care to place a large wager on that outcome old fella?

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
3 months ago

Are you still writing your boorish words, pal? I assure you, you’re not as convincing or winning as you perceive yourself to be. You’re well-practised at mud-slinging; with arguing, not so good ….. 😉

Max Price
Max Price
3 months ago

The obliviousness of this comment is staggering if unsurprising. You really think the backlash to this bourgeois progressive insanity will die with Trump? And make no mistake, it is bourgeois. You’re no socialist, you’re just another useful idiot for the capitalists.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
3 months ago

He may be all those things, but I’d rather vote for a man that everybody hates than for a party that hates me.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Or a horndog mammonite that holds the Bible upside down and references “2 Corinthians” versus an actual Christian churchgoer?

Fabio Paolo Barbieri
Fabio Paolo Barbieri
3 months ago

Perhaps because supporting NATO and EU is sane, and trying to dissolve them is the exact opposite?

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
3 months ago

Considering that NATO and the EU were instrumental in precipitating Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukaraine, how is trying to dissolve them insane?

Katalin Kish
Katalin Kish
3 months ago

Trump is the 21st century Alexander The Great who cuts the West’s Gordian Knot of the past 4-5 decades without any pangs of doubt.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

This analysis, outright funny in spots, is the work of an academic. Take that into consideration.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
3 months ago

…dear Mr. Cunliffe, the cartoonish political analysis you present in this article is well and truly of no relevance whatsoever.

0 0
0 0
3 months ago

Trump is probably is yesterday’s man regardless of what happens, but Trumpism it’s still very much relevant, with or without him. Trump’s place in history will be defined by what he initiated, not by what he achieved. Trump started something special, and could have achieved something special, but could not bring himself to go through with it. It was a combination of short-sightedness, being distracted with something petty, as well as laziness as well as fear of losing, and simple hubus. Trump’s problem is that he was not very serious because he’s not a serious person despite what he thinks and says, he cares too much about style and not substance, it’s all about image with him. But that’s not a problem because it was never really about him despite what he desperately wanted to believe to be so, the social phenomenon that grew up around him was less about about him but more like the ideas that propelled him. Save for a small fanatical personality cult that’s grown up around him, the average Trump supporter doesn’t even really like him all that much on a personal level, but they like what he says and does as well as represents. He basically spoke allowed about the great secret everybody knew but it was too afraid to admit, and by doing so set the precedent, even though he did it for very selfish reasons and the ruling class hated them for it and overreacted towards him out of fear. But by doing so he laid path that would allow others to follow him and achieve greater things then he could ever possibly have done, even though I think on his part this was largely inadvertent and I don’t even think he even fully understands what he started, to self-obsessed to noticed and fixated on his own personal interest to notice, or care if they even noticed. He laid the seats for something that will grow into something else down the road.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago

Ah, so it’s dawning on folks, voting the dog in as Student Chair again only funny the first time and a joke that always rebounds on the supporter. Yes it’s the same reflex – poke someone unspecific in the eye and feel better about it mentality. Then what?
The other reflex underway here is the classic ‘get one’s excuses in early’. Usually coupled with deflection onto some scapegoat. In this instance the usual Blob-twaddle infantalism.

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
3 months ago

This article leaves out a lot. Trump built up defense, the oil industry, world peace and support for Israel. True, he reminded NATO to pay up but that was long overdue. Mostly he was responsible for understandings with foes and the Abraham Accords.
He has learned if he wins to slash deadwood and saboteurs from the executive branch and get loyal people to fill the slots.
He should know now what to do and hopefully he’ll win.

Roger That
Roger That
3 months ago

Cunliffe’s evident disappointment at Trump’s latest comments on NATO seem to have made this analysis a bit confused.
With his statement that Trumpism “is not intended to build new institutions and structures” he implies that these are necessary for serious political change and Trump’s style means he won’t be able to achieve that.
However, he later states his expectation that a Trump administration would indeed construct “a new administrative state built around tariffs and geopolitical rivalry with China”, which implies a sea change from nearly half a century of free trade, globalisation, and the assumption of untrammelled and unchallenged American dominance.
It’s unclear how he reconciles these?
More broadly, Trumpism is surely defined by the political career of a particular man, and this may be only halfway through its course. Too early to pronounce on the end of Trumpism!

Stephen Gosling
Stephen Gosling
3 months ago

Trump and ‘Trumpism’ represent a major indication of the decline of the American Republic at all levels. Ignorance and stupidity have won the day.