Trumpism May Outlast Trump Presidency

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Anyone hoping that electing Joe Biden president is going to turn America’s clock magically back to the end of the Obama administration is in for an unpleasant surprise. Even if President Donald Trump loses his re-election campaign, Trumpism is here to stay.

Sure, Trump does have a significant chance to pull off a come-from-behind victory like the one he won in 2016. But imagine, just for the sake of this analysis, that Trump is defeated.

On a whole range of issues foreign and domestic, even a one-term Trump presidency will have been enormously consequential, constraining Biden’s options and setting America on a course that will be in certain ways impossible to reverse. This is less a verdict on Trump’s leadership, though it has been bold, than on the global situation and public opinion, which have both shifted considerably since the Obama-Biden administration took office in 2008.

Managing the relationship with China is perhaps the most pressing foreign policy challenge America faces. Sanctions against China for its treatment of Hong Kong passed the House and the Senate unanimously before Trump signed them into law this month. Biden is running attacking Trump for being too soft on China.

Biden’s recently released “made in America” manufacturing plan vows to “use taxpayer dollars to buy American and spark American innovation, stand up to the Chinese government’s abuses, insist on fair trade.” It promises to “Bring Back Critical Supply Chains to America so we aren’t dependent on China.” It faults “China’s government” for “an assault on American creativity.” It’s far closer to Trump’s “America First” agenda than to a George H.W. Bush or Clinton administration-era approach to Beijing.

In the Middle East, Biden is similarly hemmed in. Biden has said he would not reverse Trump’s move of America’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He has said he’d try to strengthen the Iran nuclear deal rather than reverting to the exact Obama-era one that Trump exited.

On corporate tax rates, Biden’s plan would increase the top federal corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. But even if that tax increase gets past Congress, which is no sure thing, it’d still be considerably below the 35 percent top rate that was the law during the Obama-Biden administration, before Trump won reductions.

Even Biden’s efforts to combat the coronavirus won’t markedly differ from that of Trump. Biden won’t have the power instantly to defeat Covid-19. Biden will depend, as Trump has, on state and local government efforts to slow the spread of infection and on private-sector companies working on vaccines, therapeutics, and testing.

As for the idea that Biden’s Scranton, Pennsylvania roots will somehow miraculously reunite the Democratic Party with lunch-bucket private-sector working families who backed Nixon, Reagan, and Trump, good luck with that one. Biden connects well with such voters, but his administration would be staffed with progressive activist veterans of the Warren and Sanders campaigns. They would be joined in the administration by Jonathan Gruber types — highly educated, low-humility technocrats from prosperous coastal cities and college towns who operate on the idea of “the stupidity of the American voter.” Anyone who thinks Biden would put an end to bitter Trump-era culture wars has forgotten the role Biden played in blocking Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination and in attempting to keep Clarence Thomas off the court.

Speaking of judges, any attempts by the Biden administration to push the progressive boundaries will eventually collide with 53 Trump-appointed appellate judges, nearly as many as were confirmed in the eight years of the Obama-Biden administration. Those judges and their district court colleagues, with lifetime appointments, are another long-lasting legacy of the first Trump term.

The present racial tension over police actions won’t be cured by changing presidents, either. The protests over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri occurred during the Obama-Biden administration.

This is not to argue that the stakes of this election are insignificant, or that a Biden administration would not change a thing. If Biden does win, he’ll likely pursue some policies — putting America back in the World Health Organization, pursuing aggressive action on climate change, nominating more liberal judges, welcoming more immigrants and refugees to America, expanding ObamaCare — that deviate significantly from what you’d see from a second-term Trump administration.

Even in the event of a Biden victory, though, many of the potential Republican presidential contenders in 2024 — Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Senator Tom Cotton — would either be veterans of the Trump administration or would be its ideological allies. Elections can change the occupant of the White House. But, with rare exceptions, America’s challenges tend to outlast presidential terms. Just as Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford all dealt with the war in Vietnam, and just as Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama all dealt with violent Islamic terrorism, Trump-era America, for better or worse, will outlast Trump.


Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.