Is Trump a Trumpist? So far, his announced appointments have given orthodox conservatives little cause for alarm, raising the possibility that Trump might be ideologically reliable after all. And, because he will be working in concert with a Republican House and Senate, his legislative record will necessarily be shaped by the Party’s congressional agenda, on topics ranging from abortion to Obamacare. Some Trumpists say that the biggest risk of a Trump Presidency is that he won’t be Trumpist enough.
But his Presidency, especially if it is successful, will inevitably change the shape of conservatism in the United States. The Journal of American Greatness was replaced, this past summer, by a more conventional spinoﬀ, Amer-ican Greatness, published by a little- known polemicist named Chris Bus-kirk, who wants it to become “the leading voice of the next generation of American conservatism.” And the Washington Post recently reported that newspaper editorial pages are scrambling to ﬁnd pro-Trump columnists; no doubt both demand and supply will increase in the next few years. In the meantime, Trump’s political triumph has caused a number of previously steadfast conservatives to rethink some of their lifelong positions, none more spectacularly than Stephen Moore, the free-market evangelist who serves as an economist at Heritage. Soon after Trump’s election, Moore told a group of Republican congressmen that the Reagan era was over, and that Trump had “converted the G.O.P. into a populist working-class party.” In a column for Investor’s Business Daily, he explained that the new Republican Party would be more willing to spend money on infrastructure and less willing to support trade deals. “I don’t approve of all these shifts,” he wrote, betraying his residual anti- Trumpism, “but they are what the voters voted for.”
It is also possible that Trump’s Presidency will be catastrophic, in ways that have a lot to do with the tendencies that Trumpists overlook: he could be ruined by corruption, or enmeshed in international scandal; he might spend his Presidency persecuting his enemies, or letting his deputies run amok. It is diﬃcult to predict the outcome of any Presidency, but with Trump the worst-case scenarios seem particularly plausible, because he is so uninterested in the safeguards that might prevent them. His reliance on his own intuition is part of what Trumpists love about him, because it frees him from the tyranny of technocracy, but it also makes their job much more diﬃcult. There is a profoundly asymmetrical relationship between Trump and the Trumpist intellectuals, who must formulate their doctrine without much assistance from its namesake; Trump’s political brand is based on his being the kind of guy who would never feel the need to explain himself to a bunch of scholars, no matter how supportive they were.
On a rainy afternoon last fall, as news of Trump’s Cabinet appointments began to trickle in, an English professor named Mark Bauerlein sat in a small apartment in Manhattan, sounding perplexed. “It could be twenty or thirty years before we really have the distance to see what is happening,” he said. Bauerlein was on leave from Emory University, in Atlanta, to attend to his other job, as senior editor of First Things, the ecumenical journal of religion and culture. Bauer-lein is an admirer of Decius, and also a supporter of Trump, whose promise to control the border appealed to his sense of patriotism. “What it’s really about is planting an idea into Americans that this is our country,” he said. “This is our home! It’s going to have a boundary.” He also views the rise of Trump as a reaction to political correctness, which has, he maintains, made people feel that they can’t express themselves.
He said he understood that many people, including many students at Emory, had experienced Trump’s victory as a violation—an “extraordinary desecration” of the progressive temple. But he was also suspicious of his own urge to glory in that desecration. His hope, however far-fetched, was that Trump, by demolishing traditional Party ideologies, might somehow help people move beyond hardened partisan positions. Like a fair number of Trumpists, Bauerlein holds some beliefs that might have been expected to incline him toward #NeverTrump-ism, including an abhorrence of vulgarity. He once wrote a memorable essay about the indignity of overhearing curse words on an airplane; Trump has promised to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” When Bauerlein was reminded of this, he merely sighed. All intellectuals who support politicians must make compromises, but Trump’s style makes those compromises harder to ignore. At times, Bauerlein sounded as if he were still ﬁguring out what it meant to support President Trump—as if he were trying to stay optimistic while steeling himself for all sorts of disappointment. “There are some things in politics that you say, ‘This runs against what I believe.’ ” He lowered his voice. “You have to suck it up.”