We Must Normalize Trump to Beat Him

by Benjamin Studebaker

Since President Trump’s inauguration, it’s become popular to demand that we not normalize Trump’s presidency. Politically, this means constantly drawing attention to all the things that Donald Trump does that separate him from past presidents. To that end, the left has focused on a suite of character and corruption-oriented issues:

  • Trump’s tax returns
  • Trump’s possible ties to Russia
  • Trump’s tweets and style of communication (rude, bigoted, or post-fact)
  • Trump’s conflicts of interest (nepotism, lack of blind trust, Ivanka involvement)
  • Trump’s history of screwing people over (Trump University, bankruptcies, cost of Trump Tower security & Mar-a-Lago trips)
  • Trump’s untruthful or corrupt henchmen (Spicer, Kushner, Conway, Bannon, Flynn, Sessions, etc.)

This is all a mistake. To beat Trump we need precisely the opposite approach–we must treat Trump as just another establishment Republican president and attack his administration for failing to help the people it promised to protect. Here’s why.

Consider how Donald Trump presented himself during the 2016 campaign. Everything about the campaign was thoroughly anti-establishment. The other candidates were “puppets”:

They were more of the same:

But not Trump–he would “drain the swamp“, and you could count on him to do this because he had so much money that he “couldn’t be bought”:

Every time Donald Trump violated the norms of politics, he reminded his supporters that he wasn’t like other politicians, and they loved this about him. The more erratically he behaved, the less he behaved like a normal politician, and the more credible he appeared as an anti-establishment wrecking ball. Trump supporters want a wrecking ball. They want someone who will frustrate and upset the political establishment, the media,  and other traditional power brokers.

Hillary Clinton’s advertisements were the most character-driven of any recent campaign’s:

What Clinton’s team didn’t realize, and what many Democrats and Trump opponents still don’t realize, is that these character attacks feed into Trump’s core narrative. They emphasize, over and over again, how upsetting the coastal, urban elite find Donald Trump’s personality, candidacy, and presidency. For people in the Midwest and the South who desperately wanted to give these elites the middle finger, attacks on Trump’s character from those very elites only deepened their desire to see him win. The people who came out in support of Clinton and against Trump–the celebrities, the journalists, the politicians, the media personalities–all of these people were and are members of the group Trump supporters are mad at and want to see cry “liberal tears”.

But Trump is precisely what he accused his opponents of being–all talk and no action. His policies won’t help the people he claimed he would help, and many of them will inflict lasting harm on those very same people. In this respect he is no different from any other establishment politician–his policies help big transnational corporations and rich people and screw over the little guy, even the white working class little guy. His healthcare plan was written by Paul Ryan and his tax plan is recycled from Mitt Romney. He isn’t special or different. He just sold himself that way.

If his supporters come to see that he’s a con man, that he’s part of the status quo rather than a meaningful form of resistance, they will be open to alternative political movements. Consider how Barack Obama won in 2008–on a platform of hope and change, promising to make Washington different. When he didn’t succeed in changing Washington, he became associated with it. The country that elected the first black president became, in the span of just eight years, the country that elected Donald Trump. There’s a large anti-establishment voting bloc that will migrate to any party or candidate which seems to offer a challenge to the DC establishment, regardless of whether it comes from the left or the right.

The next time we face off against Trump, he needs to be the establishment candidate and we need to be the outsiders. To do this the left needs to stop being associated with Obama and Clinton–to many voters, they are just Washington politicians stuck in the past–and offer something fresh and different that gets people excited. At the same time, we need to normalize Trump. This means we attack him the way we would any other poor Republican president–we go after his bad policies. We show that he is just another servant of the elite the American people despise. He’s not a potential Putin or Hitler, he’s just a blonde Mitt Romney with a bad attitude. We don’t try to impeach him (what good would Mike Pence do us anyway?) and we don’t mess around with all the personal stuff. Right now, we hit him on these things:

  • His terrible healthcare bill, which would have hurt his supporters, broken promises he explicitly made to them, and which he cannot even pass because of his political incompetence.
  • His horrible tax plan, which proposes to give massive amounts of wealth and income away to the very rich and powerful people he promised to oppose.
  • His ridiculous budget, which cuts many programs Americans love (NASA, meals on wheels, the list goes on) in the service of growing an already bloated defence budget and building a useless and unnecessary wall.
  • His broken infrastructure proposal, which offers tax giveaways to construction companies in lieu of genuine government support for our roads, bridges, railways, and airports.

Donald Trump is just like any other Republican politician from the last 40 years–incompetent and in bed with the swamp monsters. It’s his policies which are the best demonstration of this. He begs us to go after his character instead, deliberately tweeting upsetting things to bait us into helping him. Don’t fall for it. He wants to be the wrecking ball. Make him be the building.