Trump Plays Populist Against the GOP Hedge Funders Because He Doesn’t Need Their Money

Donald Trump has done it again. Once again he has captured headlines by taking a blunt, aggressive populist position contrary to GOP orthodoxy–this time against hedge fund managers:

In a telephone interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump vowed to reform the tax laws if elected and said the current system was harming middle class Americans who currently faced higher tax rates than traders on Wall Street. “The hedge fund guys didn’t build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” Trump said.

“They are energetic. They are very smart. But a lot of them – they are paper-pushers. They make a fortune. They pay no tax. It’s ridiculous, ok?”

“Some of them are friends of mine. Some of them, I couldn’t care less about,” Trump said. “It is the wrong thing. These guys are getting away with murder. I want to lower the rates for the middle class.”

It’s worth noting that this is sharper and more derisive language than most Democratic candidates have ever used against the hedge fund crowd. Nor is it the first time that Trump has stood against the big money interests in his own party.

Most of the commentary about Trump’s immigration stance has focused on his hateful near-fascist rhetoric and his incoherent policies. But Trump’s immigration position is important for another reason: it’s a direct challenge to the big money funders of the GOP. The only reason that the GOP has so far avoided a direct spiral into outright xenophobia is that the establishment at the top of the party is conscious that it needs to please the Chamber of Commerce and the billionaires who actually fund their racket. It takes an army of communications professionals expert in dogwhistle politics to align the GOP’s cranky conservative populist base with the interests of its wealthy puppeteers.

That feat is hardest to accomplish on immigration. The Chamber of Commerce wing wants the GOP to adopt a pathway to citizenship for immigrants not just for political reasons (permanently losing the Hispanic vote would be a death knell for the party), but also for financial ones: the employers who make most frequent use of undocumented immigrant labor don’t want their gravy train of underpaid, abused workers to dry up. In conservative circles, the Chamber wing of the party is often called the Cheap Labor wing of the GOP–and many movement conservatives despise it with a passion.

Donald Trump’s candidacy is a direct challenge to the Koch Brothers and the GOP’s other big funders as much as anything else.

Being virulently anti-immigrant and calling for higher taxes on hedge fund managers isn’t a political contradiction. It’s part and parcel of Trump’s intentionally play to wedge the GOP’s voters away from its funders. Unlike Scott Walker or Jeb Bush, Trump doesn’t need the Chamber of Commerce or the hedge fund managers because he doesn’t need their money. He can self-fund his own campaign.

And that in itself is a genuinely interesting development, because Trump could in a single campaign make it difficult if not impossible for the puppet masters to keep the troops in line–not only this cycle, but in future cycles as well.

While many of them may not explicitly realize it, many blue-collar white GOP voters who would never vote for a Democrat for cultural reasons, are making a bet that their support for a single, capricious populist plutocrat may save them from the collusive predation of a group of plutocrats who they know don’t care about them. All things considered, that’s not an irrational bet.

If Trump does win the Republican nomination, Democrats would be wise not to underestimate the appeal of his approach.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.