Fair warning: over the next six months you’re not likely to find me writing much about Donald Trump’s proposed “policies.” Over the last few days there has been a lot of talk about whether or not the presumptive Republican nominee does/doesn’t support raising the minimum wage and lower taxes on the uber-wealthy. Remember that time when he said that women who get abortions should be punished? In less than 24 hours he had reversed course. Now he’s saying that his proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was just a “suggestion.” And one of his advisors said that he will consider changes to Medicare and Social Security. Next thing you know, that whole border wall that Mexico is going to pay for will be nothing more than a distant memory.
All of this was pretty well explained by something an anonymous source told Politico.
“He doesn’t want to waste time on policy and thinks it would make him less effective on the stump,” the Trump source said. “It won’t be until after he is elected but before he’s inaugurated that he will figure out exactly what he is going to do and who he is going to try to hire.”
None of this has anything to do with Trump pivoting towards the center for the general election. Way back in January he told Bill O’Reilly, “The voters want unpredictability.”
There are two things that Donald Trump knows really well: (1) how to play the media in order to get maximum exposure (these flip-flops generate tons of coverage), and (2) what his base of supporters want to hear. I’ll give you a clue…it’s not about policies.
Back in 2013, Steve Benen came up with the perfect way to describe the current iteration of Republicanism: post-policy nihilism. After the disastrous Bush administration, it was demonstrated that Republican policies – both foreign and domestic – were complete and utter failures. In response, rather than re-think those policies, conservative leaders drafted a plan of total obstruction to anything President Obama and the Democrats attempted to do. In order to get their base on board with that plan, they fanned the flames of fear and racism…that is what took the place of actual policies.
It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone that the current presumptive Republican presidential nominee is running a post-policy campaign based on fear and racism. It is why none of the other contenders for the Republican nomination could ever lay a hand on him. Their choice was to either defend the failed policies of the Bush administration or challenge the fear and racism that animated his supporters – either option was doomed to fail.
What we’ll be witnessing in this election is someone running to be the leader of the free world who is the epitome of post-policy nihilism. That’s why I wrote yesterday that his response to a question about whether or not he regretted saying that John McCain wasn’t a war hero was so revealing. At first he flip-flopped on what he’d said previously. Then came this:
You do things and you say things. And what I said, frankly, is what I said. And some people like what I said, if you want to know the truth. There are many people that like what I said. You know after I said that, my poll numbers went up seven points.
Over the next six months Donald Trump will ensure that journalists who attempt to take what he says about policy seriously are sent running around in circles. Proposing actual policies is not the game he is playing – and neither are his supporters.