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Stephen Moore has written a piece titled “Welcome to the Party of Trump” that’s getting a lot of play. It is being taken seriously. It needs to be seriously refuted.

Under President-elect Trump, says Moore, “the GOP is now officially a Trump working-class party. For better or worse … the baton has now officially been passed from the Reagan era to the new Trump era.”

Moore shared that conclusion with a group of several dozen House Republicans gathering inside the Capitol dome. While these Republicans didn’t quite faint over his “apostasy,” said Moore, their shock was palpable.

Unlike Reagan’s unprecedented presidential trouncing of his opponents, Trump’s victory is an unprecedented popular loss.

As indeed it should be, because the vast majority of those Republicans identify as Reagan Republicans, not Trump Republicans, and will likely remain the former rather than the latter given that Reagan Republicanism is based on a far more discernible and lasting conservative governing philosophy than Trump’s vague nationalism-populism.

“Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party,” said Moore, “Trump has converted the GOP into a populist, America First party.”‎

Moore further asserts:

The voters spoke with a thunderclap. Trump squashed his 16 GOP rivals—a group that was touted as the most talented field of contenders in modern history—as if they were bugs crashing into his windshield. Republican voters opted for his new breed of economic populism. Republicans who were Never Trumpers and who insisted with absolute certainly that Trump could never win the primary, let alone the general election, can pretend that a political sonic boom didn’t happen. Guess what? It did.

There is so much heated hyperbole here that it’s hard to know where to begin to respond, but I’ll focus on three key flaws in Moore’s analysis:

First, the November 8 vote was hardly a “thunderclap” for Trump, nor a “political sonic boom,” let alone a glaring green light for a “new breed of economic populism.”

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton came by the skin of his teeth, and was a repudiation of Clinton more than an affirmation of Trump. I live out here in the hinterland, far outside Washington, smack in the middle of the Rustbelt in Western Pennsylvania coal and steel country. Not a half-mile from my front door in the woods are neighbors’ signs that declare “Deplorables for Trump” and “Hillary for Prison.” There are “Trump-Pence” signs everywhere.

I talk to these people. I know them. Most don’t like Trump much. They despised Hillary Clinton, however. And I keep repeating to people like Stephen Moore to please remember that almost all of the Republicans in the final field of a half-dozen candidates easily beat Hillary in the polls. Only Trump didn’t. His victory should be considered a damned lucky one, a matter of mere survival against an awful Democratic nominee — the most beatable since George McGovern. It was not some giant electoral wave for a New America, one that replaces Reaganism.

Let’s look at some figures:

In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the popular vote by 51-41% over an incumbent president. He won 44 of 50 states and smashed the Electoral College 489-49. In 1984, he was reelected in a stunning landslide, taking 49 of 50 states and obliterating his opponent in the Electoral College, 525-13. The only state that Walter Mondale in 1984 won was his home state of Minnesota.

In 1980 and 1984, Reagan twice won California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and even Massachusetts. He twice won pretty much everything.

How does this compare to Trump in 2016? Here are the very latest vote totals:

Hillary’s popular vote lead over Trump is now 2.57 million votes. Amazingly, she could end up surpassing him by three million before this is over. 65.25 million vs. 62.68 million. That’s really quite astonishing. Prior to this, the biggest popular-vote loss by a winning president was George W. Bush losing to Al Gore by a mere 543,000 votes in 2000.

Hillary is also currently leading Trump by almost two full percentage points, 48.1% vs. 46.2%.

Chew over these numbers:

Trump won the presidency with a lower vote percentage that not only Hillary in 2016, but Barack Obama in 2012 (51.1%) and 2008 (52.9%), than Mitt Romney in 2012 (47.2%), than Bush in 2004 (51.0%) and 2000 (47.9%), than John Kerry in 2004 (48.5%), than Gore in 2000 (48.4%). He is now almost as low as John McCain, R-Ariz. (F, 32%) in 2008, who got 45.7% and was crushed by Obama.

That said, big kudos to Trump for beating Hillary in the Electoral College. A sincere congratulations. Hats off. He won states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, and took Ohio overwhelmingly. Other recent Republican presidential nominees couldn’t pull that off.

But even then, his crucial wins in the swing states were extremely narrow. As Philip Bump notes in the Washington Post, Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by 0.2, 0.7, and 0.8 percentage points, respectively — by 10,704, 46,765, and 22,177 votes. “Those three wins gave him 46 electoral votes; if Clinton had done one point better in each state, she’d have won the electoral vote, too,” Bump observes. “Or put another way: But for 79,646 votes cast in those three states, she’d be the next president of the United States.” Bump notes that more people were in attendance at the Ohio State Buckeyes football game in Columbus last weekend.

Moreover, as Nate Silver points out in an excellent historical analysis of Electoral College victories, Trump’s margin over Hillary in the Electoral College was a nice one but historically well below average (44 out of 54). It certainly ranks way below Reagan’s two massive victories (Reagan’s victories ranked 7th and 3rd out of 54).

So, Stephen Moore and other Trump enthusiasts need to calm down. They need to dramatically scale back the hyperbole. They are taking a squeaker of a win and trying to turn it into a groundswell of a revolution. They are over-reading, or at least misinterpreting, the electorate. To be sure, I’m glad that Hillary lost, but let’s not lose all reasonable sense of proportion over what transpired.

Unlike Reagan’s unprecedented presidential trouncing of his opponents, Trump’s victory is an unprecedented popular loss.

Now, my second and third arguments against Moore’s analysis:

Second, the reality is that Donald Trump is not guided by any sort of coherent, cohesive set of ideas that would qualify as or constitute an ideological mandate to take over the Republican Party mantle from Reagan and redefine the Reaganism that has defined the party for over 30 years.

That brings me to my third and final point. The Republican Party that today dominates the Senate, the House, and the nation’s state legislatures and governorships is thoroughly Reaganesque. These people are true believers, even as their titular party leader, Donald Trump, is not. They really are Reaganites. Listen to them. Read them. See what they believe. Watch how they govern. More than any other governing philosophy, they are inspired by a Reagan conservatism, certainly more than some vague Trumpism — some nebulous nationalism-populism.

Alas, this begs the question: what is Trumpism?

That’s going to be something that we all struggle to try to define. It may end up being undefinable. That’s because Trumpism is essentially personality-based rather than idea-based.

It’s very odd, but there’s no Trumpism that exists for Trumpists, unlike Marxism to Marxists or socialism to socialists or conservatism to conservatives. There are few to no ideas behind the man. He’s largely idea-less, operating outside the realm of ideology. He has policies, but he’s almost inimical to any sort of ideology. He has no book, no manifesto, other than maybe the “Art of the Deal.” He’s a dealmaker, one supposes.

With Trump, it’s almost exclusively about personality sprinkled with a little policy (some of them conservative policies), which is why many vocal “Trumpists” are, in some respects, an unquestioning group of loyalists tied to a personality. When the man (Trump) goes or dies, so likely will Trumpism, because there really is no Trumpism. Only the man.

That is not true of Reaganism, or Reagan conservatism, which lasts because it goes beyond the man and back to the Founding, to first principles, to the absolutes, to eternals, to the laws of nature and nature’s God. Literally over 30 years after Ronald Reagan was first elected I was able to write a book called 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, which I put together in part because practically every Republican seemed to eagerly identify as a “Reagan conservative.” It wasn’t hard to identify these Reagan principles of conservatism. And it was easy to look at Reagan’s Republican Party and see the party today, in the 2010s, still governing by most of those principles.

That simply isn’t the case with Donald Trump. I mean that as no offense to Trump, necessarily, but as a statement of fact about him and the party in his whose name he now governs.

Good luck to Donald Trump. I’m hoping he becomes a great president. I’m glad Hillary Clinton isn’t our next president. But to Stephen Moore and other enthusiasts: Gee, let’s not get so carried away with this incredibly narrow victory and what it genuinely reflects.



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Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor, Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, and six books on Ronald Reagan, including 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative

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