Using populist Trump against GOP Trump

January 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Tuesday, Jan. 3,  Americans woke up to news that Republicans were going to gut the House Ethics Committee. The first thing I did was post the news to several groups, with a short ask for people to call their member of Congress.

I called Republican Steve Chabot’s office here in Cincinnati and actually reached someone. I told Steve’s aide I was calling to urge him to vote against gutting the Ethics Committee and commented that it seemed like a funny way to #draintheswamp. She was quick to tell me that Steve had opposed the committee vote and would vote against it.

The attempt at gutting the committee ended up going down like the Hindenburg.

More importantly though, it made something clear: The people who voted for Trump believed him when he said he was gonna fight for the little guy.

Here’s why this matters—and how to use Trump against Trump and the GOP Congress.

Trump’s campaign was built on fighting for “the little guy”

Trump spoke about many things during his campaign but the one that seemed to resonate the most with folks I know is that he was gonna fight for “the little guy.” Forget that he was probably lying, and bear with me for a second past the underlying ugliness we all know is there.

A lot of people believed that he was going to fight for the little guy. I know a union guy who usually votes Democratic who voted Trump this year largely because he believed he would fight against another NAFTA. Many conservatives I know wore out the hashtag #draintheswamp during the election.

From his acceptance speech:

My opponent asks her supporters to recite a three word loyalty pledge. It reads: “I’m with her.” I choose to recite a different pledge. My pledge reads “I’m with you, the American people.”

This is hard (because it goes against what in our hearts we know isn’t true) but I encourage you to listen to the full speech to see how he’s tapping into this idea of standing for the little guy.

I come from upstate New York. The town I grew up in was largely built around a couple manufacturing plants. Over the past 40 years, these plants shut down and moved out of the country. As a result, most of the people I knew in this small town left because there were no good-paying jobs. The few that remain tend to have lower-paying jobs or government jobs. One cousin who still lives there is a state trooper. The other works for a prison. They consider these decent jobs for upstate New York.

Many of these folks think Trump is going to fight for them. I’ve heard at least one person grow frustrated and say, “Hell, nothing else seems to be working.”

What if we took Trump at his word? 

We could take the approach that Trump was lying. This is what we might do as academics: insist that he’s lying. It’s unclear what this accomplishes, though. The people who voted for him aren’t going to believe us. Believe it or not, it might actually make it easier for him to reverse himself.

Instead, what if we took him at his word?

For one, we’d have a great case to save Medicare and Social Security.

Bernie Sanders is already using this approach.

A friend of mine who belongs to a local union was telling me that he was worried because many members of his union voted for Trump. Now he’s afraid that Trump is going to turn around and screw the unions.

I told him that his instincts were probably right. At least I think they are.

However, think about it like this:

At the heart of Trump’s win was a fight for the little guy. Folks like your members. Forget for a second that he was probably lying. People voted for him because they thought he was going to fight for them.

Many of these people believe Trump is going to fight for the little guy. (Bill Huber/Wikimedia)

How does this make our position stronger? 

Well … if it turns out he doesn’t care about the little guy, there’s going to be a backlash—against Republicans. Republicans don’t want this. This is how they lost the first bill they tried to pass in the new year: destroy the House ethics committee. People said, “Wait a second … that’s not draining the swamp” and swamped the Republican Congress with phone calls. The bill sank like the Hindenburg. Republicans looked both corrupt and foolish.

What you should be telling your members is that Trump fought for the little guy. He fought for you. Now we just have to make sure he doesn’t go back on his word due to pressure from corporate special interests. Contact him and tell him to fight for you, to fight for the little guy. Ping him on twitter. Write him. Write your representative,  if Congress has any say in it. Tell the Dems. Tell the Reps. Tell anyone who will g*ddamn listen.

Trump’s made some promises that may be tough to go back on. Especially if he starts hearing it from, say … a shit ton of people who voted for him. Think about the problems this causes both Trump and the GOP. We saw a sample of this when the House tried to repeal the independent Ethics Committee.

This is a no-lose position, by the way. If he keeps some of these promises, we win. If he breaks his promises, you can start asking people to fight with you (and we still win).

If Trump wants anything, it’s to move past what he promised people during the primary. Let’s not let him. Hold him to his word to fight for the little guy.

David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy (ebook now available). Cross posted at Daily Kos