Gen. Michael Flynn was absolutely right when he described Nov. 8, 2016 as a “political revolution.” The election of a total political outsider to the position of president of the United States was a peaceful revolution, but a revolution none the less. Having worked for candidate Trump and then President Trump, I have seen from close up what it is that makes him very different from the usual “swamp creatures” that infest the political bubble that is Washington, D.C.
From our very first meeting in Trump Tower in the summer of 2015, when we discussed foreign policy prior to the Republican national security debate of that fall, when halfway through the conversation he simply turned to his then-campaign manager and said, “I like this guy. Let’s hire him!” to later working for the president in the White House, this is a man who doesn’t wait for polling data to make a decision. Donald Trump is a decisive leader who relies on an uncanny instinctual common sense to “get stuff done,” a style that sits very well with those outside the Beltway.
To understand just how different this non-politician is, you simply have to watch his address to the 2018 CPAC annual meeting. In a speech that lasted for more than an hour, President Trump acted in ways that “establishment” politicians never do. From the prolonged self-deprecation about hiding his bald spot, to his calling the prepared teleprompter text “boring” and then freewheeling his remarks, to the point at which he stopped and pulled out and read a poem about an ungrateful snake to illustrate the problems with the immigration system he inherited, this was most definitely not the safe, pollster-based speechifying of either the Democrat or the Republican politician that so typifies Washington.
But it works. How do I know this? It was made most obvious to me when we flew with the president last summer to Youngstown, Ohio. Driving from the base where we landed with Air Force One, past disused steel mill after disused factory, we saw hundreds of locals lining the streets wearing their MAGA hats waving the Stars and Stripes. Once we arrived in the filled-to-capacity arena, it was clear that the tens of thousands gathered there were mostly manual laborers laid off or just clinging to local industry, people who by default — and whose parents and grandparents, by default — would have always voted for the Democrat.
But when Melania and then the president arrived on stage, they reacted as one, blasting out “USA! USA!” and “Drain the swamp!” chants as if we were in one of the most conservative Southern districts. All this happened just more than six months after the actual election. This is why the mainstream believed Hillary Clinton would win. None of the establishment “elite” could fathom working-class voters from the Steel Valley voting for a billionaire from New York. But they did.
What does this mean for the imminent midterms? It means that, again, prior models and standard predictive systems are likely still incapable of capturing what the Trump phenomenon means politically. The hackneyed analyses, suggesting that incumbent parties always fare poorly in a midterm, may be just as sound as the predictions the New York Times and other mainstream publications made about Clinton having a 91 percent shot at the presidency.
The November elections will be decided by a combination of two key factors. First, do the Democrats have any message beyond “Russia collusion” and their fringe elements calls to impeach the president? With the economy predicted to exceed 3 percent growth, the tax reform bearing tangible fruit for millions, and employee bonuses and corporate repatriation already reaching hundreds of billions of dollars, the Democratic Party message seems all the more irrelevant by the day.
Second, will the Republican Party manage to successfully internalize the core lesson of the Trump revolution that is most relevant for the party? This lesson is that Trump was the only accidental GOP candidate for president and he won, not because of his association with Republicans, but despite it. If Republicans understand just how revolutionary and system-smashing an event like the election of Trump was, and they hitch their future to his brand of anti-establishment leadership, there will be no hope for the Democrats come November.
Donald Trump has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to learn at the wheel. Now the question is, have the professional politicians learned and internalized just how revolutionary the times we are living in actually are?
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