Donald Trump's election was supposed to be a seismic event that reshaped the Republican Party and American policy. Trump had campaigned on making the GOP a "worker's party.'" With Republican majorities in both chambers on Capitol Hill, he would revise American policy on immigration, trade, taxes, and foreign affairs. This was an epochal election.
And maybe it will be. But after health-care reform was abandoned within a few weeks, it became obvious that any political revolution was on hold. By the end of March, Trump had signed 17 pieces of legislation. One of them renamed a community outpatient clinic in American Samoa. Instead of effecting a major change in government, the populists have another project in mind: using Trump's presidency to intensify their own right-wing media feuds.
Nothing is getting done, but the sound of fighting is everywhere. Talk radio against Never Trumpers! New nationalists against libertarians! Populists versus the establishment! Outsiders trashing media insiders!
No one took the chance to win gracefully, mollify, and lead. Instead, the populists, sensing that establishment conservatives never got on board the Trump train, are settling scores.
It goes all the way to the top. Former Breitbart boss and now top Trump aide Stephen Bannon had previously vowed to "destroy Paul Ryan's career." He has since hired Julie Hahn into the White House. She was Breitbart's fiercest Ryan critic.
At a crucial moment during Ryan's push for a Republican repeal of ObamaCare, Breitbart leaked an audio recording of Ryan criticizing Trump last fall. Somehow it also came out that Bannon thought Ryan was betraying Trump's populist voters to the insurance industry during the brief health-care fight.
Chuck Johnson of GotNews got attention early for his role advising the Trump transition team, and talking about it publicly. Johnson, Jim Host, and other outsider right-wing media voices began piling on Chief of Staff Reince Priebus' staffers, like Katie Walsh, possibly in an effort to get at Priebus himself.
Talk radio voices haven't stopped railing against their hated "Never Trumpers," and the Never Trumpers occasionally give as good as they get. Wall Street Journal editorial page writer Bret Stephens attacked Sean Hannity as "Fox News' dumbest anchor and its most think-skinned," and Sean Hannity replied by comparing the relative size of their audiences on Twitter. You can chase the theme all the way down the rabbit hole, to the Twitter alt-righters, who have turned digital feuds with established Republican consultants into avocational warfare.
Beneath all of these fights are demands for respect that cannot really be satisfied. The populists are the coalition of the snubbed and excluded. In Trump they found their victory, but they have no idea what to do with it. And the tone belongs to the boss himself. Trump has shown no signs of aligning talent and brainpower to translate his campaign visions into a workable governing philosophy. What he can do is whine about the media, and his unfair treatment at the hands of the establishment.
If Trump is going to continue spending his political capital watching cable news, and complaining about the Clintons, why shouldn't the little Trumps spend more of his administration's time and energy dancing on the graves of their rivals? Sure beats governing.