Success has its own kind of persuasion. And in the wake of Donald Trump's stunning electoral victory, many conservatives who long opposed him are trying to talk themselves into President Trump.
We don't know what sort of president Trump will be, largely because he campaigned out of both sides of his mouth. Will he seek peace in the Middle East or will he "knock the hell out of" ISIS and take the oil? Will he get bored and hand over legislation to fiscal conservatives like Paul Ryan and supply-siders like adviser Stephen Moore? Or will he pursue an expansionary fiscal policy, building big beautiful infrastructure projects? Does he really believe in free trade? Or will he resort to tariffs and punishing currency manipulators?
Or will it all collapse in a heap because Donald Trump is so personally inept?
Some conservatives openly worry that Trump has no patience for reading briefing material, or adjudicating arguments among his advisers. That's so much of what presidents actually do every day. At the same time, there is some humility about how much we've underestimated Trump before. And frankly, that feeling of humiliation is accompanied by some relief that Republicans will appoint Antonin Scalia's replacement on the Supreme Court, and that we've avoided Hillary Clinton.
Some conservatives are even beginning to say to each other, "I know it's crazy, but what if we really can make America great again?"
I'm one of them.
Maybe it's just the post-election concussion talking, but in this moment, I can almost squint and see a path whereby Republicans really can save Trumpism from Trump, and reinvigorate the country.
The 2016 election shows a way forward. Trump won the election by campaigning in what Michael Moore called "the Brexit states": Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These states gave Trump the election. He expanded the GOP's share of lower-income voters. He expanded its share of Hispanic and black voters, presumably many of them in the working class as well. In these voters was a mandate for a new economic nationalism. Republicans must take the radical, risky, and painful steps to actually become the party Trump promised he would lead.
These working-class voters were former Obama supporters who continue to demand the redistribution of economic resources and opportunities. They were the people that thrilled to Trump when he said, in front of Ford executives, that if the automaker moved its plants from Detroit to Mexico, he'd hammer them with a 35 percent tariff. Trump must deliver for these people in his first term or they will return to the Democrats in 2020. Partisanship on culture war issues and other forms of tribalism locks in most voters. But the Brexit states proved that they can swing to the GOP.
Democrats used to be the party that delivered tangible material benefits to their clients: Social Security, welfare, Affirmative Action. But increasingly, they've gotten worse at this. ObamaCare is janky, user-unfriendly, and expensive for its beneficiaries. Democrats have tried to make up for it by promising other less tangible goals, like humiliating the "deplorables" and defeating sexism. That's not enough for the Brexit states.
Republicans in Congress already drive Democrats crazy in the way the GOP becomes the party of green eyeshades and budget constraint under Democratic presidents, and the party of fiscal expansion under Republican presidents. Well, here we go: The GOP should become dramatically expansionary and seek to make good on Trump's promises. That means infrastructure spending. It also means Republicans should fight to make the country a better place to employ workers. One of the easiest places to start is to make the corporate tax rate at least competitive with Germany, Canada, or even Ireland. It also means finding ways to check the currency manipulation of China and Germany, which use American money and credit to subsidize foreign workforces. Republicans could even seek what Edward Conrad calls "balanced trade" policies that demand China and other trade partners buy American goods rather than treasuries.
At the same time, the GOP must encourage Trump to strip the racist baggage from his rhetoric, and scrupulously expand the appeal of the new nationalism from older whites to American workers of all races. Republicans can win when the Democrats become the party of Goldman Sachs, safe spaces on campus, and the redistribution of economic opportunity to non-Americans. All over Europe and other parts of the world, right-wing nationalist parties are pitching themselves to the working class, and pushing the party of social liberalism to embrace the unpopular politics of economic liberalism, enforced cosmopolitanism in culture, and mass immigration. The center-left has increasingly justified its support of the free movement of labor and capital because it breaks up the private hierarchies of cohesive national cultures. Call this liberaltarianism, if you like. It's an ideology that conservatives can defeat over and over again if they are willing to become a workers' party.
Republicans should learn from Trump to personalize their economic message. Jeb Bush promised an economic metric — 4 percent growth — and he lost. Trump said he would punish countries and companies that don't play by the rules, and he won. Republicans should say they will work tirelessly to create a country where if one member of your household works hard, that household has a decent standard of living and the children of that house have a fair shot at a better one. By doing so, they can begin to divide the alliance between workers with material needs from the political system, and the affluent cultural left of the cities. If it costs the Republicans a few white guys in bow-ties who love to talk about the markets, so be it.
Of course, this is probably all an impossible ask. All the potential good of a Trump presidency is likely to be destroyed by Trump's personal incompetence and corruption, his short attention span, his malice, and his propensity to hire loyalists that share his touchy ego and taste for vengeance. The best argument against Trump from the very beginning is that he sells you on what you want to hear, and then sticks you with his moral and financial debts. He's a con man.
Instead of a workers' party, Trump will likely give the plum economic offices to decrepit supply-siders who think America is still living in 1979. Instead of realists who pull America back from the abyss of violence and disorder in the Middle East, he'll give the jobs to Jacksonian hawks looking for payback. And instead of seeking to make the new nationalism accessible to workers of all races, he'll further alienate blacks and Hispanics by appointing hardliners to top law enforcement positions, and saying nasty things about his black and Hispanic critics.
But just give me this one moment. I'm still concussed, and thought someone should describe the revolutionary potential of this moment before it is flushed away down a gold-plated toilet in the White House.