On November 8, Americans may well elect Donald J. Trump as our next president. What type of leader would he be?
Philosophically, Trump is a pragmatic centrist who has broken with both parties to focus on what matters most to ordinary Americans. He has gone against establishment conservatives on issues such as entitlement reform and trade. He has stood up to progressives and against tax hikes, fossil fuel restrictions, and excessive regulation. His willingness to address the importance of unlawful immigration breaks from the leadership of both major parties. He is anti-establishment no matter which side of the establishment aisle you may sit.
Trump’s economic message highlights his problem-solving approach. For decades, the Left has simultaneously pursued the interests of big-money elites while pushing entitlements for those their policies have left behind. The result has been a divided society where the politically connected have thrived while jobs and opportunities for working Americans have withered.
In the face of the anemic growth the Left’s policies have created, progressives from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to Hillary Clinton have ramped up the rhetoric, blaming big business and Wall Street while simultaneously pushing policies that serve their interests. By contrast, Trump has focused on root causes, including excessive regulation, high corporate taxes and poorly structured trade agreements that raise the cost of doing business at home and make American businesses less competitive in a global marketplace.
Trump is a smart, tough negotiator, a unique skill he will bring to the Oval Office. At its core, being a negotiator is the opposite of being an ideologue. Negotiators understand that to get the deal done you have to take a starting position. However, you may also have to give ground. Done right, Compromise builds consensus and consensus creates legitimacy. That dynamic creates the safe space needed politically to achieve the policy outcomes Americans want and need.
Trump understands that negotiation isn’t just a way to get something through in Washington. It’s also a necessary feature of important and transformational political outcomes. Regardless of political party, talented leaders have always understood this – from Lyndon Johnson (Civil Rights Act) to Ronald Reagan (tax reform).
This ability to unite around the bargaining table stands in stark contrast to the dynamic under the current Administration. It jammed through Obamacare without any Republican support and on the basis of half-truths and falsehoods. Today, we are faced with incontrovertible evidence of this healthcare scheme’s failure. Had Obamacare been the result of compromise, rather than power politics, the broader political ownership would have created an environment in which reform might be feasible. Instead, the extraordinary partisanship that characterized its paternity makes reform extraordinarily difficult.
In addition to being a pragmatist and negotiator, Trump is the consummate Beltway outsider. Whatever comes of the information revealed in the course of this election cycle, it paints a clear picture of an incestuous Washington establishment in which the media, political party elites and even executive branch actors brazenly coordinate to propagandize and elect the candidate who will continue the gravy train from which they all profit. Trump will reform this toxic environment and “drain this swamp.”
Outsiders are often characterized by a lack of experience getting things done. That is untrue of Trump, who has been in and around power circles his whole life and is neither beholden to, nor intimidated by, those in power. He understands the use of leverage and power.
Trump also may turn out to be the ultimate unifier – and the best hope for refocusing bipartisan attention on poor minorities. Democrats have abandoned them on all days except Election Day and have made things worse, not better, for minorities for decades. Republicans, on the other hand, have no credibility with them.
Americans of every race intuit that the solution to poverty and race relations isn’t government handouts and scolding, but rather the same underpinnings of success that have benefitted all ethnic communities – a functioning education system and the economic opportunities that can only come from economic growth. To achieve these things, you have to be willing to take on private interests – including public school unions and bureaucracies that stand in the way of desperately needed educational reform. That kind of change requires a Beltway outsider who understands how to leverage power and is beholden to no special interests.
Many establishment conservatives are unable to understand Trump’s appeal. Some are apoplectic about Trump’s possible victory. But, at least some progressives do understand Trump’s appeal. Looking at what message Trump should focus on, progressive commentator Chris Matthews suggested: “If you don't like the way things have been headed, you have a chance to really shake the system to its roots. And if you wake up the day after the election, and if it is the same as it is today. If it's the same four, five, or eight years from now, remember you had the chance to change it but you were too dainty to do it.”
Hopefully, a majority of voters will take that message to heart.