The House Trump Built

Make America Great Again is a house Trump built yet the plans weren’t his own. He borrowed them and better crafted what would become a viable movement that captured the presidency and the Republican party. Is he still welcome? What becomes of the movement after him? Can there even be, as Steve Bannon believes, Trumpism without Trump? Pundits portray an increasing divide between Republicans. Not just one where grassroots activism challenges established mores, a Grand Old Party at odds with a new wave of populist-nationalism swelling within its ranks, but also a conflict between these populists and nationalists (and conservatives) who believe they rightly occupy a space that’s become the MAGA movement.

In simple terms what came first: the chicken or the egg, Trump or MAGA? For this paradox there is an answer. You can be certain MAGA didn’t start June 16th, 2015 at Trump Tower, with The Donald descending an escalator to announce his candidacy as “Rockin’ In the Free World” played. In fact, it didn’t start with Trump. The position wasn’t an epiphany revealed to him like God instructing Noah. It is, moreover, this confusion about MAGA’s origin that leads to the internal conflict noted above amongst adherents; their infighting is a symptom and misplaced loyalty is the cause.

Before I dissect what became Trump’s signature platform of “Make America Great Again” allow me to address the factions warring over its legacy. A modicum of foresight can easily see it splitting the president’s base much like John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson did to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but I digress. There must be moderation in all things, politics included (though it’s difficult at times I admit), yet these fervent forces vie for the last word on Trump’s movement without knowing how it started. This, I believe, is a serious problem that perpetuates discord.

The loyalists I’ve termed Ever-Trumpers. A passionate bunch who willfully accept every action taken by the president, like battered spouses defending their abuser. Harsh, I know, but the mentality is the same. They cannot explain why Trump occasionally deviates from the MAGA platform so they ascribe it all to sublime genius. Ever-Trumpers see a brilliancy playing out on the chess board and the president working four moves ahead. Certainly, there is some merit to it but this is not the answer to every single maneuver and resulting mistake made by the president. Arguments to this effect, however, are met by Ever-Trumpers with chiding or “let Trump be Trump.”

Whatever. It’s okay to expect the president to be the Trump we voted for and call him out accordingly when he falls short.

Yet in the ugliest terms Ever-Trumpers see the president as infallible. If Trump deviates from what he campaigned on MAGA itself changes to fit his new position (Afghanistan and DACA are examples). They believe MAGA is a living doctrine that he alone embodies. As D.J.T. would emphatically say, WRONG! This platform is greater than one man, even if that man is our president. That is why it will outlast his presidency and house generations to come.

To be fair, on the opposite end of the MAGA-adherent spectrum are the fair-weather folks. They are a particularity fickle bunch. When they learn Trump violated a fraction of a promise the storm-clouds gather, a tempest rises, and hell hath no fury like true believers scorned. These folks use every change, or rumored deviation, to decry Trump as abandoning the whole of MAGA (I’m looking at you Breitbart).

It’s infidelity, they wail, and they’re more than ready to divorce at the mere hint of indiscretion. Trump just talking with Pelosi is akin to a spouse smiling at another. Dangerous flirtations with dire consequence! When it comes to Trump courting alternatives the transgressions are easily earned and hard to forgive because the fair-weather folk prove wholly inflexible in every respect.

Therefore, finding a middle-ground, moderation, is essential to keep the house in order. Most importantly it allows us to constructively criticize Trump when he strays from MAGA, when actions don’t match promises, and forgive when he does. Our president is not the pope, the MAGA movement is not built on him like the Catholic church on Saint Peter. No Ex Cathedra Papa here; no unquestioned supremacy. The man we elected knows he is mortal, he is flawed. Trump also knows to surround himself with those best suited to balance his abilities. Men and women that whisper in his ear, in his triumph, and remind him as much. But if they are not heard it is our responsibility to be that voice of measured reason calling out.

What is the MAGA agenda? How was it shaped? I like to think it strives for an American Renaissance from which “greatness” comes by embracing positions that put the best interests our nation first; be it trade, foreign engagements, or economic positioning. As Trump famously said on the campaign trail:

Americanism not Globalism

Our nation has struggled with decades of policy crafted by self-interested individuals determined to fold our country into a global community. A brutal process that dispossessed us of the greatest attributes that made America exceptional. MAGA is the repudiation of such dangerous schemes and a disassociated culture in Washington. Hence the label President Trump gave D.C., “a swamp that must be drained” for America to prosper. More than that, MAGA is about unapologetically advocating American interests – something that is anathema to career politicians who in Washington reside.

A common refrain among adherents (both Ever-Trumpers and fair-weather folks) is that MAGA did not exist before Trump. That he is the Alpha and Omega. This is a lie and it hurts the movement Trump has built.

Would you believe me if I told you there was a candidate who ran in the last presidential election that championed the MAGA tenets? It’s true, his name is Virgil Goode and he’s a former House representative from Virginia’s 5th district (he served 1997-2009). You probably didn’t hear much about Goode in 2012 or his positions because he ran on the Constitution Party ticket. An interesting tidbit about Goode: he was initially a Democrat who turned independent in 2000 and then in 2002 switched to the Republicans.

Who else shared a similar evolution that went from Democrat to independent to Republican over the last two decades? Unlike Trump, Goode woefully underestimated the power of the two party system. When the Congressman ran in 2012 he believed it was possible to challenge the system from outside in what proved to be a doomed third party bid. Trump, instead, took on the Republican party from within defeating sixteen other challengers. All the while the entrenched Republican establishment did its best to undermine and thwart Trump’s campaign, including in the general election (the Never-Trumpers).

Had Goode gone this route he might’ve found success, maybe. It’s a stretch considering the “their-turnism” rife in both major parties, which in 2012 saw Mitt Romney rewarded and Ron Paul run off. It explains Hillary’s ascension in 2016, even if it took outright theft. Nevertheless, I credit Trump alone with possessing the brash character necessary to get through the election gauntlet while advocating a platform that went against the established Republican grain.

Nothing was beneath his dignity because dignity defined by past Republican politicians meant deference and defeat. Submission to Democrat slights, turning the other cheek or worse, appeasing the biased media and hoping to receive fair treatment (which never came). The definition of insanity. That’s why both Romney and John McCain, the latter a lionized warrior, lacked a fighter’s spirit. Trump was not a traditional candidate and all the better for it.

Recall, at this time in 2015, the Republicans were positioning themselves as Democrat-lite. The major contenders (JEB, Kasich, Rubio) all championed building a bigger tent, welcoming in illegals and layabouts in lieu of their traditional base. Goode had recognized the problem and choose to run against the Republican Party, Trump recognized it as well but ran to replace it. Both men did so with a strikingly similar platform.

Let’s play a game, Who Said It:

We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy…

Confused? Perhaps I should clarify, who said it first? The notion of doing away with harmful diversity visas and clamping down on a lax immigration policy that was/is abused by terrorists initially came from Virgil Goode who said the above in 2006.

He then wrote an opinion piece in USA Today the following year that expounded his position.

Immigration is arguably the most important issue facing the country today. At least 12 million immigrants are here illegally. And diversity visas, a program initiated in 1990 to grant visas to people from countries that had low U.S. immigration at that time, are bringing in 50,000 a year from various parts of the world, including the Middle East.

Let us remember that we were not attacked by a nation on 9/11; we were attacked by extremists who acted in the name of the Islamic religion. I believe that if we do not stop illegal immigration totally, reduce legal immigration and end diversity visas, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world.

Echos of Trump, eh?
Here are some other points of comparison between Goode’s presidential platform and Trumps:

Virgil Goode in 2012Donald Trump in 2016
All positions are pulled from Goode’s 2012 campaign website (archived).

Immigration
Illegal immigration must stop. Our borders must be secure. In Congress, I supported and cosponsored legislation to stop illegal aliens, terrorists, drug smugglers, and other criminals from coming across our Southern border. We need to utilize troops, fences, and other measures to stop the invasion from Mexico. I was the first to sponsor legislation providing for  a fence along the Southern Border. We must continue to fight for funding and for adequacy of the fence. 

I oppose granting amnesty for those persons who come into the United States illegally. Amnesty did not work in the 1980s. Amnesty did not work in the 1990s, and it will not solve the problem now. Amnesty only encourages more illegal entry into the United States. Legal immigration must be reduced not increased. Congress, the United States Senate, and the President need to  adopt a position of a strong NO to amnesty.  As President, I would immediately direct the Attorney General to support and NOT oppose the efforts of Arizona, Alabama and others to deal with the illegal problem in the states.

Defense
We need a strong national defense. However, reckless federal spending which has given us a deficit in excess of one trillion dollars necessitates cutting defense spending.  We must now come home from Afghanistan  and reduce our expenditures around the globe.

Government
 Nearly every department and agency will face significant cuts  and some will face elimination.  Veterans benefits is an example that will not be cut.  Examples of programs eliminated include the National Endowment for the Arts, No Child Left Behind, etc. Other programs and departments, such as Foreign Aid and Education, will be slashed and trimmed.  Reducing regulations and becoming energy independent will also mean more jobs for America. The Canada to Texas pipeline needs to be built  and operational expeditiously and not delayed or stopped as the current Administration is doing.

In recent years about 1.2 million  green cards have been issued annually and over 60% go to foreigners who come to the United States and take jobs from American citizens. I have proposed a moratorium  (with a few minor exceptions) on issuing green cards until our unemployment rate is under 5 percent. America has one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world and it is time for the citizens of this country to be at the head of the line for jobs. We also need to totally end diversity visas (50,000) reduce chain migration, and dramatically reduce asylees and refugees and their costs to the U.S. taxpayer.

Veterans
I support funding for veterans’ health care and providing health care benefits to all veterans. We also need to insure that the Veteran’s Administration works with and on behalf of our veterans.

Energy
The United States must develop its own resources and alternative fuel sources. Hydrogen, biodiesel, and other alternative energy sources have potential in  making us less dependent on foreign fossil fuels. I also support the utilization of nuclear power and expanded drilling opportunities for natural gas and oil in this country so that our energy needs are met by domestic and not foreign sources.  I have supported and will continue supporting drilling in Alaska and the continental United States. If President, I would support the drilling off our coasts where it can be done safely and where the states, such as Virginia, have passed legislation requesting offshore drilling.

Trade
Agreements like NAFTA and the trade provisions in fast track authorization lead to the erosion of this country’s vital manufacturing base.  I do not favor international trade agreements such as these that result in a loss of American sovereignty and jobs. 

Term Limits
Term limits for members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are necessary for a Congress more responsive to the needs of our country and its citizens. Many members focus too much time and attention on raising money for the next election.

Positions in italics are pulled from Trump’s 2016 campaign website (archived).

Immigration
Begin working on  an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border , on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall… Move criminal aliens out day one, in joint operations with local, state, and federal law enforcement. We will terminate the Obama administration’s deadly, non-enforcement policies that allow thousands of criminal aliens to freely roam our streets…  Immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties . All immigration laws will be enforced – we will triple the number of ICE agents. Anyone who enters the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation. That is what it means to have laws and to have a country.

During a post-debate O’Reilly interview on Fox News candidate Trump said, “ I don’t think [anchor babies] have American citizenship  and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers — and I know some will disagree, but many of them agree with me — and you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship… We have to start a process where we take back our country. Our country is going to hell.”

At a Phoenix rally Trump said,  “there will be no amnesty.”  He promised to restrict legal immigration, calling for a commission that would keep the percentage of foreign-born people in the country to “historic norms.”

Defense

Government
Decrease the size of our already bloated government after a thorough agency review… Ask all Department heads to submit a list of every wasteful and  unnecessary regulation which kills jobs , and which does not improve public safety, and eliminate them.

During the CNN/Telemundo debate, Trump said, “We’re getting rid of — we’re going to get rid of so many different things. Department of Education — Common Core is out… Environmental protection — we waste all of this money. We’re going to bring that back to the states…  We are going to cut many of the agencies , we will balance our budget, and we will be dynamic again.”

“I would absolutely approve [the Keystone XL pipeline], 100 per cent, but I would want a better deal,” Trump told reporters at a press conference in Bismarck, N.D (May 26, 2106).

Before any new green cards are issued to foreign workers abroad,  there will be a pause where employers will have to hire from the domestic pool  of unemployed immigrant and native workers. The influx of foreign workers holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high, and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans – including immigrants themselves and their children – to earn a middle class wage…

Every year, we voluntarily admit another 2 million new immigrants, guest workers, refugees, and dependents, growing our existing all-time historic record population of 42 million immigrants. We need to control the admission of new low-earning workers in order to: help wages grow… Additionally,  we need to stop giving legal immigrant visas to people bent on causing us harm.  From the 9/11 hijackers, to the Boston Bombers, and many others, our immigration system is being used to attack us.

Veterans
Ensure our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it. No more long drives. No more waiting backlogs. No more excessive red tape. Just the care and support they earned with their service to our country.

 Support the whole veteran, not just their physical health care, but also by addressing their invisible wounds, investing in our service members’ post-active duty success,  transforming the VA to meet the needs of 21st century service members, and better meeting the needs of our female veterans.

Energy
Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.  Become, and stay, totally independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel or any nations hostile to our interests. Open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits. Encourage the use of natural gas and other American energy resources  that will both reduce emissions but also reduce the price of energy and increase our economic output.

Trade
Appoint tough and smart trade negotiators to fight on behalf of American workers…  Tell NAFTA partners that we intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers.  If they don’t agree to a renegotiation, we will submit notice that the U.S. intends to withdraw from the deal.

Term Limits
“If I’m elected president, I will push for a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress,” Trump said at a rally in Colorado. “They’ve been talking about that for years. Decades of failure in Washington and decades of special interest dealing must and will come to an end.”

Behind every Andrew Jackson is a Martin Van Buren, an unsung politician partially responsible for another’s future success. I would argue Donald Trump is the father of modern American nationalist-populism but Virgil Goode was the first modern presidential candidate to run on a nationalist-populist platform, and this platform is what Trump improved upon then coined “Make America Great Again.”

The architecture of what would become MAGA had long been discussed by the disillusioned and disaffected. The plans where drawn up over decades of dispossession with the staggering loss of conservative values and American standards. MAGA, then, just required a master builder to bring form from the blueprints and who better than Donald Trump?

The decaying GOP structure didn’t need a remodel or an addition (the aforementioned “Big Tent” strategy), it had to be demolished then rebuilt brick by brick. Trump did just that. And guess who assisted Trump, to lay the foundation, during the campaign? From the Roanoke Times, November 25, 2015:

Former congressman and Constitution party presidential candidate Virgil Goode will head Donald Trump’s 5th Congressional District leadership team, according to a news release from the Trump presidential campaign Wednesday.

“Contrary to the claims of the political consultant class, Mr. Trump is the only candidate who can defeat Hillary Clinton. Millions of Republican voters stayed home in 2008 and 2012 because they felt the GOP represented the interests of Wall Street rather than those of working Americans,” Goode said in the news release. “Donald Trump is the best candidate to connect with voters who feel disaffected from both parties.”

Goode was correct, but he already knew a nationalist-populist platform would catch with voters across the political spectrum. Trump captured votes from the bluedogs, the rust-belt blue collar bunch, those in the Bible-belt, and the battered conservatives ready for a change. This odd collection of individuals now comprise the MAGA adherents, the Ever-Trumpers and fair-weather fans. To them I say set aside your differences and come together.

You can’t always get what you want, this was a common anthem that closed out every Trump rally and it’s absolutely correct. The deeper meaning is evident: we all occupy the house Trump built and he must be held to its ideal as well as be allowed to compromise (on certain things), after all we are replacing the rotted Republican establishment, a Herculean labor. President Trump will occupy our party’s leadership for at least three more years but MAGA will endure long after he leaves office and the legacy, his house, will be ours to maintain.