Donald Trump’s sweeping victories in the US primary elections on “Super Tuesday”—last week—has thrown the Republican Party into “a state of pandemonium”, according to the Washington Post newspaper.
Horrified by Trump’s success in laying waste to his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, party grandees are mobilising in a last-minute effort to stop him.
Mitt Romney, who unsuccessfully ran against Barack Obama in 2012, has denounced Trump as a “fraud”. Money is being poured into attack ads in the states where primaries have still to take place. Katie Packer of Our Principles, a stop-Trump operation funded by the billionaire Ricketts family, told the Post, “We have a very target-rich environment. He has left quite a wake of victims in his path.”
The panic about Trump isn’t confined to the other side of the pond. Martin Wolf, chief commentator for the Financial Times newspaper, declared last week, “The US is the greatest republic since Rome, the bastion of democracy, the guarantor of the liberal global order. It would be a global disaster if Mr Trump were to become president.”
Wolf put his finger on the key issue. The Republican establishment represented by Romney and two of Trump’s hapless opponents, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, broadly support the strategy pursued by US imperialism since the Second World War. This is to build an international network of alliances underpinned by US military power to maintain a global liberal capitalist order through which capital and commodities can freely flow.
Trump is challenging this order. Apart from wanting to build a wall along the border with Mexico, he is promising to force US corporations such as Apple to repatriate their production from China and other low-wage economies. He has also questioned the worth of the US alliance with Japan.
This is anathema to the mainstream of the US ruling class. Sixty Republican foreign policy experts last week signed a letter saying Trump was unfit to be president.
General Michael Hayden, George W Bush’s last director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has warned that US military commanders might disobey his orders if they violated international law.
Trump’s general stance is in fact quite recognisable to anyone familiar with US political history. It is an example of what the Republican commentator Walter Russell Mead has called the Jacksonian tradition. Andrew Jackson, president 1829-37, was very happy to use force to expand the US, notably against the Native Americans. But he was also a populist opponent of Wall Street and suspicious of foreigners.
Jackson was president of the US when it was still pushing out from the eastern seaboard and was an economic semi-colony of Britain. Remarkably, Trump has revitalised this brand of aggressive nativism, racism, and populism in the very different circumstances of 2016, when the US is the dominant capitalist state.
The fundamental reason for his success is obvious enough, and it’s what drives Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination—the state of the US economy. Real household median income is the same as it was 20 years ago.
The mortality rate among middle-aged white men is rising. No wonder Trump says, “I love the poorly educated.” They are the chief victims of an economic crisis that a majority of people in the US believe is still going on.
David Perdue, Republican senator for Georgia, said, “The main pendulum in American politics is no longer swinging from left to right. It’s swinging between insiders and outsiders.” If true, this poses a big problem for the party establishment.
If they succeed in slowing down Trump’s advance and denying him the nomination at the party convention in July, they may well be punished by the voters who rallied to him.
But it’s a problem for Trump as well. Scenting victory, he’s already starting to clean up his act. On Friday of last week he issued a statement promising to be guided by international law in the orders he would give the military as president.
But if he abandons his utopian promises to shut the US off from global trade and migration, he will be betraying his supporters. Where will they turn next?