President Trump ran in 2016 as a populist, not a conservative - and that's why he won. Populism is popular.
At its best, it's also positive, and that's what we argue for on this show. Positive populism - pro-worker, pro-family, pro-community. Those were the themes of my book, “Positive Populism.”
But President Trump needs to be careful. Some leading Democrats are trying to steal his winning populist message.
Look at Elizabeth Warren. Yes, it's easy to knock her on her dubious claim of Native American ancestry. But if you listen closely, she's basically running on the Trump message from 2016.
The populist bedrock of that platform was to make government deliver for working Americans, not the big donors and the big corporations. The focus was the middle class and working families -- and now that's Elizabeth Warren's focus, too.
But the echoes go beyond the big picture. Look at what Warren said about Washington’s corruption when she spoke in Iowa last week.
"We need to change the rules in Washington,” she said. “Yes. It is about money in politics, it's about the influence of money. I have the biggest anti-corruption proposals since Watergate. Yes! How about we block the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, you think?"
Yes, great idea about the revolving door. But where have you heard that before? Oh, right - in 2016. Wasn't there something about draining the swamp, fighting big money, and yes, blocking the revolving door?
“All of that money that’s going to Hillary and Jeb and Scott and Marco and all of them - the people that are putting up that money – it’s like puppets,” Trump said back then.
He also proposed a "five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch and congressional officials” and a “lifetime ban on government officials lobbying for a foreign government."
That was unusual for a Republican candidate. And so was what Donald Trump said about student loan debt and health care. On student loans, he said, “We will lower the cost of college and solve the student loan crisis.” And he endorsed universal health care, saying in a TV interview, “We’re going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not.”
Wow. Cutting student debt. Health care that takes care of everybody. That 2016 candidate sounds uncannily similar to a certain 2020 candidate.
I suppose imitation is the highest form of flattery. And Warren agrees with Trump on the need for infrastructure spending, too:
“What has happened to federal help for infrastructure?” she has asked supporters. “Where’s all that new money that was promised for infrastructure that would help us in building more roads, that would help us building more mass transit? That would help us deal with the traffic congestion.”
Good question. What did happen to the infrastructure plan? But this political odd couple even seem to agree on trade and China.
“I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator, the greatest in the world,” Trump has said. “Any country that devalues their currency in order to take unfair advantage of the United States and all of its companies who can't compete will face tariffs and taxes to stop the cheating.”
Warren has said the following on China: “They looked the other way as China manipulated its currency to advance its own interests and undercut work done here in America … China has weaponized its economy without loosening its domestic political constraints.”
Sounds like somebody went to Trump university!
To stop the Democrats from turning populism into their winning message in 2020, President Trump needs to reclaim the mantle - and he's got a perfect opportunity in just a couple of weeks' time.
Look, we could go on and on – and we're certainly not endorsing Elizabeth Warren. In fact, many of her actual policies would be disastrous for working Americans.
It's also true that many of Donald Trump's populist promises have been delivered. The top of the list, of course, is jobs and the economy. The poverty rate is at its lowest point in a decade -- not by accident, but because of actual policy, like deregulation and tax cuts.
Over 4 million jobs have been created since Donald Trump took office, with the lowest unemployment in half a century and earnings rising at the fastest rate in a decade. This is not by chance, but by policies that boosted business confidence and encouraged the hiring of American workers.
And the clearest way of all in which President Trump has delivered his populist promise, for exactly the people he prioritized: the manufacturing industry has boomed after suffering for years. Over 400,000 manufacturing jobs have been created added under Trump, compared to a net loss of over 200,000 under Obama.
Last year was America's best manufacturing performance since 1997 - since before China joined the World Trade Organization and sucked all those jobs away.
But beyond the economy, and despite the endless claims of the elitist establishment that the “swamp” is not being drained, the president did follow through there, as well. He signed an executive order banning administration officials from lobbying on behalf of a foreign government and put a five-year ban on executive branch officials lobbying the government after they leave office.
To stop the Democrats from turning populism into their winning message in 2020, President Trump needs to reclaim the mantle - and he's got a perfect opportunity in just a couple of weeks' time. Mr. President, here's how you can renew your populist revolution in your State of the Union address, with five positive promises that will help working Americans:
- On jobs, fight the threat of automation by guaranteeing re-training for every worker who needs it. That means boosting your National Council for the American Worker, which helps prepare Americans for the needs of the future workforce. Under this effort, led by Ivanka Trump, over 100 companies have promised to re-skill a total of over 4.3 million workers. That's a great start but you can make much more of it.
- Give us that massive infrastructure program you promised. Make a pledge that by 2030, America, not China, will have the world's most modern systems for transportation, communication and energy.
- Rebuild America's struggling neighborhoods, too - whether urban, suburban or rural. You've already established a White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. You've got a plan for opportunity zones. These can be the vehicles for a real transformation that helps exactly the people who backed you in 2016
- On health care, you promised to take care of everyone - and then the ideological nitwits in Congress took you off course. Trust your instincts. Work with Congress to deliver guaranteed health care for every American.
- Keep draining that swamp with a move that every American will cheer: Ban foreign government lobbying. Foreign governments have embassies they have ambassadors. Why the hell should they be allowed to use swampy lobbyists too? And why the hell should members of Congress and their staffs be allowed to deal with them?
Five populist promises that will show you're putting working Americans first.
Don't let Elizabeth Warren and the Democrats steal your winning message. We know that their brand of populism will set the country back. But Mr. President, you've got to show how your version can move America forward.
Adapted from Steve Hilton's monologue from "The Next Revolution" on January 13, 2019.