Trump’s Masterful Shift to the Center

In reality, Donald Trump is not the ideological warrior his base wants him to be.

  • Trump attacked Project 2025, an ideological and political framework for the next Republican president

  • He has a long history of bucking normal conservative trends

  • His success comes from his refusal to be boxed in by ideology

The story

On Friday, the former president bashed the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025 which lays out an ambitious plan for the next GOP president. The policy agenda is extraordinarily extensive, nearly 1,000 pages in length with 400 contributing authors, covering every topic from the administrative state to immigration to trade.

Because there is so much material with input from hundreds of individuals, certain policy prescriptions go further than others, such as recommendations to ban the abortion pill and outlaw pornography. With so much content available, Trump’s opponents can easily find policy outliers and claim he supports a fringe agenda.

Trump distanced himself from the policy plan, saying, “I know nothing about Project 2025. I have no idea who is behind it. I disagree with some of the things they’re saying and some of the things they’re saying are absolutely ridiculous and abysmal. Anything they do, I wish them luck, but I have nothing to do with them.”

This visceral snub of what had been heralded as the conservative movement's golden plan illustrates, in many ways, Donald Trump's true nature and why he transcends American norms. For decades, the conservative movement relied heavily on ideology and five-point-plans to make promises to Americans about goals they could realistically never achieve.

Five-point-plans are not inherently wrong, nor is having ideological boundaries to which a politician can restrain himself, but Donald Trump is not ideological. Trump is a conservative in that his political instinct is to protect and lift up normal Americans without making reference to some manifesto.

Oftentimes, many of Trump’s more ideological supporters attempt to mold him into something he is not. Depending on one’s outlook, he is either a champion of economic libertarianism, national conservatism, religious conservatism, or even the classic American tradition. Donald Trump does not fully embody any one these things, yet, at times, exemplifies all of them.

For this reason, there is often a disconnect between the president’s staunch ideological supporters and his actual political objectives — and that’s why he has succeeded.

The politics

Early on in Donald Trump’s presidency, his political opponents noticed that he had “no ideology,” which spooked them. Republicans made themselves easy targets for criticism and mockery when their political agenda could be abbreviated in catchphrases and bumper sticker slogans — “Freedom!” “Small government!” — even when helpful political solutions pushed these boundaries.

For instance, the national debt exploded during the Trump administration, and so did the federal bureaucracy. His “Drain the Swamp” plan did not fully materialize, apart from a few meaningful firings of high-profile officials like the FBI’s Jim Comey.

Democrats and Trump-critical Republicans accurately point out that Donald Trump failed to deliver on this campaign promise.

Because the former president was non-ideological, every flavor of Republican could find something to agree with him on during his administration. However, because the real world is complex and doesn't always fit into a concise political vision, Trump has the ability to satisfy conservatives who often find themselves in sharp disagreement with one another.

Although the plan was executed under President Biden, Donald Trump initially wanted to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan under his watch. This plan satisfied the wing of the GOP that is skeptical of foreign wars, though, at the same time, Trump has sounded much more hawkish on Ukraine than the isolationist wing of the party would care for.

Because real life is messy, Trump realizes that different regional conflicts require different U.S. responses. The right responses do not always fall neatly into an ideological blueprint.

Beyond the headlines

A majority of Americans support a mass deportation plan to reverse the effects of the Biden administration's admission of millions of illegal migrants into the country. For this reason, Trump has made tackling immigration a major part of his campaign platform. During his debate with President Biden, he used every opportunity to turn the conversation back to the border crisis.

Much of the media is decrying Trump’s aim to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to mass deport migrants from the country as “big government,” proving a supposed hypocrisy of Trump and the GOP. But this is not the case.

While some Republicans would tiptoe around using federal power, Trump insists on a muscular approach for a crisis of this magnitude. Donald Trump does not play by orthodox conservative rules; he simply responds to the American people by using the power at his disposal.

Even on an issue like abortion, which has always been a contentious issue among Republicans, Trump insists on taking a hands-off approach in the potential second term. Appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v Wade earned him enough credit to last a lifetime; now, he can wipe his hands clean and pass the issue to the states.

More ideologically rigid Republican presidential candidates would be open to adopting further restrictions, Trump is now pragmatically taking the “small government” approach to the issue, which will also help to sway Biden-skeptical independent voters to his side.

Why it matters

His opponents will scoff that his ideological pragmatism exemplifies his vapidness as a politician, but it is ultimately what makes him, at the end of the day, a populist. Because the average American does not fall neatly down ideological lines, neither does he. As he views it, his politics is based on common sense rather than striving to achieve lofty, abstract ideals.

In a strange way, though the left characterizes Trump as a radical, far-right figure, those accusations are likely just projecting his supporters’ ideology onto him. And hailing from Queens, he speaks with the characteristic hyperbole and crude mannerisms of a New Yorker. His own unfettered rhetoric and loudest supporters often do not represent the realities of what he accomplished as president.

In many ways, Trump promotes policies that were more or less just Democrat policies from the past: being moderate on social issues, promoting American manufacturing, and implementing tariffs — many of which President Biden has kept in place or expanded.

This disconnect between the ideologues in his base and his actual political desires is the main reason Trump is so popular with normal, blue-collar Americans. He is not interested in political philosophy or the intricacies of economic theory; he is focused on governing as a pragmatist, more or less, for the common good.

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