Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series on the Trump presidency featuring an interview with Victor Davis Hanson, author of the new book, The Case for Trump. In the first part, Mr. Hanson discussed how Trump won his improbable victory, whether there is a method to Trump’s madness, and how he has been viciously attacked for writing the book.
We are well aware of all the slings and arrows that have been aimed at the heart of Donald Trump from the moment he descended that escalator at Trump Tower almost four years ago. The political establishment clearly did all they could to stop him – aided and abetted by their allies in the legacy media. They launched investigations – before and after the election – based on a nakedly political and scurrilous false dossier, which fueled the almost two year-long special counsel investigation, which has mercifully drawn to a conclusion.
But it appears equally clear that the virulent opponents of Trump never, ever expected him to actually win the 2016 election, and thus the covert effort to cut him off at the knees was, as Peter Strzok put it in his infamous text to his paramour and fellow Trump-hater Lisa Page, merely an insurance policy. They simply could not conceive of this man actually being elected president.
In his best-selling new book, The Case for Trump, acclaimed author Victor Davis Hanson follows the trajectory of the bombastic billionaire in an intellectual examination of the man and his presidency. And as he told LN in a wide-ranging interview, he did not set out to depict Trump as a saint or a sinner, but to provide a scholarly perspective on the 45th president.
Tim Donner: Many reasons have been given for Trump’s shocking victory in 2016, outrage in the heartland most often cited as the reason for it, but he also had perhaps the perfect opponent in Hillary Clinton. Do you believe Trump would have won no matter who he faced, or could a more appealing Democrat have beaten him, do you think?
Victor Davis Hanson: Well, I mean, she did win the popular vote mostly because of the 3 million people in California that gave her a huge majority, but I think her weaknesses were particularly suited for Trump, because on every angle that she tried to tag him with scandal, his indiscretions with women, then her husband came up. Nobody’s alleged that Trump did anything wrong as far as infidelity, or worse, inside the White House. They did with her husband.
She tried to go after the Trump foundation. The Clinton Foundation scandals make the Trump Foundation amateurish in comparison. She tried to say that Trump might have been colluding with the Russians. There was no evidence of that, but there is evidence that Bill Clinton got a half a million dollars speaking in Moscow at a time when millions were being poured into the Clinton Foundation from Russian industrialists and entrepreneurs who at the same time we’re looking to get a contract for Uranium One for uranium control in North America, about which Hillary Clinton had a considerable say as Secretary of State, and influence.
So what I’m getting at is each time that she went after him, he just said, “Well, look at you,” and that sort of neutralized his vulnerabilities in a way that maybe another Democratic candidate, had they nominated someone with less exposure, wouldn’t have been as successful. She was also a poor candidate. I mean, she didn’t speak well. She did things I guess she didn’t have to do, alienate people with this deplorables, irredeemables. She went down in Arizona and Georgia thinking that it was a sure thing and she was going to get a mandate, tried to flip states that we’re not going to be flipped while she let Trump as a proverbial fox into her hen house in the Midwest and he took those Midwest states.
Tim: Ever since Trump announced for president, the Republican Party seems unsure of what to make of him, to say the least, but the veto on his national emergency notwithstanding, has he now managed to take control of the Republican Party? Do you expect Bill Weld or someone else will wind up challenging him in a 2020 primary?
Victor Davis Hanson: I don’t think so, and if they did it would be very short lived. We forget two things about Donald Trump, that is for all the Never Trump vituperation, The Weekly Standard, my colleagues at the National Review and elsewhere, George Will, all of that, 89%-90% of Republicans voted for Donald Trump. About the same number as had voted for McCain and Romney. I’m not saying that he’d got a smaller level. He did get a smaller percentage of independents than some of them had, but more or less, the Republicans stayed with him. And more or less his message, even though I suggested it was new and there were wrinkles to it, the foundation was Republican conservatism, cultural traditionalism, low taxes, strong defense, GDP growth, more energy exploration.
What was different was that he was not a part of the bicoastal establishment. First president to have neither political nor military experience and he was not shy about suggesting to them that that was an advantage, and they were corrupt. They were part of the swamp, the administrative state, the deep state, as he said, and they didn’t forgive him for that. So the establishment, we haven’t quite seen that an establishment of one party would turn on its own presidential candidate and then, indeed, continue to do that while he was President. That’s new.
Tim: Indeed, when you look at all the forces that he was up against, not just the Democrats but his own party, he got almost no endorsements from sitting Republicans, he had the media overwhelmingly against him after they had made him a star in the primaries by covering his every move. But, you mentioned George Will and National Review and the like, and you discuss Never Trumpers in your book, those pesky conservatives who’ve rejected Trump from day one. The networks make it seem as if they’re representative of the Republican view of Trump writ large. Whereas in fact, as you say, 90%, about the same as Reagan, of Republicans, support this President. Are these never Trumpers relevant anymore? Were they ever?
Victor Davis Hanson: They weren’t relevant in a sense of politics. They have one advantage, and that is to a particular 3%-4% of suburban voters who are married women or single women voters who occasionally vote Republican. They appeal to them, and that has hurt Trump. The other thing they do is, I can tell you as somebody wrote this book and was just called a Nazi and a Martin Heidegger-like toady to Trump as Hitler, by the new Bill Kristol Bulwark, they try to incite, they’re very bitter, and they’re trying to sow dissension or anger among the Trump traditional supporters.
They’re sort of spoilers, court jesters, they’re full of anger and I think part of it is newsworthy coastal establishment figures, the columnists, the insiders, the handlers, the politicos that usually go to the White House, they go on TV, and they feel that they’ve been alienated or ostracized from a Republican source of power and influence and they’re very angry. They look at Trump in careerist terms as opportunities that were closed to them. A lot of them have actually tried to apologize and find their way back into the halls of power, and Trump has a long memory and that’s made them even angrier.
Tim: Let’s talk about the Democrats a bit. They wrote off Trump in 2016. They were certain they would beat him, probably in a landslide. Do they now believe he’s a true force to be reckoned with? Someone who will be hard to beat in 2020? Or do you think they remain as confident of victory as they were in 2016?
Victor Davis Hanson: Oh, I think they’ve learned nothing. To quote Talleyrand, “They’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” I think they think 2016 was just an aberration and they’re going to go hard progressive like McGovern did in 72 or Walter Mondale did in 84 and this time we’re going to win. That Trump, because he’s controversial, he tweets just as he did. And they don’t just take a deep breath, as I point out in the book, and say, “You know what? His polls right now were about where Obama’s and Clinton’s were this time. He did better in the House than they did in the midterms. He did much better in the Senate than they did in the first midterms, and they both pretty much clobbered their reelection opponents, respectively Bob Dole and Mitt Romney.”
So they don’t understand that really this 2020 election is Trump’s to win or lose himself, and if they nominate someone who’s going to run or get tagged with reparations and infanticide, abortion, the green new deal, wealth tax, 90% income tax rate, abolishing ICE, abolishing the electoral college, and I could go on, Medicare for all and all that. Those are not 51% issues, so to speak, and they would be … Well, it’d be very hard for candidate to just say, “This is the future of America.” Whereas, Donald Trump’s going to say, “Your 3% GDP on an annualized basis that I got you, and record low unemployment, and energy production is one choice and socialism is the other.”
Tim: Right. It’s still the economy, stupid, isn’t it?
Victor Davis Hanson: I think it is.
In the final part of this series, Mr. Hanson focuses on reaction to President Trump around the world, and whether Trump has changed politics forever.