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Donald Trump and the GOP’s New ‘Pitchfork’ Rebellion

As Democrats show signs of falling in line behind the party’s establishment candidate (Hillary Clinton), the Republicans remain in rebellion casting aside one establishment favorite after another and making populist-billionaire Donald Trump the frontrunner

People wave signs as Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Georgia World Congress Center Feb. 21, in Atlanta. (Photo: Getty)

In spring 2003, the journalist and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum published a controversial essay in the pages of the conservative house organ, National Review. In the frenzied run-up to the Iraq War, Frum, branded a number of antiwar conservatives like Patrick Buchanan, the columnist Robert Novak and the libertarian journalist Justin Raimondo as “unpatriotic conservatives.”

Indeed, Frum went so far as to write that, “They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation’s enemies.”

The venue in which Frum’s hit piece appeared was fitting. Under the stewardship of William F Buckley, Jr. NR had long functioned as a kind of ideological referee for the conservative movement. Buckley (eventually) earned the respect of both the Republican and Liberal establishments for – in effect – purging the movement of anti-Semitic cranks, Birchers, and even some of the more doctrinaire libertarians in its ranks.

NR even took on Ayn Rand, publishing a blistering review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers in which the ex-Soviet agent turned evangelical anti-communist denounced the novel as a “remarkably silly book” that could only be called a novel “by devaluing the term.”

Nevertheless, Frum’s rant was more than simply (yet another) instance of a youngish neocon on the make, seeking renown by pandering to the prejudices of those in power – though it certainly was that as well. Frum’s essay served a similar function to Buckley’s purges of years past and in effect expelled conservatives of an antiwar (in foreign policy) and autarkic (in trade policy) bent from the larger conservative movement, thereby helping to solidify neocon control over the Republican Party. That is, until now. [See’s “How Neocons Banished Realism.”]

There's something in the air...

With his lopsided victories in the New Hampshire and South Carolina Republican primaries, it is inarguable that Donald J Trump will be the likely Republican presidential nominee, and it is starting to dawn on a panicked GOP establishment that the old order is about to be swept away.


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Some impute Trump’s astonishing success to the fact that he, unlike his opponents, has been famous for close to 40 years and his take-no-prisoners, quasi-authoritarian pronouncements on immigration and torture speak to an electorate that – because it is largely jobless – is rather more than a little fed up with “business as usual” in Washington.

Consider the following: while Obama partisans have endlessly touted the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen during the course of the President’s term, the labor force participation rate is still near the lowest it has been in over three decades – at 62.7 percent – and it is this number that explains, more than anything else, Trump’s success thus far.

Yet it should be noted that Trump’s victories owe more than a little to the two Republican primary campaigns which were waged by the journalist (and former Nixon speechwriter and Reagan communications director) Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. In the latter campaign Buchanan finished a close second in Iowa and emerged victorious in New Hampshire, Missouri, Alaska and Louisiana collecting over one-fifth of the Republican primary votes overall.

“Pitchfork” Pat’s signature issue was the North American Free Trade agreement. His prescient prediction that American jobs and industry would “be sacrificed on the altar of NAFTA” went unheeded, and now the voter’s revolt which his campaigns anticipated has materialized and will, in short order, tear the GOP asunder. Trump owes his rise largely to the fact that the Republican Party has, for 25 years and counting, embraced neoliberal economic policies that have impoverish the American people.

This should serve as a cautionary tale for the Democrats, who shouldn’t feel too smug over the GOP’s declining fortunes: pitchfork wielders may emerge in their own camp if the Democratic establishment continues its tight embrace of free trade policies which do little but beggar their own most impassioned constituencies.

So while it seems likely that in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s convincing win in Nevada that Sanders is more or less finished, the Democratic Party’s pursuit of neoliberal trade policies may soon give rise to a populist movement from within the ranks. Trump’s success shows that the days of Rubinomics are numbered. Will a responsible statesman like Sen. Elizabeth Warren capitalize on this down the road, or is the Trump boom a harbinger of worse to come?

James Carden

James W. Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.

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