Trump's New New Majority

Column: How to reward the new members of Trump's coalition

(Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo)
May 24, 2024

On November 10, 1972, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote a memo to Richard Nixon. A few days earlier, Nixon had been reelected president in one of the largest landslides in U.S. history. Nixon had won 49 states, losing Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., to Senator George McGovern (D., S.D.). He had won 61 percent of the popular vote.

More striking to Buchanan than the size of this "New American Majority" was its composition. In addition to the traditional Republican base, Nixon had won over the South (on the presidential level) and the "ethnic, blue-collar, Catholic, working-class Americans of the North, Midwest, and West." Here was Nixon's "silent majority," revealed for all to see.

Buchanan's fear was that this majority came into view only on Election Day. By the time votes had been tallied, he wrote, the voices of the "liberal media" and other left-wing social and cultural elites were again dominant. Buchanan's postelection memo set out policy objectives that he believed would block the liberals and turn Nixon into the "Republican FDR, founder and first magistrate of a political dynasty, to dominate American politics long after the President has retired from office."

I thought about Buchanan's memo while reading coverage of the run-up to Donald Trump's Thursday rally in the Bronx. If Trump defeats President Biden this November and becomes the first president since the 19th century to serve nonconsecutive terms, it will be because Trump, like Nixon, reconfigured the GOP coalition. He will have reclaimed Republican bastions in the South and Mountain West and captured at least one state in the Rust Belt. He will have added minority voters without college degrees to the GOP base of white voters without college degrees. He will have overcome tremendous obstacles—defeat, financial costs, indictments, low favorable ratings—to bring a new New Majority into power.

That hasn't happened yet, of course. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have held their party conventions. There is time for Biden to mount a spectacular comeback. In today's America, with its fractured culture and evenly divided politics, "majorities" do not resemble those of the 20th century. There could be a split between the Electoral College and the popular vote or, Lord help us, an Electoral College tie. Trump, like Nixon in '72, might not have sizable coattails. A Trump win will have more to do with the electorate's repudiation of Biden than its embrace of the maestro of Mar-a-Lago.

Let's say, though, that Trump does become president again because a record number of minority voters support the Republican nominee in an ethnic and racial alignment not seen since President Dwight Eisenhower. What would that mean for policy? What should the incoming administration prioritize? What will it take for this new New Majority to endure?

Trump has outlined many of his plans, including deportations of illegal immigrants and tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, in interviews and on the campaign trail. But his proposals are muffled by the din of media outrage that greets his off-color jokes, irreverent behavior, intentional trolling of liberal sensibilities, and odd asides. Meanwhile, the nonprofits that make up the MAGA-verse are drawing up personnel lists and writing policy objectives to avoid a replay of 2017, when Trump took office without his own specific plans and trusted personnel.

There are a couple of reasons to be skeptical of what's coming out of these Trump-aligned groups. The first is that, as we learned during the first go-around, nothing is ever decided until Trump decides it. And his decisions are based on what's happening in each moment. And he often changes his mind.

While Trump does have a worldview—nothing counts but the perception of strength and the world has ripped off America since World War II, making us weak—he does not have an ideology. He does not belong to a movement. He is the movement.

Another reason to be wary of what you hear about a possible second Trump administration is that many of the policies in circulation do not reflect voter needs or desires. They are projections of what certain people assume Trump voters want or should want.

For example, Trump is not going to abandon tax cuts or endorse mass unionization or retain Lina Khan as chair of the Federal Trade Commission. He will seek to undo much of Biden's spending and regulation. He is not going to take his cues from "Crazy Bernie" or "Pocahontas." After all: The easiest way to convince a president to oppose something is to tell him that his predecessor of the opposite party was for it.

It is worth studying the Buchanan memo to Nixon as a benchmark of how to respond to a new political moment. You must recognize the novelty of your expanded coalition. Treat newcomers as equals who deserve to be rewarded. Redirect spending toward constituents of your new majority. Use the White House platform to amplify the working-class, patriotic culture of your new voters.

In his memo, Buchanan reminds Nixon to fill his administration with representatives of the city- and suburb-dwelling, predominantly Catholic voters who abandoned McGovern in 1972. He urges the president to host dinners "with distinguished academicians, journalists, and artists in attendance—from which the paragons of the Left are conspicuously absent." Because Trump was a cultural figure before he was a politician, he is already good at this performative aspect of the job, as is evident in his visits to Chick-fil-A's and bodegas, bowl games and UFC fight nights.

Buchanan and Nixon were obsessed with bringing the federal bureaucracy under the president's control. Their battle resonates today with Trump's crusade against the "Deep State." If Trump wins, expect him to devote time and resources to reining in professional Washington through "Schedule F" and presidential "impoundment authority." There is a danger, however, in making an inside-the-Beltway reform a top priority. The danger is that voters won't notice and won't care.

The next president will have two tasks: ending inflation and restoring law and order.

"Our pressing domestic need," Buchanan wrote in 1972, "is stabilization of the American economy and an end to inflation." Such is the case today. Stable prices will require budget discipline, deregulation, enhanced domestic oil and gas production, reductions in the Federal Reserve's balance sheet, and canceling obligated spending in the Inflation Reduction Act. Expanded trade with our allies will also reduce inflation, but this course is unlikely in our age of economic nationalism. A USA-U.K. trade deal might be an option, however. It is worth pursuing.

Buchanan told Nixon that "social peace" is the "basis of any progress." The perception of a world and nation in chaos has brought Biden to new lows, and the lack of social peace at home begins at the southern border. A second Trump administration must dramatically reduce illegal immigration. Restoring the executive orders that Biden shredded on day one is just a start. Revising asylum law will come next. Pressuring Mexico to do more—and joining forces with other populist conservatives in Latin America—will further curb human traffickers.

The law-and-order agenda has two other components. Police departments require more resources to combat crime and need intellectual and legal support to resist activist pressures. The campuses must be taken back from the Hamas sympathizers and their enablers. The next president must restore order on campus by punishing college administrations that permit harassment of Jewish students and by doing everything he can to resist, reduce, and remove race-based affirmative action and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion bureaucracy.

When you read Buchanan's memo, you are struck by how embattled the Nixon men felt. The Left and liberal Democrats controlled Congress, the universities, foundations, and the press. Buchanan complimented Nixon by saying how much the 37th president had changed the Supreme Court, but the truth is that the spirit of judicial activism and judge-made law persisted into the 21st century.

The situation is different in 2024. There is a Republican speaker of the House. Republicans are favored to win the Senate. The Supreme Court majority doesn't just have a Republican-appointed majority. It has an originalist majority.

Twenty-three state governments are controlled entirely by Republicans. The Left still dominates the legacy media, but the number of alternatives increases every day. Home schools, religious schools, charter schools, private schools, and school choice programs allow more K-12 options for the new New Majority. A GOP administration that wants to reward its new working-class voters would increase apprenticeships and non-college career pathways, as well. There are a lot of potential upsides, in other words, if the next administration focuses on economic revival and securing the border and personal safety.

Which brings us to a final, implicit lesson of the Buchanan memo, written as the Watergate scandal was about to take over the headlines: Things do not go as planned.