Will Trump’s Populist Policies Actually Make America Great?

For better or for worse, Trump won the Republican nomination and then the general election. It’s clear that his “Make America Great Again” slogan resonated with the electorate, particularly in Rust Belt areas that helped elect Obama twice. The problem for the president-elect is that a lot of the policy prescriptions he banters about cavalierly won’t help him fulfill that promise.

As a conservative and lifelong Republican I was against Donald Trump’s nomination for two simple reasons.

  1. I didn't think he could beat Hillary Clinton and the Democrat machine (obviously I was spectacularly wrong on that count).
  2. I didn’t think he was conservative.

I still have grave doubts about Trump's ability to govern effectively or conservatively (the irony of liberals fearing concentration of power in the executive and the judiciary now, however, is too delicious not to enjoy). Trump has been something other than a Republican for most of his life; he's never talked seriously about an ideological conversion the way Reagan did. In fact, he doesn't seem to have many deep thoughts about policy and when he makes statements they are often contradictory. His impulses on domestic policy appear to be statist in nature and on trade he's a protectionist.

I believe that in order to be successful, President Trump should focus on conservative agenda items that are broadly popular with conservatives and beyond, like repealing and replacing Obamacare with something that works better. This is probably the most pressing issue and is already making headlines. Working with a friendly Congress to come up with market-based reforms should be a priority. For example, they could scrap the individual mandate and the onerous regulations in the ACA, while keeping the healthcare exchanges to operate as a free market.

Trump should also move from "build a wall" which is expensive and impractical to "build a virtual wall." A wall that spans the entire border with Mexico is a simplistic idea that simply can’t work. For one thing, about 1000 miles of that border is a river that both countries have agreed to maintain. I doubt the U.S. is going to cut itself off from the river and cutting off Mexico from the river seems just as unlikely. So let’s get real and start talking about border security instead of a wall. There isn’t a single conservative I know of that’s for having an unsecured border.

Similarly, Trump should move from "deport them all" to "deport the violent criminals." Illegal aliens comprise about 3% of the population in this country. If Trump could magically teleport them all back to the countries they came from, it would almost certainly crater the economy. Yes, illegal immigration has a lot of hidden and unhidden costs but most of these people are simply here to work. As a believer in free markets (and labor is a market) I think we should make it easier, not harder for them to work.