It’s been exactly one year since Donald Trump convulsed America’s political pros and punditocracy in howls of hilarity when his rambling campaign kickoff speech veered into his now-famous vow to build his Trump wall across our southern border — and somehow make Mexico pay for it.
Now this: In a rare, carefully scripted speech on Tuesday, Trump delivered a series of political hits that, come November, may turn out to be powerful enough to topple yet another iconic political wall — this one seemingly far more impenetrable than any wall the aspiring mogul-in-chief dreams of being able to build. Namely: Trump may have found the secret that could topple the solidly Democratic so-called “blue wall” of 18 northeastern, Midwest industrial, and West Coast states that have been giving Democrats their huge base of presidential Electoral College votes for almost a quarter century. The “blue wall,” presciently named by my esteemed journalistic colleague and political analyst Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic, encompasses the states that have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992.
Standing before a blue collar audience at a steel mill near Pittsburgh, Trump vowed to not only fight to make things better for blue collar workers — but made it clear he will do so by shattering to smithereens the U. S. Chamber of Commerce free trade policy pedestal that has been the pet perch of the elephantine Grand Old Party ever since World War II.
Trump launched into the sort of boldly aggressive populist agenda that, if you just read his words, might have left you thinking they’d been spoken by, say, Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Trump said he will:
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– Scrap the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement “to get a better deal, by a lot, not just a little, for our workers.”
– Instruct his commerce secretary to identify “every violation of trade agreements a foreign country is currently using to harm you, the American worker.” And he said, “I’m going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator, which should have been done years ago!”
Trump rejected the view that, in the global economy, nations benefit by importing goods. He said globalization benefits “the financial elite ... (but leaves) millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.” He also vowed to fight “a leadership class that worships globalism.”
In short, he opposed the policies long promoted by Republican leaders and their campaign funders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber took to Twitter to attack Trump for pushing policies that would harm the economy, messaging: “Even under best-case scenario, Trump’s tariffs would strip us of at least 3.5 million jobs.”
In his year of campaigning, Trump has confounded the sort of conventional wisdom that pols and pundits have traditionally carried with them from convention to convention. He has shamelessly mimicked a politically handicapped reporter, used vile and profane language to describe women, has slandered and belittled Mexicans, proposed immigration bans of all Muslims, banned journalists and news organizations from covering his events, and has often relished in doing business through the art of the calculated con, and politicking by saying and doing things that make himself appear the essence of a soulless man who loves to hate. In short, you might think, the antithesis of a political winner.
But then there is the side of him that knows how to reach those ordinary citizens who are most fed up, mad as hell at an established elite who seem out to get them — and just aren’t going to take it anymore.
The mid-July night the 2016 Republican convention is expected to formally nominate Trump for president will mark exactly one year from the day I wrote a column observing that our expanding ranks of fed-up Americans are drawn to fulminators like Trump. They are the folks that truth-talking TV anchor was speaking to in the 1976 film “Network,” when he told his viewers to open their windows and yell: “I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
That column ended with: “If you hear those words echoing through America’s swing-voting cul du sac suburbs on Election Night 2016, you will know America’s fed-up, mad-as-hell voters just chose your next president.”
Unfortunately I see no reason to change my prediction now. But I know this: It will happen because (as we heard from his beyond politics tirade this week) Trump, despite all of his evil words and deeds, now has a real chance of toppling that huge blue wall that has stood between Republicans and the White House.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.