Long before Donald Trump took up residence in the White House, he was a celebrity billionaire who rode his populism to defeat Hillary Clinton. But as William McGurn points out in the WSJ, a funny thing happened to DT once he became president.
At some point he understood that if he was not to fizzle out like so many populists before him—think pro wrestler turned governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura in Minnesota or Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger in California—he would need to tether his populism to the Republican policy agenda. And, mostly, he has.
This record is easily lost amid the Trumpian tweets and excesses. Even so, it remains a record most Republicans cheer: a major overhaul of the tax system that has brought the economy roaring back to life, two stellar jurists seated on the Supreme Court and a record number of nominees confirmed for the district and appellate courts, a thoroughgoing regulatory overhaul courtesy of what had been the largely unused Congressional Review Act, not to mention a long overdue defense buildup.
Give the President His Due
Yes, he’s stocked his White House with gadflies (Steve Bannon), troublemakers (Omarosa Manigault), loudmouths (Anthony Scaramucci), and appointees with Pat Buchanan-like hostility to free trade (Robert Lighthizer).
But he’s also filled key Trump administration posts with strong conservatives who would have been equally at home in a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio White House (Larry Kudlow at the National Economic Council, Don McGahn as White House counsel, John Bolton at the National Security Council).
… for all the talk about how Mr. Trump’s populism is changing the Republican Party, his most significant achievements have come when he’s hitched his populism to traditional conservative priorities and then worked with his fellow Republicans to make good on his promises.
That’s why the stakes are high Tuesday. Losing the House may not be the end of the world for the president—Mr. Trump may even regard a Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a gift in the run-up to 2020—but it would almost surely mean an end to the big legislative achievements like those we’ve seen these past two years.