In a recent interview commentator and UC-Berkely Emeritus Prof. Victor Davis Hanson raised an important point: Trump, despite his being rejected as a political thinker/theorist, by virtually all pundits, left and right, has achieved a truly singular feat. He is only one of a paltry handful of presidents – namely, Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and FDR – who have successfully achieved lasting ideological transformation of their political parties.
Trump has distinguished himself in his first term as a political architect.
For better or for worse, depending on one’s political orientation, the GOP is now a worker-populist party, far removed from the technocratic, Establishment Republicanism of the Bushes.
It’s worth pointing out that such transformations are damnably difficult and have eluded quite a number of other presidents, even a few whom are remembered today as great or near-great. Eisenhower’s Modern Republicanism was effectively swept away with the advent of Reagan in ’80, though the 40th president owes Goldwater a significant debt for this change. Richard Nixon, arguably one of the most brilliant political strategists and Machiavellians of history, tried to build a sort of Disraeli-style anti-Establishment party, which even portended a break with the GOP, but ultimately was brought down by Watergate.
Carter attempted a sort of moderate-liberal populist model but ended up disenfranchising his Establishment wing, leading to a progressive insurgency via Ted Kennedy that seriously weakened his prospects.
Clinton, however reluctantly, constructed a moderate alternative to McGovernism, but that legacy now appears to have been swamped by the party’s progressive wing.
Even if he is defeated in November, Trump arguably has conceived and breathed life into a populist insurgency that will likely function as a potent force in U.S. politics for years, perhaps even decades, to come.