The 45th U.S. president may have left the stage, for now, but his appeal, and the appeal of his political style, endure. As Michael Bluhm wrote in this week’s Signal feature, “the more than 74 million voters who wanted to keep him in power last November—close to 11 million more than any other Republican nominee in U.S. history—and the majority of Republican voters who say they want him to run again in 2024, aren’t going away.” So, which aspects of Trump’s politics will future Republican candidates discard and which will they pick up?

Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, voted for Trump in 2016 and again this past year. In October, he wrote that Trump had been “a C + president, unprepared to effectively staff his executive branch, overly reliant on cronies and family, his most important campaign promises unfulfilled.” Yet despite acknowledging Trump’s flaws—egoism, incompetence, a lack of discipline—McConnell rejects expansive mainstream assessments of Trump’s character and policies. In fact, McConnell believes Republicans would do well by holding to many of his priorities, including immigration restrictions and avoiding military intervention.


Graham Vyse: You co-founded The American Conservative along with the former Republican presidential candidate and longtime political commentator Pat Buchanan. You come out of a right-wing populist tradition and voted for Trump in 2016. What was Trump’s appeal for you then, and how did you hope he would govern the country?

Scott McConnell: Even though he approached it in a vulgar way, he was for immigration restriction. I agree with him on that. Second, he was really willing to talk about how stupid the Iraq War was. In foreign policy, Trump had this mix of tough talking, but compared to the other candidates in the [Republican presidential primary] field he was an absolute denouncer of George W. Bush’s war. He did it in an eloquent way and was able to get people to follow him.

He had the possibility of transforming the party in a Buchananite direction, and he partially succeeded, though obviously his administration was mediocre in terms of actual achievement.

Vyse: Immigration was seen as Trump’s signature issue. The anti-war or anti-interventionist rhetoric gets a little less attention. How significant was it to Republican voters?

He had the possibility of transforming the party in a Buchananite direction, and he partially succeeded, though obviously his administration was mediocre in terms of actual achievement.

McConnell: Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul had done it, but was always treated marginally in the party. Trump was able to sell it. He’s an entertaining politician, which was as important as his issue blend. He’s funny on the stump. He was invariably treated as some kind of demagogue, but people who went to Trump rallies were laughing and happy. He’s a showman.

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