Rise of the Tariff Man: Donald Trump's Conquest and Ideological Redefinition of the Republican Party

Welch, Alexander, Government - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Savage, James, Politics, University of Virginia

What are we to make of Donald Trump? Since 2015, Trump has dominated American politics and rebuilt a major political party in his own image. Despite being initially dismissed as a joke candidate whose campaign for president was, at best, a symbolic crusade against the establishment on issues such as trade, immigration, and foreign policy, and at worst, nothing more than a public relations stunt, Trump went on to capture the Republican nomination and then shocked the world by defeating Hillary Clinton in November, 2016. This dissertation attempts to make sense of this phenomenon by examining Trump’s political philosophies and actions, both as a candidate and as president, from numerous theoretical perspectives, particularly as they relate to trade policy. The first section of the dissertation puts Trump in the historical context of Republican political thought by documenting the linear tradition of Trump’s trade positions all the way back to the Founding, particularly through the tradition of Hamiltonianism. Next, the dissertation looks at the election of 2016, with particular focus on the Republican primaries, in order to understand how and why Trump won the nomination and, eventually, the Oval Office. The last part of the dissertation looks at how his beliefs on trade have guided his actions on trade as president, with China and NAFTA as the main case studies. In the end, the dissertation shows that Trump tapped into a forgotten and dormant, but not extinct, base of protectionist Republican voters in order to win the Oval Office, destroyed an illusory Republican Party consensus on trade, demonstrated that ideological values are hardly more than meaningless heuristics, and realigned American politics in ways that may be beneficial to the Republican Party in the short-term, but pose long-term dangers. As such, it adds to the exponentially-growing literature on the rise of Donald Trump and his presidency, particularly with respect to Trump’s trade narratives.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Political Science, Donald Trump, American Political Thought, Tariff Policy
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