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December 11th, 2017

Insight

As vote nears, a more radical Trump emerges

Byron York

By Byron York

Published Feb. 9, 2016

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — The loudspeakers blasted the Beatles' "Revolution" when Donald Trump took the stage at Plymouth State University on the Sunday before the New Hampshire primary. It's a new choice for Trump, and it doesn't matter that the lyrics suggest caution; the title seems to increasingly fit the shattering of Republican political orthodoxy Trump is promising should he win the White House.

In a nearly one-hour speech, Trump railed against pharmaceutical companies. He railed against oil companies. And insurance companies. And defense contractors. And he set himself against a political system that he said allows big-money corporate "bloodsuckers" to control the government with campaign contributions.

"Whether it's the insurance companies, or the drug companies, or the oil companies, it's all the same thing," Trump said. "We're never going to get our country back if we keep doing this."

Trump promised to allow the government to negotiate drug prices — a common position among Democrats but rarely heard at nominally Republican events. He said he would not raise military spending, arguing that the nation's defenses can be improved without increasing its already huge Pentagon budget. He promised tough sanctions on American companies that move jobs overseas.

Trump was, in other words, in full populist mode as he wrapped up his New Hampshire campaign, in which he leads the closest Republican competition by about 15 points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.

There were portions of Trump's Plymouth speech that sounded like Bernie Sanders, if Sanders had Trump's sense of showmanship. In fact, Trump mentioned Sanders favorably, saying they agree on trade. Trump also said Sanders is correct in his charge that Hillary Clinton is compromised by the big-money contributions she has accepted — a charge the billionaire developer aimed at his Republican rivals as well.

Trump began by discussing Saturday night's Republican debate. He claimed that instead of students, the hall at St. Anselm's College was filled with big Republican donors. "I'm looking at the room and I see special interest guys," Trump said. "That's why we pay so much."

"We're not allowed to negotiate drug prices, can you believe it?" Trump said. Noting that Woody Johnson, of the Johnson & Johnson family, is a big Jeb Bush fundraiser, Trump asked, "Do you think Jeb Bush is going to make drug prices competitive?" Everyone knew the answer. Trump went on to accuse the insurance industry of buying laws that suppress competition and keep prices high, and the oil companies of doing something similar.

On defense, in a race in which all of his Republican rivals favor increasing military spending, Trump promised instead to go after waste and profiteering in the defense industry. "I hear stories, like they're ordering missiles they don't want because of politics, because of special interests," Trump said. "Because the company that makes the missiles is a contributor." There is so much of that kind of corruption in the Pentagon, Trump said, that he will be able to build up the military without actually spending more, just by putting an end to wasteful and corrupt practices.

The only way to clear the mess in Washington, Trump argued, is to elect a president who is so rich he doesn't need anybody's money. "I think self-funding is a big thing," Trump said. "I'm the only one that's self-funding, Democrat or Republican. everyone else is taking from — I call them the bloodsuckers."

Trump's appeal seemed aligned with the thinking of a lot of attendees. Before the speech began — before Trump had made any of his arguments — I talked to a number of Trump supporters and asked why they chose him over other candidates.

"Because he's not going to be bought," said Bob Chapman, of Durham.

"I feel that he definitely can't be bought, and is one of the only ones who can honestly say that," said Phil Pelletier, of Westport, Mass. "I just feel that he's his own man."

"I like that he's self-funding," said Derrick Vendetti, of Randolph.

Trump repeatedly said he would alienate his wealthy friends if he actually becomes president and cleans up government. But it's worth it, he said. "They come to me and they say, 'We would like you to use such and such a company — he's helped your friends,'" Trump said. "I don't care if he's helped my friends. I have no friends as far as I'm concerned. You know who my friends are? You're my friends." Trump won big applause with that line.

It's hard to tell how well Trump's appeal is working. He has dipped a bit in New Hampshire polls in recent days. The Plymouth State event had a big crowd, but not a huge one. A lot of people there were still undecided, and I also talked to a number of students — Sanders supporters all — who came to the rally for kicks.

In addition, Trump's rivals describe his support as "soft" and believe he will underperform at the polls on Tuesday as he did in the Iowa caucuses a week ago. Maybe that's what will happen. Or maybe that's wishful analysis. It's impossible to say. Certainly Trump's team is promising a far more vigorous turnout effort in New Hampshire than in Iowa.

But all that misses the bigger picture. The man leading the Republican race is doing so on a platform that would blow up the Republican Party as it now exists in Washington. If Trump is bringing new voters into the party, he's doing it by promising to make the party virtually unrecognizable to its members today. If he were elected president and did what he says he will do — and many, if not most, political insiders cannot get their heads around even that possibility — Trump would be an astonishingly disruptive force in Washington. Of course, that is exactly what his voters want.

And despite various reports that Trump is moderating his style and presentation a bit, the fact is, his views remain absolutely radical in a Republican context. That is the Trump who is leading the race in New Hampshire. And the candidate who played "Revolution" a second time as he left.

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