Populist – A member of a political party claiming to represent the common people; a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people. — Merriam Webster Dictionary
A shadow of Bill Janklow showed up on television the other day in the form of a brash talking, sometimes bullying, and often entertaining politician who obviously likes to hear himself speak.
This isn’t to say that Janklow and Donald Trump were separated at birth, but the more I see of Trump, the more it becomes apparent that much of his appeal rests with his take action, no nonsense persona.
Sure, he’s tapped into a deep vein of discontent among American voters. But these same voters also want a strong leader, and they want common sense solutions without regard to political correctness when it comes to open borders, the national debt, and the loss of American stature in the world.
These voters feel disenfranchised in a different way from how minorities say they feel left out. Trump has been called the candidate of white middle class men. In Nixon’s time, they were called the “silent majority.” By themselves, they no longer can swing national elections. Yet they are an important group, they are committed, they are noisy, and their makeup is more than just white males.
When Janklow first ran for attorney general in 1974, he ran as a law and order candidate. The American Indian Movement was in the news, and confrontations were common. Drug use and related crime had escalated. Janklow was the antithesis of political correctness. He pulled no punches, would take on all comers in a debate, and most of all, offered what most people saw as sensible solutions to the state’s problems – highways, water, prisons, economic development – Janklow’s creative ideas prompted most voters to nod in agreement.
Trump displays some of those same traits: He is a strong leader, oftentimes too aggressive for voters who prefer focus groups and compromise. Yet Trump, like Janklow, is smart, practical, and is a problem solver.
Janklow ran as a Republican, but he was a Populist. His common sense solutions crossed party lines. He counted many Democrats among his friends and advisers.
Trump irritates the establishment Republicans because he won’t fall into line and insists on setting his own agenda. He is not a traditional Republican, either.
Trump can be more mean-spirited than Janklow, and his offensive remarks are a drag on his effort to broaden his base.
However, his biggest asset remains: Many Americans want a strong leader, and for them, that trumps doctrinaire political philosophy.
May 11, 2016