The Corner

Politics & Policy

Is Tom Cotton the Natural Ideological Successor to Trump?

President Donald Trump and Senator Tom Cotton in the White House in Washington, D.C., August 2, 2017 (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Over at PowerLine, Paul Mirengoff responds to today’s Corner post, suggesting that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton might make the most natural ideological successor to Trump and the figure most likely to keep the Trump coalition together.

“Cotton is a fierce nationalist, an uncompromising fighter, and an unapologetic ally of President Trump,” Mirengoff writes, while acknowledging that Cotton is “more inclined to continue U.S. involvement in Middle East hot spots. He also opposes leniency for federal felons legislation that Trump now backs.” Tom Cotton votes with the administration’s position about 90 percent of the time.

It’s worth noting that not even Donald Trump always agrees with Donald Trump. As a newcomer in 2016, Trump was able to straddle some dividing lines on big policy issues. On the campaign trail he resolutely opposed changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (promise kept) but also boasted he could “get rid of the $19 trillion in debt” (promise not even close to kept). He could sound isolationist — “no American citizen will ever again feel that their needs come second to the citizens of foreign countries” — but he could also sound interventionist (“I would take the oil”). And as president, he called the level of defense spending “crazy” after pushing for a 10 percent increase earlier in the year.

Trump can threaten “Rocket Man” in Pyongyang and a few months later have a summit in Singapore with Kim Jong Un. For some people, Trumpism means isolationism; to others it means a well-funded military and striking at regimes like Bashar al-Assad’s when they use chemical weapons.

Some might argue that the First Step Act is the kind of criminal-justice reform proposals that Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric dismissed as soft and weak. Or perhaps Trump simply has more faith in legislation heavily crafted by Jared Kushner.

Cotton is an interesting option, and this isn’t the first time people have wondered if he’s the true ideological successor to Trump. Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker last year that “Cotton has carved out a clear Trumpism-without-Trump agenda: limits on immigration through legislation, deportations, and a wall; longer prison sentences for American convicts and suspected terrorists abroad; a bigger budget for the Department of Defense. The question is whether he has the charisma to sell that agenda to a broader public.”

It seems fair to wonder how much of the appeal of “Trumpism” is tied up in the president’s approach to the job (and perhaps life): combative, boastful, unpredictable, constantly surrounded by drama, itching to lash out at critics, fully embracing the culture war, reacting to popular culture, and basically bringing a circus-like atmosphere to the once-staid and formal world of presidential politics.

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