Ross discussed the lack of effective populist Republican candidates in a recent column, but a key part of the problem is that almost every person he named isn’t a populist in any meaningful sense. For example, he includes Perry on the list:
Rick Perry was supposed to put an end to the game of musical chairs. He was an outsider with insider connections, a populist with experience and organization, a successful governor whose anti-Washington persona guaranteed him credibility with the conservative grass roots.
This is all wonderfully vague. In what sense is Perry a populist? If there is one phrase that characterizes his tenure as governor, it is probably crony capitalism. Perry’s cozy relationships with corporations and donors are things that populists loathe. If Republican leaders have been “too forgiving of crony capitalism and Wall Street-Washington coziness,” what would be accomplished by a Perry victory except to reinforce all of the party’s worst habits? If right-wing populists see collusion between corporations and government as a major problem, Perry and those like him see it as something desirable and useful. Perry’s purpose in the race has always been to divert anti-establishment discontent in a manageable, acceptable direction where it will do nothing to force the party to make any significant changes. Can you imagine Perry proposing stricter financial regulatory reform? Of course not. Is he going to argue for breaking up banks that have been deemed “too big to fail”? Not a chance.
One reason why “no populist politician has been able to deliver an agenda to match” is that there haven’t been many populist politicians on the right in the first place. When Ross says that Republican voters deserve “a better class of right-wing populist,” I agree with him. The first step in getting better populists is to distinguish between the politicians whose “populism” consists of folksy mummery and those interested in breaking up concentrations of wealth and power. Until there are Republican candidates interested in both of those goals, there is little chance that any of them will propose policies that will achieve them.