Donald Trump will bring with him to the American presidency a governing instinct and attitude favorable to the Robber Baron Nationalism of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party and to its successor, Abraham Lincoln’s Golden Age Republicans of 1860 to 1932.
The nationalist traditions of those two great parties echo the themes of Trump’s campaign – tax reductions for business, infrastructure development, trade protectionism, central banking, investment in the military industrial complex, and foreign policy realism.
That Trump’s political inclinations should lean strongly towards Hamiltonian nationalism – and do so despite, in all likelihood, him being unaware of its history – is only natural. Hamilton and Lincoln are the two men most responsible for transforming America into the world’s preeminent power. It was they who gave the Federal Government the centralizing means to fashion conservative economic policy, guide foreign affairs, secure the money supply, conduct trade negotiations, raise a powerful military, and industrialize the nation.
Trump has not come to limit the powers Hamilton and Lincoln left to their conservative heirs, but to wield those powers like a monarch. Trump, far from being a libertarian, sees little problem with government itself; his primary objection to government has been that it was not government under the control of Donald Trump.
With the presidency his, the opportunity to return the Republican Party to its Hamiltonian heritage is before Trump waiting to be seized.
How closely do we expect Trump to adhere to Federalist principles?
The nature of Trump’s tax and health care policies will most be free market. Although Trump has shown signs of favoring progressive policies in both cases, he does not appear as strongly motivated to push them as he is with trade and immigration. Instead he appears satisfied to delegate these issues to his free market advisors who will themselves push them further right in the absence of resistance from Trump.
Heavy infrastructure and military spending will garner much more enthusiasm from Trump and will surely pass through the Republican Congress given how many Republican special interests stand to benefit from such projects.
Trade policy will not be implemented easily. Renegotiating existing trade agreements with foreign nations will take time and require the approval of Congress. He may be able to strike a deal with China to end unfair trade practices such as currency manipulation; but this too faces obstacles since China has leverage over the US with its purchases of American debt.
On foreign policy we expect international relations in a Trump administration to follow the realist tradition of Hamilton. Hamilton’s example, set when he firmly opposed the French Revolutionaries in favor of the Bourbons, calls for cooperation with authoritarian regimes where possible, restricting military actions to narrow objectives when a national interest is at stake, and eschewing democratic nation building and humanitarian peacekeeping. Trump will not be isolationist, but selectively interventionist.
The significance of selective intervention to international organizations such as NATO is that the incoming administration will seek reform of existing world forums rather than their abolition (campaign rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding) because Trump will not have America completely from all international engagements. Instead, existing resources will be consolidated and reallocated to different international priorities.