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Who Is Donald Trump Really?

Ian Bremmer, Ph.D

(LinkedIn Pulse) – The Trump phenomenon continues. At tomorrow night’s debate, you’re liable to hear attacks from Jeb Bush and others that front-runner Donald Trump is not a real Republican. Are they right? Consider the following arguments:

Trump is really a Republican

Trump has been a registered Republican since Obama became president. The man could have run in either party. The fact that he chose the GOP, despite the much more crowded field, is telling.

As we’ve discovered this primary season, Trump shares much in common with core Republican ideology—he believes the immigration crisis is the most urgent issue facing the country and that a strong military is the centerpiece of a successful foreign policy. Trump rages against political correctness and values “common sense” over “expert opinion,” which place him firmly in the Republican camp. And like a number of GOP hopefuls before him, Trump insists that success in business qualifies a candidate to be president. Carly Fiorina is betting on the exact same horse.

At the end of the day, the best argument that Trump is really a Republican is that his message resonates with the GOP faithful.

Trump is really a Democrat

But Jeb Bush and the rest of the Republican field will have plenty of ammunition to use against Trump tomorrow night. After all, Trump favors higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, a decidedly un-Republican approach to tax policy. For fiscal conservatives, Trump’s opposition to big trade deals and cuts to entitlements like Social Security are also quite worrisome. He even has positive things to say about Obamacare, not something that conservative Republicans want in their party’s standard-bearer.

It doesn’t help that Trump was once a registered Democrat who supported abortion rights, gun control, and legalizing drugs. A person is obviously allowed to change his mind—but as with all things Trump, his outsized personality makes people question his motives.

Finally, even if he praises Ronald Reagan, he regularly violates Reagan’s “11th commandment.” In short, Trump attacks Republicans far more often than most Democrats do. That might eventually make it more difficult for him to win the GOP nomination.

Trump is really beyond party

Trump has been registered as a Republican, a Democrat, and an Independent. He has changed his positions on most of the issues listed above at least once. The only thing we know for certain is that Trump is not a party man. He does not belong to organizations run by other people, though that probably has more to do with ego than principle. His platform is simply to win.

Trump has Republican instincts in many ways. His brand of populism plays much better on the right. Yet, the Donald is also a New Yorker, a more liberal-minded guy in many ways than anyone who will be caucusing in Iowa or canvassing in South Carolina. He’s also an independent, one who sees plenty of “losers” on both sides of the aisle.

Maybe the better question is how long an all-of the-above candidate can defy political gravity.

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