Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, “The Case for Trump,” chronicles the successes of America’s 45th president as only the prolific Hoover Institution scholar could. A columnist for The Daily Signal, Hanson recently spoke to me about the book, his concerns about California’s future, and the demise of the Never Trump movement. Our full interview is available on The Daily Signal Podcast or on video. A lightly edited transcript is below.
Rob Bluey: Let’s start with your book. It’s a fascinating read. I want you to tell us why you chose to write it.
Victor Davis Hanson: I’ve asked myself that. Well, I had a good editor at Basic Books and I just finished a book on World War II, and I had a contracted other book, and she said, “As a person who did not vote for Trump and would not vote, is there any way it can be persuaded?” And I said something. She goes, “Why didn’t you put that in writing?”
I have never written on a contemporary political topic, at least in book form. So I wanted to say that I had not met Trump. … I didn’t want a job, obviously, in the White House. I don’t live in Washington. So could I, as a disinterested analyst but somebody who voted for him, analyze why he got elected, how he’s done, and why people hate him so much? And that’s what the book’s about.
Bluey: Let’s take some of those points then. So how has he done? We hear about the economy and we hear about some of the other tremendous successes this country is having, and yet at the same time, his approval ratings aren’t that great at the current moment, and he’s constantly under attack from the media and Democrats.
Hanson: He is. That’s a two-part question. He’s doing things that are kind of insidious that we don’t appreciate.
For example, the Department of Education is finally starting to address the idea that student debt is not the responsibility of universities. They encourage students to take out these horrible loans and then they jack their tuition above the rate of inflation. Or that we’ve lost the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the First Amendment protections on campus.
So he does things like that, that he doesn’t get credit for it, in addition to the foreign policy and the economic.
Why do they hate him? Part of it is if he succeeds, it’s a referendum on his resume and their resume. It’s the first president that never had military or political experience.
Second, there’s an element of snobbishness, especially in the “Never Trump” movement. He’s from Queens. The way he dresses, his comportment, they consider that so unpresidential, that positions that they have embraced their entire life if he has his fingerprints on them, they disown.
And part it is, I guess we’d call it creative destruction, creative obstruction, creative chaos that the way Washington works, we saw that in a Peggy Noonan column that was almost endorsing the status quo way things work.
But Trump comes in and if you want to get out of the climate accord in Paris, you just get out. Cancel the Iran deal. Move the embassy. … Tell NATO to start paying their fair share.
Everybody understood that the proverbial cat had to be belled, that nobody wanted to do it. He was not invested in that value system so he did it. And then people like the proverbial gunslinger, he comes in and solves a problem and then, “My God, why did you pull your gun?” And then they want him to leave when the problem’s over with.
Bluey: He certainly has transformed Washington in that way. He’s made draining the swamp and returning power back to individuals a priority. Do you think that that’s going to stick? Can that last beyond a Trump presidency?
Hanson: That seems to be the proverbial $64,000 question. What happens when he leaves? My own view is the idea that somebody that would embody, in contemporary terms, the worldview of Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney is not going to ever again carry Michigan, Pennsylvania in the way that Trump did.
By that I mean, whether we like it or not, the Democratic Progressive Party, neo-socialists, very wealthy people and very poor people. And this middle class in between is what Republicanism is today. And what they want is somebody that they feel, not just ideologically akin to, but they feel fights for them.
Worst thing that can happen for a candidate is to saw the limb under which his base is sitting. So with Romney and McCain, there was a sense that if you attack Reverend Wright in 2008, or you were so angry that Candy Crowley had hijacked that debate in 2012, you really didn’t know whether Romney or McCain was going to support you.
McCain would say, “Now wait a minute, don’t go that … ” and that, with Trump, that created Trump. With Trump it’s we cut the leash and he’s out there. He’s fighting. And I think that will be part of the idea of the Republican Party. I think the idea that we’re going to win, we would rather lose nobly than win ugly because we play by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. … That is the trajectory to socialism.
Bluey: I want to get to socialism in a moment, but I do want to ask you one more question. You mentioned that how he was elected. There’s a lot of interest right now about whether or not that same coalition that he put together in 2016 will be there for him in 2020. Do you think that those people who came out to support him in 2016 will do so again?
Hanson: I do, for a couple of reasons. One, he has a record, and except for closing the border, which he tried to do, and debt, he’s pretty much fulfilled his promises.
And then No. 2, he’s not running in a popularity contest. So the closest thing to a blue-collar candidate is Joe Biden. But the Joe Biden of today is not the Joe Biden of 30 years ago.
So he’s been mortgaging his past to the AOC party. And whether he likes it or not, if he were to be nominated, I don’t see how he can emerge unscathed from the primaries, the debates, and the convention without endorsing in some part or parcel reparations, infanticide, wealth tax, a green deal, [or 16-year-olds voting] or felons voting. … None of these positions poll 51%, especially in these swing states.
Bluey: That’s certainly true. Let’s talk about this idea behind socialism. It’s a topic that’s on the mind of a lot of conservatives. They’re concerned about this growing support that they see, particularly among young people, and on the left in general. What is fueling it?
Hanson: I don’t know if they know when they say they’re for socialism what socialism entails, but we know the conditions that make people liberal and conservative.
What makes people conservative is that you have to be responsible for someone other than yourself, and that you have mortgaged your present happiness for future security.
By that I mean when young people get married, it takes the concentration off themselves. They have a commitment … When they have children, they have responsibilities to other people. When they buy a home, they have a mortgage, so they postpone the satisfaction of the appetites.
But when you have $1.5 trillion in student debt and you have a life of Julia Pajama boy idol, and people are not getting married, they’re not having children, then this young hipster model is interested in all of these boutique issues.
But they’re not the issues that societies and civilizations are based on, which are: Do we have enough fuel? Do we have enough food? Do we have enough security? Are we financially sound? Are we replacing the species? Do we have sovereignty? And that’s what we need to do. You won’t get rid of socialism until you address that lifestyle with young people.
Part of it’s indoctrination in college. Part of it’s a residual of the ’60s generation. Part of it was the 2008 disruption in the economy. Part of it is the universities that not just indoctrinate people, but they’re sort of like in an 18th-century indentured servitude.
They get people to come in and mortgage their future with these student loans and then they have a hold over them, and we’ve got to break up that on multi-levels.
Bluey: One of the things that you write about frequently is the state of California. It’s among the most popular things for our Daily Signal audience.
Hanson: It is?
Bluey: Yeah, it is. Very interested to see what the Golden State is up to and doing. Can you share with us about the state of affairs here in California and what concerns you most?
Hanson: We have to start with the premise that in California, the more they raise taxes, the more they want, and the worst public services become.
By that, I mean we have the highest basket of sales, gasoline, and income tax, and we’re rated about 45 in test scores and about 48th-49th in infrastructure.
So where does the money go? It goes toward redistribution. We have the highest number of illegal aliens of any state. We have one of the costliest pension systems.
But these problems are cause in themselves that were a medieval society with a coastal strip from La Jolla to Berkeley, the wealthiest people in the history of civilization, the per capita income in San Mateo County is the highest in the nation.
Three trillion dollars of market capitalization, just two or three companies, and then regulations that are created by that class, and rules and taxation that drive the middle class out, but help the poor that are romantic. The middle class has no romance.
And so out that menu, it’s very depressing because we have a $13 billion surplus right now. And what’s California’s attitude after the elimination of state and local tax deductions in a high tax state, you’d think, “My gosh, we only have 160,000 returns and 40 million that are paying half of all the income tax, now they can’t write it off. They’re all going to go to Nevada or Florida, so we better at least lower taxes.”
No, their attitude is, “Let’s give them the inheritance tax back after 40 years. Let’s tax everything on the internet with the state tax, let’s tax sugar drinks, let’s tax restaurant bills.”
And where does this come from? It comes from a bunch of very wealthy people in La La Land with 70-degree weather 365 days a year that don’t know where their fuel, their food, their granite counters, or their aluminum refrigerators come from—and they have enough money not to worry about it. And they want to help the poor in the abstract.
Maybe it’s a psychological mechanism for never being with them, never putting their kids in the same school with them, never living next to them, and then despising the taste and the behavior of the middle class.
So it’s a toxic menu, California. And the only thing that will break it is that anything that can’t go on forever, won’t go on forever.
And that there’s an emerging Latino middle class and they’re asking, especially in the Central Valley, “Why do we pay the highest kilowatt rate in the country when we have all this natural gas? Why do we have the highest gasoline prices in the country? Why do we not have plentiful water in our lakes? Why are we laying out to the ocean? Or paying $100,000 per fish to replant salmon in the San Joaquin River?”
They are asking practical questions and the answer they’re getting is, “Shut up. We have open borders. We’re there to give amnesty, and you have more in common with somebody in Wahaca than you do with somebody in the lower-middle class who’s not Hispanic.” I don’t think that message is going to be continually persuasive.
Bluey: We can certainly hope that there is a of … the status quo here in California for the benefit of everybody.
You have been somebody who’s been critical of the media. When your book came out, and not only did you have maybe some personal experience about the media—
Hanson: I was called a Nazi by a Republican.
Bluey: What? … How can conservatives effectively combat this? We did so with The Heritage Foundation by creating our own news outlet. You obviously have a weekly column and do other things in the media. What would you say to our listeners or viewers? What’s your advice?
Hanson: Where I was attacked were three places. The worst. It was The New Yorker Magazine, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.
… I’ll give you an example. I did an Epoch Times podcast. … I didn’t know they had a podcast. I barely knew. The next thing I knew they had 500,000 listeners—500,000 people. That’s probably more than The New York Times circulation in most of California.
So the same thing with media and social media. There’s ways now of getting out the message without CBS, PBS, NPR, New York Times. That’s our only hope. I will say in passing though, the people who have been the most venomous and vicious and were the most prone to use the Nazis slur, “You’re a Nazi by writing a book for Trump-dash-Hitler,” was a Never Trump right.
I was attacked in The Bulwark by Gabriel Schoenfeld who said that I was Martin Heidegger writing for basically Trump-Hitler. And then I think Charles Sykes said that I was going to be taken down because I was a grifter.
This is somebody who doesn’t live in Washington or New York, never met Donald Trump, wanted to write an analysis of why people voted for him. That was a shock, and that was really disturbing to see the Republican establishment, or the former Republican establishment, stoop to that level.
Bluey: Do Never Trumpers have any sway though anymore?
Hanson: No. I think you and I know, and your listeners will probably agree, of all the people we meet who said, “I don’t like Hillary Clinton in 2016, but there was something about Trump’s comportment that prevents me from voting.”
If you ask those same people again, it’s not even a hesitation. “I’m going to vote for him in 2020.”
Whereas if you talk to people in  who voted for Trump, you never hear, “I’m not going to vote for him.” … They’re never going to say, “I’m not going to vote this time for him.”
What I’m getting at is they had zero, they had very little influence in 2016, but they have none now. And I think that’s pushed them into a sort of nihilism where their only role is to get conservatives angry.
… I think they feel that Trumpism is, to use a metaphor, like an egg shell and they’re tapping and irritating it all the while and they don’t see any fissures, but at some magical moment, if they just keep at it one last tap, all of a sudden the egg shell implodes and then they say, “See? It’s all destroyed and I’m going to come in like the proverbial Phoenix and out of the ashes. You listen to me and I can rebuild the party.”
As if Mitt Romney and John McCain and Jeb Bush were going to win Pennsylvania or Michigan.
Bluey: Victor Davis Hanson. The book again is called “The Case for Trump.” You can find his column at dailysignal.com. Thanks so much for being with us.
Hanson: Thank you.