The headline on this column summarizes the biggest takeaway from Monday night’s Iowa caucuses. Small-town Americans without a college education—those left behind by the economic transformations of the past two generations and plunged into an abyss of material insecurity—are sticking with their man: Donald J. Trump. Neither the allurements of a “responsible Trump” (Ron DeSantis) and a female George W. Bush (Nikki Haley) nor the prosecutorial pressures exerted by the establishment sufficed to overcome their gut preference. Everything else is minor details.

As The New York Times’ Nate Cohn noted, “the early results show an extraordinary educational divide.” To wit, Wall Street Journal editorial-page darling Nikki Haley thumped Trump “in districts where a majority of the population has a college degree.” By contrast, she barely managed “10 percent in many less-educated areas.”

“The GOP’s right-liberal elites can rage all they want.”

The GOP’s right-liberal elites can rage all they want. They can accuse the progressive media of being secretly in the tank for Trump (because they supposedly consider him the lesser threat to President Biden’s re-election). They can blame the Republican base for delivering the party to a nominee who faces numerous indictments and potential convictions, and who is sure to govern in an “erratic, heedless, highly personalized style,” as National Review’s editors griped. They might wish they could dissolve the Republican electorate and elect another. But none of that matters in the face of the populist upsurge that continues to transform the party into an outlet for a substantial segment of Left-Behind America.

The lessons for the liberal establishment are equally stark. The unprecedented lawfare campaign mounted against Trump has not only failed to stunt his comeback, but fueled it. Liberals might believe that Trump’s messy policy mix isn’t the answer to the malaise that has characterized our national life since at least the financial crisis.

But as Yale Law School’s Samuel Moyn has noted in these pages, what his populist challenge calls for is more, not less democracy. There is no prosecutorial shortcut around offering a broad and inclusive vision of political-economic reform—and actually listening to what the malcontents want.

Sohrab Ahmari is a founder and editor of Compact.


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