Trump Is Offering Populism, Minus the Free Candy

The bill has lots of money to fight the opioid epidemic and to invest in communities left behind by the modern economy. There is money to prop up troubled health insurance markets, so that Mr. Trump can say he has replaced Obamacare with something better. There are a trillion dollars for public infrastructure — not some complex tax credit that favors revenue-generating projects in affluent areas, but the brute force of government dollars to build roads and bridges in every corner of the nation.

Each project, of course, will have a big sign crediting the Make America Great Again Act with a big photo of Mr. Trump flashing a thumbs up.

To help keep conservatives and business interests on board with all that spending, the bill loosens environmental laws and bank regulations, among other policy goodies that make C.E.O.s’ hearts flutter. But it wouldn’t achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate unless packaged with those aforementioned goodies that appeal to Democrats. Maybe it could increase the minimum wage, but also include a tax credit for companies that hire American workers to offset the cost to businesses.

The government would pay for it all with higher deficits. Free candy for everyone! The cost — in the form of higher interest rates and perhaps inflation — would come later. It’s the kind of bill that anti-spending conservatives would complain about, and die-hard anti-Trump liberals would resist. Cobbling together a coalition to pass it may not be easy, but a savvy deal maker could plausibly attract enough bipartisan support to make it law — and in the process maybe build trust for further deal making down the road.

My MAGA Act is hypothetical, but in the weeks after the election, the idea that Mr. Trump would emulate European and Latin American populists — who are often staunch defenders of social welfare programs and enthusiasts of showy public works projects — seemed plausible.

Mr. Trump has often been compared to the right-wing Latin American populists who, like him, have used machismo, opposition to elites and personal grandiosity (“I alone can fix it,” as Mr. Trump said) to win elections. His nationalist, anti-immigration “America First” message also resembles that of European nationalists.

Juan Perón, the president of Argentina from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s and again briefly in the 1970s, is among the most famous of the Latin American populists and one whose personality has been compared to Mr. Trump’s. But while Perón had an authoritarian approach, his policies included a universal public pension and universal access to health care. He spent lavishly on public works projects.

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Juan Perón, the Argentine president from 1946 to 1955, knew how to be popular.

Credit
El Dia De La Plata/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

More recently, Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador from 2007 until…

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