The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | Democrats need to embrace populism

The Republicans have used populism to win elections, and it’s time for Democrats to do the same.
Cody Blissett
Former President and 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the annual Lincoln Dinner at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on Friday, July 28, 2023.

Populism wins.

Despite two impeachments during his one term, four criminal indictments with a whopping total of 91 counts, and one viral mugshot, former President Donald Trump is still the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and it’s not even close.

How did a man that’s so controversial establish such an unshakable base? The answer is populism. But populism doesn’t only work for people as reckless and lawless as Donald Trump. Populism is a necessary tool for good candidates to win elections and establish desperately needed laws and legislation in this country.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, populism is defined as a “political program or movement that champions, or claims to champion, the common person, usually by favorable contrast with a real or perceived elite or establishment.”

In the case of Trump, the “claims to champion” is very important.

The former President is one of the most prominent pseudo-populists in the history of American politics. While his actions were certainly not that of a populist, such as his 2017 tax cuts that mostly benefited the highest earners in America, his unfiltered and brash mouth and constant mentions of “the swamp” has led millions of voters to believe that he is the guy to take down the political establishment.

While he may talk the talk and not walk the walk, in 2016, he pulled off one of the most shocking electoral upsets in the history of the U.S., defeating Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, even though she was overwhelmingly favored to win.

American voters chose a loose cannon over a traditionally qualified and experienced candidate because they realized the system that Clinton embodied did not work for them. As outlandish and ridiculous as Trump is, they are tired of the system that obviously works against the middle and working class.

The problem isn’t that American voters think that there is a political establishment that works to serve the wealthiest people and corporations because there undeniably is. Lobbyists spent $4 billion in 2022 trying to get benefits and tax cuts for the corporations and organizations they represent. The economic system of the U.S. is rigged so severely that as of 2019, the three richest Americans have more wealth than the poorest half of the country.

The problem is that Republicans have figured out how to play into voters’ desire for populism without actually changing the system, many of which are influenced by Trump, such as Ron DeSantis.

There is a shining example of how populism works for the Democrats, and his name is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. As of 2020, he was the most favorably viewed U.S. senator. It took deliberate efforts from the Democratic National Committee to derail his presidential bid in both 2016 and 2020. It was because of his populist appeal that the DNC shut him down; they feared that his populism was a threat to his electability and to their donors.

Republicans may not be populists, but their ability to act like it helps them win elections that should be slam dunks for the Democrats. Democrats should go beyond populist rhetoric and embrace populist policy in the name of consistently winning elections and establishing good policies that can create a fair economy that works for everyone, not just the rich.

Whether we like it or not, populism wins.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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About the Contributors
Evan Weidl
Evan Weidl, Opinions Editor
Evan Weidl is a senior majoring in political science. He previously worked in the opinions section as a columnist.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.