Peggy Noonan is the only Wall Street Journal op-ed regular who does not hyperventilate at the mention of “The Donald.” Despite hanging with the beautiful people in Manhattan, Ms. Noonan stays admirably in touch with Middle Americans – perhaps because of her frequent travels to the heartland, although it is difficult to see Ms. Noonan staying in a Motel 6.
This past Saturday, Ms. Noonan opened a window on the Trump candidacy by an examination of Ronald Reagan. She wrote:
… People continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude. In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s “optimism.” That was his power, they say—he was optimistic. No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss. Reagan’s power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem—the economy, the Soviets, the million others—he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done. What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.
Noonan never says that confidence is the source of Donald Trump’s support; she doesn’t need to. The importance of her observation really concerns the American voter. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” baseball cap slogan and his “I’ll make the greatest deal EVER” rhetoric feeds a hunger on which Noonan has put her finger.
But of course Ronald Reagan’s confidence is not Donald Trump’s confidence. The confidence of Ronald Reagan came not from an uncritical belief that he is the smartest guy in the room, or will inevitably best his adversaries, but from the belief that his political principles were correct – and, as Noonan wrote, that the American people and the American system will prevail. The hunger which Trump satisfies, like a Chinese meal, may be soon to return.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.