At the outset of the 2016 presidential campaign, Chris Christie, then the governor of New Jersey, sensed a yearning within a changed Republican Party for a populist voice—for a political figure who knew how to speak bluntly for the burgeoning ranks of working-class voters in the GOP.
Yet he also made his presidency almost entirely about himself personally rather than the broader movement he was trying to lead. “This guy was totally unaware of both the machinery that is available to him and how the whole team should be working together,” says Edwin Feulner, longtime leader of the conservative Heritage Foundation and head of domestic policy on the initial Trump transition team. That personalization prevented the Trump movement from sinking deep roots. As American Compass, an organization of young, conservative economic thinkers, concluded in a retrospective analysis: “Trumpism cannot be declared a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’ because it did not exist. The administration, which neither emerged from nor erected institutional infrastructure or an intellectual framework, lacked both overarching vision and an integrated policy agenda.”