Wattenberg says Trumpism was “an insurrection against Conservatism Inc.” — a political establishment that had become flabby, complacent, and self-indulgent in the same way that 1970s progressive rock music had grown bombastic, pretentious, and long-winded. Whereas Republicans before Trump had been terrified of deviating from orthodox positions on trade, the desirability of immigration, or the wisdom of the Iraq war, Trump thumbed his nose at this orthodoxy.
Then there’s Trump’s seeming amateurism — his “inexperience and rawness,” Wattenberg says. Just as punks weren’t trained musicians, Trump is frequently assailed for not playing politics the right way, that is, the professional way. When Wattenberg hears the media establishment pounce on Trump for falsehoods, misstatements, or exaggerations, he hears echoes of musical sophisticates belittling punk rock for its primitivism. Trump may get lost in the details, but he gets the big things attitudinally right. Put another way: He may know only three chords, but Wattenberg says his followers hear the “right three chords.”
He also sees in Trump a political manifestation of punk’s do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos. (By “do-it-yourself,” punks don’t mean changing the oil or remodeling your bathroom; it’s meant as a command: Write your own song. Paint your own painting.) Punk-rock bands created their own independent labels and staged gigs in small clubs or church basements. Trump lacked support from Republican Party elites in the same way that punks lacked support from major labels and promoters. So he ran a shoestring campaign and made himself recklessly accessible to the media in pursuit of free coverage.
Finally there is the transgressive appeal of Trump’s rejection of political correctness. Wattenberg says: “There’s power in that. Punks were also occasionally misrepresented as harboring fascist sympathies. Once they call you a fascist, there’s nothing more than they can say. That’s the source of excitement Milo [Yiannopoulos] generated on campus: ‘We’re free again.’ That’s the thrill and the power of busting taboos.”