With his background and personality, Trump is so obviously sui generis that it is tempting to say his views are alien to the American foreign policy tradition. They aren’t; it is just that this strain of thinking has been dormant for some time. There are particular echoes of Sen. Robert Taft, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination in 1940, 1948 and 1952, and was widely seen as the leader of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Taft was a staunch isolationist and mercantilist who opposed U.S. aid for Britain before 1941. After the war, he opposed President Harry Truman’s efforts to expand trade. Despite being an anti-communist, he opposed containment of the Soviet Union, believing that the United States had few interests in Western Europe. He opposed the creation of NATO as overly provocative. Taft’s speeches are the last time a major American politician has offered a substantive and comprehensive critique of America’s alliances.
Trump’s populism, divisiveness and friendliness toward dictators is also reminiscent of Charles Lindbergh, once an American hero, who led the isolationist America First movement. In some areas, Trump’s views go back even further, to 19th-century high-tariff protectionism and every-country-for-itself mercantilism. He even invokes ancient Chinese history, telling Bill O’Reilly last August that his idea for a wall across the U.S.-Mexican border is feasible because “you know, the Great Wall of China, built a long time ago, is 13,000 miles. I mean, you're talking about big stuff.”