The New York media mogul approached his party’s convention having already shaken the political system: The power brokers had attacked him as a dangerous rogue, mocked his hairstyle and branded him a “low voluptuary” for his colorful personal life. And yet William Randolph Hearst loomed over the St. Louis gathering as a threat to seize the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Mr. Hearst, a publisher of lurid tabloid newspapers serving his first term in Congress, was crushed in the balloting as the party leaders of 1904 rejected him. His message — a blend of populist economic policies and muscular nationalism, sometimes called “Hearstism” — would await another standard-bearer, at another time.
More than a century later, Donald J. Trump is poised to do what Mr. Hearst could not: claim a major party’s nomination for president of the United States. His candidacy has upended the Republican Party, baffling and then vanquishing opponents who dismissed him as a celebrity sideshow. Even now, many prefer to treat his success as a freak occurrence without precedent in United States history.
But if Mr. Trump will be the first figure of his kind to claim a presidential nomination, his candidacy falls within an American tradition of insurgent politics that has found expression in other moments of social and economic rupture, often attaching itself to folk heroes from the world of big business or the military.
His hazy political philosophy, often labeled “Trumpism,” draws on themes of American identity and sovereignty — preoccupations that have convulsed one party or the other from time to time, before subsiding.
And consciously or not, Mr. Trump has followed a path trod for more than a century by nationalist outsiders who coveted the presidency, from Hearst to Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Ross Perot. Like them, he has presented himself as an archetype of American ingenuity and grit — a tough, patriotic businessman — and offered himself as a champion against swirling international forces that he describes, in conspiratorial terms, as undermining the United States.
His running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, hailed Mr. Trump in a “60 Minutes” interview as a heroic leader who “embodies American strength.”
Walter F. Mondale, the former vice president and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, said he saw Mr. Trump as an heir to a tradition of isolationism and cultural paranoia that surfaces from time to time as a “recurrent theme” in American politics. Mr. Trump, he said, had articulated a familiar exhortation “for America to withdraw from the world, that we have only threats coming from abroad.”
William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher who ran for president in 1904. Credit via The Library of Congress
Mr. Mondale, 88, said Mr. Trump appeared determined to undermine American traditions of internationalism and multiculturalism. He called Mr. Trump a “hate advocate.”
“His attack on Mexicans, on judges, on immigrants of all kinds — it all has this ‘We have to protect ourselves from them’ theme,” Mr. Mondale said.
Historians see in Mr. Trump’s candidacy the winding together of different strains in reactionary politics under a single banner. No reality television star has run for president before, but Mr. Trump, with his grasp of the art of notoriety, has forebears of a kind in General MacArthur and Charles A. Lindbergh, the celebrity aviator whose “America First” slogan Mr. Trump has appropriated, and in Hearst and Henry Ford, a pair of renowned and eccentric tycoons who eyed the presidency.