Donald Trump has been described as a populist, yet he imposes high tariffs on China. He has gained bipartisan support for this, but there are Republicans who do disagree. Populists, from what I've read, are against high tariffs. Ever since the Gilded Age, there were Republicans that were against high tariffs much like contemperary Democrat, William Jennings Bryan. Why do Trump's trade policies not align with Populist ideals and what are the similarities in the division of the Republican party now to the break in the party in 1909?

I'm doing a research paper on tariffs and I'm comparing Trump's current trade war with China and the high tariffs he's placed on them to the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909 signed by William Howard Taft, which was a high tariff on imports. Both time periods produced similar results; the Republican party split into two parties in 1909 and some Republicans are not on board with Trump's actions towards China, however, he has oddly received bipartisan support from some Democrats. I want to find out why these Republicans do not support high tariffs because I know other Democratic counterparts don't either. When I researched populism, I came across William Jennings Bryan and how he fought against high tariffs and I want to see if some Republicans have populist ideals.

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    Can you add where you've got the information that populists are against high tariffs by default? In my understanding, populists simply do and say whatever a major part of the people wants to hear, and do not care if it is reasonable, honest or in best interest of anyone. – miep Jan 24 '20 at 6:05
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    Populist is someone who supports ideas popular among common folk, opposite to elitist who supports ideas popular among wealthy and influential elite. High/low tariffs are not by default either populist or elitist. It depends on country and current situation. And currently elite in US mostly promotes free trade (because it suits their agenda, both politically and economically), while large parts of the population want some kind of protectionism (to safeguard their jobs mostly) . Trump as populist supports latter. – rs.29 Jan 24 '20 at 7:31
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    @puppetsock According to Woodwards book, Trump described himself as a populist. Others, including Politco, which has multiple quotes supporting its view, echo this characterization. – doneal24 Jan 24 '20 at 17:10
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    @rs.29: That is not really a good explanation of populist views on tariffs, especially in the current environment. They're really little more than an appeal to ignorant nativism, i.e. "protecting American jobs" - and never mind the fact that they hurt more than they help. – jamesqf Jan 25 '20 at 5:23
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    @jamesqf You are espousing you political opinions, which is perfectly fine, but without going into lengthy debate about economics , fact of the matter is that large part of US electorate wants tariffs because in their opinion they protect US jobs. It is also fact of the matter that Trump won elections with the promise of tariffs, and he has solid chance of winning another with the same policy. Therefore, tariffs are now popular idea, and Trump is a populist because he supports what people want. – rs.29 Jan 25 '20 at 13:26

Terms like populist and populism have multiple meanings, and their application (at least in the U.S.) is mostly a matter of opinion. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the connotation of populist has often been disapproving or derogatory. Wikipedia says:

Populism refers to a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of "ordinary people" and often juxtapose this group against "the elite". The term developed in the 19th century and has been applied to various politicians, parties, and movements since that time, although has rarely been chosen as a self-description. Within political science and other social sciences, several different definitions of populism have been employed, with some scholars proposing that the term be rejected altogether.

Use of the terms (without further qualification) leads to confusion and contradictions like your question implies. The following definition from Jeffersonian Populism by Kevin Shafer may help:

What is populism? First, it is not an ideology. It is a message frame defined by a distrust of large institutions and faith in the common person. Defined that way, it is easy to see how much it has colored the themes of successful presidential campaigns, from Jefferson to Jackson to Reagan to Clinton and Bush to Obama.

If we accept that populism is not a ideology, but more a style of political speech, statements like "Populists, from what I've read, are against high tariffs" become over-generalizations. The term populist is better applied to specific political speech than to political parties.

Thus Republican's, like most U.S. parties, have delivered messages using populist themes, throughout history. Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863. While this was before the term populist came into common usage, under definitions cited above, it could arguably described as populist for the declared goal that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

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