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I don't think Trump was perceived as a moderate at all.

He absolutely was.

It’s true that Trump is president, but it’s not true that Trump ran and won as an ideological extremist. He paired extremely offensive rhetoric on racial issues with positioning on key economic policy topics that led him to be perceived by the electorate as a whole as the most moderate GOP nominee in generations. His campaign was almost paint-by-numbers pragmatic moderation. He ditched a couple of unpopular GOP positions that were much cherished by party elites, like cutting Medicare benefits, delivered victory, and is beloved by the rank and file for it.

* * *

Trump ran as an Iraq War proponent who vowed to avoid new Middle Eastern military adventures, as an opponent of cutting Social Security and Medicare (and Medicaid), and as the first-ever Republican candidate to try to position himself as an ally to the LGBTQ community — going so far as to actually speak the words “LGBTQ.”

Trump was, similarly, seen as much less conservative than Mitt Romney, John McCain, or George W. Bush, perhaps for the very sensible reason that he’d abandoned the conservative positions on the main issues of Bush-era politics.

That's where Trump was in 2016 - a Republican who was far to the left of the party on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and international trade. Again, he was the solution to the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" critique of the GOP base - a Republican who didn't want to gut the social safety net. If you look at the chart in that article, only 47% of voters viewed Trump as a conservative - 101-15 points less than any recent Republican nominee.

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