His stance on Wall Street banks certainly isn't the only place where Trump has positioned himself as more progressive than the ostensibly uber-progressive Hillary Clinton. His stances on trade and spending place him firmly to the left of traditional Republican positions and Clinton herself. His eschewing of big-pocketed donors during his largely self-funded campaign also puts him in a unique position for a Republican — able to legitimately criticize a Democratic opponent for being potentially beholden to special interests.
The case of Glass-Steagall is particularly interesting, though.
After all, it's always been a tenuous argument that the repeal, signed by Hillary Clinton's husband Bill during his presidency, caused the financial crisis. Three of the crisis's biggest villains — investment banks Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, along with insurance giant American International Group — would not have come under the act's auspices. In fact, of the firms that truly needed a bailout, only Citigroup had direct relevance to Glass-Steagall.
Still, it's become a sticking point in the post-crisis debate, and Trump's willingness to bring it back on the books — however unlikely its approval is from a Congressional standpoint — represents a sharp poke in the eye to Wall Street. If the measure is approved, it would require the Street's largest institutions to disband. It's little wonder, then, why the finance world poured $35 million into Clinton's campaign coffers.
"The Clinton campaign has refused to support the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, even though the Democratic party platform is supportive of doing so," analysts Isaac Boltansky and Alison Ashburn at Compass Point Research and Trading said in a note to clients.
"We view the GOP call for reintroducing the Glass-Steagall Act as part of a broader political gambit intended to position the Trump campaign to the left of Clinton on financial services issues in order to promote a narrative that she is cozy with Wall Street and possibly even entice some Sanders supporters," they added.
There actually is a bill pending in the Senate to reinstitute the act. However, it has only one Republican sponsor, which is kind of the beauty for Trump: He gets to sound like a populist without having to face any real-world consequences. In turn, he forces Clinton to adopt a position that will be detrimental to her largest donors.
"Trump's actions will likely force Clinton to compensate by reiterating and expanding her calls for increased scrutiny of the shadow banking system, which could pose additional headline risk for asset managers, global insurers, and non-bank lenders," the Compass Point analysts said.
Meanwhile back in Cleveland, Trump's supporters aren't keeping a scorecard showing on which side of the political divide he falls. (It's especially interesting to note that Trump both supports the repeal of the Dodd-Frank reforms, and also wants Glass-Steagall back on the books. The two positions appear directly contradictory.)
If some of his positions seem to veer to the left, that's just fine so long as he is giving voice to all the disaffected voters who have heard his call.
Buckley, the George Mason professor, said many of those at the convention deem the current Wall Street regulatory climate and the bailouts of eight years ago as "consumer protection for billionaires" and wouldn't mind if Trump turns up the heat.
"Trump has demonstrated in an economy where the gains aren't shared uniformly across the populace, just talking about growth isn't going to do it," he said. "What he's really trying to do is to connect with ordinary Americans who have not been won over by a whole bunch of orthodox right-wing principles."