Charles C.W. Cooke, the editor of National Review, speaks for the Free Marketeers and defends Zombie Conservatism.
Insofar as it represents anything more than a post hoc rationalization for President Donald Trump‘s caprice, the postmortem for the pre-2015 Republican Party reads as follows. By the 1980s, a set of serious problems had arrived in the United States. Thankfully, President Ronald Reagan and his fellow travelers had good answers to these problems and, by and large, they managed to solve them. But, having done so, the Republican Party and its friends within the institutionalized conservative movement failed to move on. Instead, they decided that the platform of 1980 was immutably true and necessary, and that it was applicable to all places and all times. And so, in 2015, the party rebelled and nominated a politician who saw things differently. That politician, Donald Trump, managed to win the nomination, ascend to the presidency and recast the movement in his image. These changes are likely to be permanent. R.I.P., Reagan. Long live Trump! Amen. …”
Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, speaks for the Religious Right and the Country First Conservatives or Staunch Conservatives.
“It’s long past time for American conservatism to change course. In 2020, we face a crisis of solidarity. Our political programs, left and right, need to re-tie the strands of our society that have come undone in recent decades. For conservatives, that means adopting a nationalist-populist platform.
Nationalism does not mean nationalization. It is not an assault on our free market tradition. Instead, nationalism requires rebalancing policy priorities away from greater globalization and toward the restoration of an integral domestic economy. …”
Here is what is so amusing about this debate:
Conservatives have always been two groups.
Charles C.W. Cooke represents the Business Conservatives or Core Conservatives or Free Marketeers. We call them the True Cons. This group is represented by Turning Point USA and National Review.
Rusty Reno represents the Religious Right or Staunch Conservatives or Steadfast Conservatives or Country First Conservatives. Reno represents the social conservatives. They are the Christian conservatives.
Republicans, however, are now four groups.
The populists and nationalists are the Disaffected or Embittered or Hard-Pressed Skeptics or Market Skeptic Republicans or “American Preservationists.” This group is moderates who are social conservatives and economic populists and who are at odds with the Free Marketeers.
The cultural libertarians are the Libertarians or Upbeats or Young Outsiders or New Era Enterprisers or Anti-Elites. This group is moderates who are more liberal on social issues and pro-free market.
There are four Republicans groups now, not two, which differ on religion and social issues. The two moderate groups are more likely to say than Core Conservatives that belief in God is necessary to be moral. Religion for them is more of an identity issue. At the same time, they are less interested in social issues like abortion and homosexuality. They are also more likely to be religious, but unaffiliated.
The two conservative groups combined are something like 30% to 40% of the electorate. They were 32% of the electorate in 2020. This was up significantly from 2016 when they were 22.7% of the electorate. The CNN exit poll had conservatives at 38% of the 2020 electorate.
The bottom line is that conservatives are not a majority of voters. Conservatives are more like 1/3rd of voters who are concentrated in the South and Midwest.
Devout and Diverse Democrats, a Democrat-leaning group of moderates, have more in common with religious and social conservatives. They lean toward the Democrats though because of race and economics. 25% of them voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. In fact, the Market Skeptic Republicans and Devout and Diverse Democrats are more similar than different in their politics. A large percentage of these voters though are older black Democrats who are unshakeable Democrats.
The upshot of all this is to say that this post-Trump debate between conservatives isn’t a debate between Republican voters. The Republican Party is out of alignment with both its own voters and the wider electorate and paid the price for it when Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. He lost considerable support among the American Preservationists and Anti-Elites who were half of his voters in the 2016 election.
Charles C.W. Cooke writes:
“Indeed, I cannot stress enough how bizarre it would be to point to Donald Trump as evidence that the GOP has changed meaningfully on policy, given that the standout achievements of Trump’s presidency—the ones to which Trump and his defenders themselves point with pride—are a massive tax cut inspired by former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI); the stocking of the federal judiciary with originalist judges, selected with the counsel of the Federalist Society; an attempt to repeal Obamacare that was ultimately killed not by the president, but by the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ); an all-of-the-above pro-life agenda; widespread, executive-led regulatory relief; the moving of the Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the tearing up of the Iran nuclear deal; and a criminal justice reform bill that, while laudable, flew directly in the face of almost everything Donald Trump has ever said on the matter and was opposed by almost everybody who is currently touting a new approach to conservatism.
Think back to 2015 and ask yourself whether the presidency we just lived through was what you imagined it would be? Did you expect Donald Trump would wait until the Republicans had lost control of the House of Representatives to try to build his wall? Did you expect him to talk as much as he did about the stock market and the profits of large corporations? Did you expect he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to find so few areas of policy disagreement? I didn’t. …
All told, this was a fairly standard record, which would not have looked that much different had it been assembled by President Mitt Romney.
Which is to say: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. On almost every question outside of his behavior, Trump really was la même chose. And why wouldn’t he have been, given that the evidence against the “zombie consensus” is so weak? …
But, as a general matter, there has been no great overhaul of American conservatism with which we must contend. That a figure as mercurial as Donald Trump was pushed so quickly into the longstanding policy mold should provide as good a piece of evidence for this as we are likely to come by in this life or the next.”
I agree with all of this.
This is also my take on the Trump presidency. It is why he lost the 2020 election. There was never a chance that Trump was going to win the Rust Belt in 2020 after governing like Ronald Reagan. This is why Trump’s coalition shrank and Joe Biden was able to rebuild the Blue Wall.
Moderate voters liked the way candidate Trump talked in 2016. It seemed like a breath of fresh air at the time. They disliked the way he governed and the message he ran on in 2020. Trump won more conservatives and Republicans while losing moderates and Independents. As Charles C.W. Cooke says, there was no great overhaul of American conservatism and the result was the loss of the House of Representatives in 2018, the White House in 2020 and likely the Senate in 2021. Donald Trump also won’t be on the ballot in 2022 to lift conservative Republicans in Congress.
The 2016 and 2020 elections were like a social science experiment in Zombie Reaganism. In 2016, Trump ran as a populist and nationalist and won. In 2020, he ran as a conservative and lost the election although he still didn’t lose as badly as Mitt Romney. Trump’s performance in the electoral college improved to the extent that it was distressing to people like Charles C.W. Cooke and Ben Shapiro.
Rusty Reno writes:
“Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood are hubs of the global economy. They have strong economic interests in the global system, as it is currently configured. These power centers are therefore tempted to collapse America’s interests into the singular goal of sustaining the international order—which is likely to happen in the upcoming Biden administration, as it did in the Obama administration. A conservative with nationalist inclinations is a populist because he resists the efforts of the richest Americans to define the nation’s interests in terms of their own interests. …
I urge Republicans to leave to Democrats the ugly habit of denouncing our fellow citizens (“racist,” “bigots,” etc.). Let us be nationalists—which is to say, citizens who are proud to share this great country with the more than 330 million others who, while often misguided and wrongheaded, and sometimes just plain crazy, are our fellow Americans.
And let us be populists. There’s a lot to be angry about—not the least being the arrogance of our ruling class, which, when it faces the ruin that has occurred under its watch, blames the country and derides very nearly half the nation as “takers” and “deplorables.”
1 out of every 5 Republicans is a Democrat on economics. Whereas the Democrats are unified on economics, the Free Marketeers or True Cons are out of touch with Market Skeptic Republicans.
As usual, everything that Rusty Reno says is true in his article.
The problem that White populists and nationalists (i.e., Market Skeptic Republicans) have with the Republican Party isn’t Rusty. Charles and people with his mindset are the problem. They are far outside of the mainstream on economics and their modernist and cosmopolitan views on social identity issues (see the chart above) are extremely out of touch with White populist voters.
Let me be crystal clear on this:
The problem is not that the GOP refuses to endorse building a White ethnostate.
The problem is not that the GOP wants to appeal to non-White voters. Many of those voters are actually closer to us on economic issues, foreign policy and even immigration.
The problem is not that the GOP doesn’t want to bring back the Jim Crow era or something.
The problem is that the GOP is cucked on race and cowed by political correctness and has “no place” in the Republican Party for ethnocentric White populist voters. Basically, White populists are sick of being told by modernists that being proud of their race and culture is “racism” and immoral and shameful.