Thanks to @dan_oppenheimer for writing this profile, published today @TexasMonthly!— Gladden Pappin (@gjpappin) December 16, 2020
“The University of Dallas professor is urging Republicans to build a post-Trump, big-tent, big-spending party that’s economically populist and socially conservative” https://t.co/gBgk7Gjv1i
This is also a nice thought.
The Oren Cass/Julius Krein/Michael Lind wing of the GOP which wants to build a “pro-worker conservatism” that is responsive to populist values and interests would definitely be an improvement over the status quo. As we saw in the debate between Charles C.W. Cooke and Rusty Reno though, there is no appetite in the GOP for changing its policy agenda.
“Gladden Pappin’s last task, before he headed off to an election night party on November 3, was to teach an undergraduate class on Marsilius of Padua, a fourteenth-century Italian critic of the papacy. Pappin ended by hinting at the subject of his next lecture: the Great Schism, the four decades of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries when rival popes battled for control of the Church. It was an era of crumbling institutions, political realignment, and deep anxiety. A resonant topic, in other words, for our times, and good grist for Pappin, a 38-year-old assistant professor of politics at the University of Dallas and a rising star in the American conservative intellectual firmament. …
What he sees—in Trump’s 2016 victory, in the results of the 2020 election, and in more subterranean shifts in conservative politics—is the possibility of a new kind of Republican party. It is one that is economically populist, culturally conservative, multiracial, cautious about the use of military power, and, above all, comfortable with the exercise of state power. It’s a big-government conservatism in both the economic and cultural spheres, more generous with social benefits, more prudish about sex, and more Christian in atmospherics if not in explicit doctrine. “The base is already there,” says Pappin, who is working on a book on the future of the American right. “It’s broader even than what the Republicans can appeal to right now.” …
What united Pappin with many of his fellow conservative travelers as he went from Harvard to academic jobs at a series of Catholic institutions was a growing dissatisfaction with the GOP establishment. One of his gripes was that Republican candidates would whip up culture war hysteria to get elected and then do little about issues such as abortion, gay rights, and pornography. But Pappin and his confreres were also taking an unusually hard look at the economic, technological, and environmental order that the Republicans, even more than the Democrats, had ushered into being. Was this a society that was structured for the good of its citizens, they asked, or for its corporations, their shareholders, and the “managerial elite” who ran them? And if the latter, then was the answer for conservatives to keep promoting small government, or the opposite—to start imagining a big government that was both conservative in the values it promoted and economically redistributive? …
Pappin is not naive about the future of his party or movement. If something like his vision succeeds, it will be the work of years or decades and will depend not just on charismatic new political candidates but on the education and training of hundreds or thousands of mid-level functionaries—legislative aides, think tank analysts, committee staffers—who can translate the big ideas into the minutiae of policy. It will depend, above all, on new allegiances of donors and corporate interests. “Economic power wins in this country,” he says, “and until we have some sectors of economic power aligned with the national interest, then you won’t really see the realignment.”
The Sohrab Ahmari/Gladden Pappin vision of a pro-worker conservatism and realignment is doomed at least in the short term for the following reasons:
1.) First, these people don’t understand the social conservatism of populist voters, which is different in key ways from the social conservatism of mainstream conservatives. White populists are less animated by Religious Right issues like abortion and homosexuality than identitarianism.
Whereas 2% of Free Marketeers (i.e., True Cons) say that being of European descent is important to being American, 47% of American Preservationists believe this. Similarly, 17% of Free Marketeers say that their race is important to their identity compared to 67% of American Preservationists. 29% of Free Marketeers say Christian identity is important to being truly America compared to 77% of American Preservationists. 86% of American Preservationists say that “being born in America” is important to being truly American compared to 38% of Free Marketeers. In other words, the mainstream Right becomes progressively more modernist the higher it goes up the income scale and the further it goes into libertarian land.
Conservatives like Sohrab Ahmari suffer from the delusion that the GOP adjacent group of populists and nationalists who voted for Trump in 2016 was not the “Far Right.” Where is the “Far Right” though in the American electorate? The overwhelming majority of it is to the Left of conservatives because these voters are more ethnocentric, more financially stressed and more moderate on economics than conservatives. These people are identitarians who are against political correctness. Conservatives are unwilling to reckon with the fact that millions of White people strongly value their racial identity.
Moderate voters of all races share similar views about a wide variety of issues, but differ on race and identity. The flip side of the “Far Right” being in the middle is that black voters who are also in the middle support Black Lives Matter. Lower income voters in general are more ethnocentric. The difference is that the Left makes full throated identity based appeals to black voters and even endorses conspiracy theories like systematic racism whereas the Right is afraid of doing the same with Whites. It retreats into classical liberalism, celebrating capitalism and goofy complaints about “identity politics.”
2.) Second, there is no appetite in the GOP for economic populism or pro-worker conservatism, which is currently on display in Congress in the strong resistance in the GOP to sending out a second stimulus check and agonizing over whether it should be $600 or $1,200. Democrats are far more supportive of economic populism than Republicans. The GOP is internally divided over economics.
The Free Marketeer or True Cons wing of the GOP will resist any attempt to move toward the Center on economics and denounce it as “socialism.” It is out of touch with the mainstream on taxes, health care and the environment. The “deficit hawks” are already signaling their return. Even if the GOP managed to thread the needle on social identity issues and win over White populists while also attracting disaffected black and Hispanic voters (all it would take is not repressing White identity and breaking the norms of political correctness on race), it would still be thwarted by both its donors and the Kevin Williamson libertarian wing. The recent TAC podcast lamented the fact that conservatives got into power in the Trump White House and pushed their own agenda to the detriment of Trump’s political base.
3.) Third, populists have wised up to the fact that the GOP only cares about libertarian economics. Conservative judges are libertarian judges in practice that rule in favor of business interests and against social conservatives. See the Kansas voter registration ID law, the recent decision on not taking up transgenderism and bathrooms and Mike Lee’s visa giveaway bill. There is no appetite in the GOP for pushing any type of social conservatism whether it is the traditional variety of the Religious Right or the identitarianism and opposition to political correctness of White populists.