Steve Deace over at Conservative Review has a piece up entitled “Needed: A New Conservatism” (read it here). Deace claims that, much as the Democratic Party left Ronald Reagan, so the “Republican Party left” him. He argues that the debate over the soul of the conservative movement has hardened into Manichaean “Absolute Always Trumpers” and “Absolute Never Trumpers.” The former morphs its definition of conservatism to fit whatever President Trump does, while the latter refuses to give the president credit for anything. Neither is right, and Deace’s implication is that the conservative movement will not long endure amid this false dichotomy.
Deace offers four possible solutions for the conservative movement going forward:
1.) Grassroots conservatives and conservative positions should undertake a “hostile takeover” of the GOP.
2.) Conservatives should “bolster an existing third party,” like the Constitutional Party or the Libertarian Party.
3.) Conservatives should create a new third party (he proposes the Federalist Party, which it seems he now supports).
4.) Conservatives should engage with the churches and popular culture, a la the late Andrew Breitbart.
So, is the conservative movement in danger? Or is it merely adapting to new situations? There are certainly danger signs, like the inability of Republican majorities in the House and the Senate to repeal the Affordable Care Act; Speaker Paul Ryan’s insistence on making sweetheart budget deals out of Democrats’ wildest fantasies; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unwillingness to remove the arbitrary “60-votes” rule. Never Trumpers argue that Trump represents a danger to the future of the conservative movement.
All that said, it seems that conservatism–already a broad movement that encompasses within it many strains of thought–is shifting emphasis to face current perils, rather than undergoing a massive transformation. What we’re seeing is not the death of the conservative movement, per se, but a “new fusionism,” the likes of which conservatives haven’t witnessed since the formation of National Review.
Traditionally, conservatism has stood on three legs: national security conservatives, economic conservatives, and social conservatives. These three have some tension between them, but overall they produce great synergy (I argue that economic conservatism can’t endure for long without social conservatism at my blog, The Portly Politico; read more here). Trump merely tapped into a fourth, forgotten leg, one that had been dormant since the 1980s: the populist, working class one. That group had become the “forgotten man” of both major political parties–the down-and-out, out-of-work, demonized white Rust Belters. It also includes the “national conservatism” of immigration patriots who believe it is prudent to “cool” mass immigration.
Can that group be absorbed into the conservative movement without going down a path toward Bernie Sanders-style “democratic socialism”? It’s entirely possible. Will it be hard to reconcile Buchanite protectionism with establishment Republican neo-liberalism? Sure. But the Republican Party has always been a coalition. More importantly, it can be a powerful vehicle for a “new fusionist” conservatism. It just needs a thoughtful reconciliation of these different groups.
Easier said than done, right?
What do you think? What does the future of conservatism look like? Do Deace’s four options seem plausible? Which ones do or don’t? Let me know in the comments section below.
Tyler James Cook is a history and music teacher in South Carolina. He writes about politics and philosophy at his blog, The Portly Politico, at https://theportlypolitico.blogspot.com. He occasionally guest-hosts on In the Pickle Barrel on American Patriot Radio and contributes to the APR news section. He is currently working on an eBook on social conservatism, Values Have Consequences.