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A New Conservatism?

A New Conservatism?

Dear Reader —

In 1955, an enterprising young iconoclast and Yale graduate founded National Review, a journal of opinion that quickly became a rallying point for post-war conservative intellectuals, helping to forge a new vision of American conservatism. In the twenty-five years that followed, America saw the resounding defeat of Barry Goldwater, a presidential candidate who embraced many of the principles of the New Right, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, the social tumult of the 1960s and 70s and the backlash of Nixon’s “silent majority,” Watergate, and an economic collapse. Only then did a famous almost-septuagenarian from Hollywood — who combined social conservatism with libertarianism along with strong national defense and anti-communism — defeat an incumbent president to become the 40th president of the United States.

Thus Ronald Reagan became the political embodiment of an intellectual movement spearheaded by William F. Buckley Jr. a quarter of a century earlier. In the decades leading up to Reagan’s victory, the Grand Old Party was transformed from a party primarily associated with the Northern industrial elite to a coalition of Chicago-school economists, business elites, disaffected liberals, blue-collar workers, constitutional conservatives, pro-lifers, and old Dixiecrats.

Today, Donald Trump may be effectuating a similar transformation — moving the GOP away from Buckley’s “fusionism” toward something new. But toward what, exactly? Though Trump’s victory is surely the result of deeper, longer-term trends, his transformation of the GOP, unlike Reagan’s, does not draw on a political philosophy honed over several decades. Still, one can trace its broad outline: a populist nationalism distrustful of political elites and their technocratic liberalism and the “administrative state” that is their preferred mechanism of governance.

And yet, despite last November — and the best efforts of some iconoclastic conservative intellectuals — Trumpism has not coalesced. With mixed messages on health care and tax reform as well as foreign policy and trade, President Trump has begun to spook some of his supporters, who fear having been pandered to and used like the old party’s base. To make good on his promise to weaken the power of federal agencies — if not to “deconstruct” entirely the administrative state — the president will need Congress’ help, lest his reforms be summarily reversed by the next Democratic administration. But the Congressional Republicans are hardly a model of cohesion, either. 

Only time will tell whether President Trump is remembered as a vehicle for a new conservative fusionism or another self-interested pragmatist, unmoored from principles — or something in between.

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past two weeks. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


Something Is Breaking Our Politics & It’s Not Social Media. Vox’s Ezra Klein spotlights new research that suggests social media may not be the cause of political polarization.

On the Liberal Cult of the Cognitive Elite. The Baffler’s Rick Perlstein critiques what he sees as modern liberalism’s equation of intelligence with moral value.

Opposing Everything Is the Wrong Way to Stop Trump. In The New Republic, John B. Judis urges Democrats to consider a different strategy.

Will the Far Right Save Democratic Progressives? In The American Prospect, Talmon Joseph Smith suggests the clash between President Trump and the House Freedom Caucus could inadvertently help Democrats.

The Constitution Can’t Save Us. Also in The New Republic, Ganesh Sitaraman contends that today’s constitutional crisis is driven by economic inequality.  

Did a Revolution Just Occur? City Journal’s Myron Magnet considers what Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation might mean for democratic self-governance and the administrative state.

Do Not Resuscitate the American Health Care Act. In our own pages, Kerrie Rushton argues that proposals to fix the Republicans’ repeal/replace bill miss the mark. 

GOP Border Tax Will Build a Wall Around Consumers. Also in our pages, Matthew Kandrach urges GOP lawmakers to drop the proposed border-adjustment tax. 

What the Freedom Caucus Stands For. The Washington Post’s George F. Will contends that President Trump’s feud with conservatives in Congress is ill-fated.

In Defense of Think Tanks. Also in RealClearPolicy, Christopher DeMuth outlines the role that think tanks can play in shaping public policy today. 

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