The Liberty Expose: The New Republicans?

President Trump may believe he won in a landslide, but he didn’t. Like Presidents Adams (1824), Hayes, Harrison (1888), and Bush (2000), President Trump has the Electoral College to thank for his victory. However, the actual landslide victors of not only this election, but of the previous, is the Republican Party as a whole. With control of 33 legislatures, 32 governors, and the congress, the party is at its most powerful since the Civil War. However, there is a paradox: this takeover was not spearheaded by a conservative, or even a traditional “establishment” Republican. Rather, it is led by a Republican who has built an image predicated on anti-conservative principles. This places the GOP in a perplexing situation, and an uncertain future.

Last February, the American Conservative Union held its annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). CPAC hosts a variety of conservative politicians and intellectuals, typically of the traditional Republican cadre. However, this year brought a unique (and almost unthinkable duo) to the same stage: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The former represented the establishment wing of the party, the later representing the new populist coalition. The meeting was otherwise unimportant and without substance, but the language and ideology presented by the two White House officials were not. When asked about coalition building, Priebus mentioned a coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and others of the center-right. Bannon spoke of populists and economic nationalists - terms that would have been blasphemy in Republican circles up until recently. This illustrates the ideological crossroads of the Republican Party - a division between the traditional conservatives, centrists, libertarians that adhere to the ideas of Burke and Locke, and those of the so-called “New Coalition”– populists, nationalists, and others who view policy through the sphere of identity.  

There are those who embrace the potential of an ideological shift in the GOP - those who would gleefully replace Burke with Bannon. They cite that the Conservative ideas formerly promoted have lost its appeal, with one Trump advisor going as far as to say that Regan couldn’t win a Republican primary today. President Trump and the populist faction endorse “fair trade”, punishment of companies that leave the U.S. for nations such as Mexico, another Russian reset (formerly pursued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), and the promotion of identity politics. Fair Trade refers to their claim that the United States is being ripped off countries such as Mexico, which, in theory, “prospers” by being the primary benefactor in trade deals and by being the recipient of jobs that formerly belonged to working class Americans. 

There has been much speculation as to why the President has such a warm outlook to Russia, despite much of his security staff remaining skeptical to the revanchist power. Some cry conspiracy—I claim ego; Putin is nice to Trump, so Trump is nice to Putin. (I will explore this more in a future column either here or in The Globe.) 

Identity politics remains the cornerstone of not only Trump’s movement, but of populist movements in general) as the Sanders movement possessed many similarities). The phenomenon of identity manifests itself primarily in class, but one would be remiss not to suggest a racial element exists (as Trump’s comments regarding an Indiana judge of Hispanic heritage can attest). With the New Coalition’s championing of identity politics and anti-elitist resentment, one questions whether the proposed new Republican Party too closely resembles their political adversaries. Regardless, it’s undeniable that political leaders can shape the ideology and opinions of their respective movements (for example, a December 2016 poll found that 37% of Republicans view Russia favorably – up from 10% in 2014.) Many of the same people who voted for Trump also voted for Bush, McCain, and Romney. The electoral outlook for Trumpism is desire: Trumpian challengers to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio were met with obliteration. 

While the ideological base of the GOP may vehemently oppose the usurpation of populist’s forces, many, however, do agree that the GOP must adjust to the future by taking actions such as promoting policies that are appealing to more than entrepreneurs and those who follow policy closely. While the economy is the lifeblood of every nation, and the pursuit of policies that strengthen the economy should obviously remain a top priority, new demographic and social realities call for the application of conservative solutions to different spheres of society. Shockingly, entitlement reform doesn’t have the mass appeal that those in right-leaning think tanks would like. A relatively new intellectual movement on the Right known as “Reform Conservatism” seeks to shift the rhetoric of the Republican Party leaders and thinkers towards focusing rhetoric on education and policies that will provide relief of poverty-stricken urban areas. There is also a debate as to whether or not to moderate immigration policy in an attempt to appeal to the Hispanic community, though that begs the question of whether core Republican will be rejecting one brand of identity politics while embracing another.

While the attempted populist coup of the conservatism that guides the party’s philosophy is occurring, the Republican brand hasn’t changed in decades. If 2016 teaches us anything, it’s the accuracy of predictions is always subject to the tyranny of the human condition. In other words, the improbable is always possible. While the populist coalition that exists in the Trump movement may overtake the party, I find that possibility highly unlikely. After all, conservatives have been trying to gain total control of the party from centrists or “establishment” politicians for years, with little to show for it.