With the closing of the Weekly Standard, an influential publication that many considered a respectable, center-right, alternative to more pro-Trump outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News, and the continued ostracization of “Never-Trump conservatives” from the Republican Party, many wonder who, if anyone, will carry the torch of prudential conservatism while President Trump occupies the White House.
Just last week, a group of prominent intellectuals and political figures including Maryland Gov.
- Larry Hogan,
- Bill Kristol and
- David Frum
gathered for a conference at Washington’s Niskanen Center titled “Starting Over: The Center-Right After Trump.” The underlying assumption of the conference: It’s time for moderate conservatives to regroup and reconsider their relationship to a Republican Party that has been overrun by populists, nationalists and demagogues.
As someone who runs an organization founded at the time of the Iraq War with the aim of changing the direction of American conservatism, I can sympathize with their efforts, but I fundamentally disagree on their diagnosis of the problem. In the long run, both the conservative movement and Republican Party will be better off for having had Donald Trump shatter the combination of neoconservatism and Reaganism that held the political right captive and blinded since the end of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was the statesman that America needed for his time, but the clock had run out on many of his policy prescriptions and it took a “hurricane,” as the Niskanen Center conference described it, like Trump to wake up conservatism — and America.
.. I need not provide an exhaustive list, as Time magazine’s October cover story by Sam Tanenhaus, “How Trumpism Will Outlast Trump,” did a good job surveying the landscape that includes thinkers such as
- Julius Krein at American Affairs,
- Daniel McCarthy at Modern Age,
- Yuval Levin at National Affairs,
- Michael Anton at Hillsdale College and
- David Azerrad at the Heritage Foundation.
.. What does this new program for the right entail if not a return to the neoconservatism of the George W. Bush years? It’s time for Republicans to embrace a “Main Street” conservatism that prizes solidarity over individualism and culture over efficiency. America needs a foreign policy that serves our vital national interests by securing the safety and happiness of the American people. This means putting an end to the regime-change and nation-building experiments that have devastated Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya; ending U.S. support for the Saudis’ involvement in the Yemeni civil war; reclaiming our national sovereignty; and prioritizing diplomacy over intervention
.. On domestic issues, especially when our country is bitterly divided along partisan lines, we must decentralize both political and economic power to bring it closer to the people. This would allow local and state governments greater flexibility to address their unique problems, letting California be California and Texas be Texas.
.. Regarding the problem of economic concentration, conservatives should stand up to the crony capitalism that has protected big banks and defense contractors, and revisit antitrust enforcement to prevent corporate monopolies from stamping out competition and entrepreneurship. And finally, conservatives should adopt a cultural platform with a renewed focus on civic education; implementing economic and social policies that strengthen families, such as paid family leave and an increase in the child tax credit; promoting vocational training as a dignified alternative to traditional universities; and working toward an immigration policy that better balances economic and cultural concerns.
.. When searching for a prudential conservatism today, it’s best to ignore the advice of those who brought us the Iraq War, the hollowing out of our industrial base and our broken immigration system. The future belongs to conservatives who take Middle America seriously and actually care about the systemic problems that drove the Rust Belt into the arms of then-candidate Trump.
Bannon was in Rome to learn from and provide support to the unusual coalition of populists and nationalists who together won half the vote in Italy’s recent elections and have formed a government. Bannon sees that sort of coalition — mixing left and right, old and young — as his goal for the United States. “Europe is about a year ahead of the United States. . . . You see populist-nationalist movements with reform [here]. . . . You could begin to see the elements of Bernie Sanders coupled with the Trump movement that really becomes a dominant political force in American politics.”
.. The Republican Party’s strategy, for now, appears to be to make the midterm elections a series of local contests focusing on the tax cut and the healthy economy. Bannon views this as fundamentally misguided. “You have to nationalize the election,” he said. Bannon understands that voters are moved from the gut more than through a wonky analysis of taxes. “This is going to be an emotional [election] — you’re either with [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi or you’re with Donald Trump.
.. Bannon is most focused on the issue of immigration because it hits both the heart and the head. “Immigration is about not just sovereignty, it’s about jobs.”
.. He believes that the Trump coalition can attract up to a third of Sanders supporters who see trade and immigration as having created unfair competition for jobs, particularly for working-class blacks and Hispanics.
.. “You’re not going to be able to take the Hispanic and black community from the STEM system in grammar school to our best engineering schools . . . to the great jobs in Silicon Valley, unless you start to limit these H-1B visas and this unfair competition . . . from East Asia and South Asia.”.. The most likely result of limiting these visas is that talented immigrants will simply go elsewhere — Canada, Britain, Australia — and start successful companies there... The Democratic Party is too far to the left on many of these issues, embracing concepts such as sanctuary cities, which only reinforces its image as a party that is more concerned with race, identity and multiculturalism than the rule of law.
.. I wrote last month that Trump would try to fight the midterm elections on immigration and added, “Do not be surprised if Trump also picks a few fights with black athletes.”
.. He predicted the next major battle would be over the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The wall is not just totemic. The wall is absolutely central to his program. . . . As we come up on Sept. 30, if [Congress’s] appropriations bill does not include spending to fully build his wall . . . I believe he will shut down the government.”
.. Bannon doesn’t think the fighting and the rancor in the United States are going away any time soon. The “battle between nationalists and globalists is at the fundamental roots of what America is, what America will be,”
The American leader is deliberately presiding over a retreat from global leadership by the United States. Mr. Macron wants to be a global leader but is painfully aware that France, despite its status as a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, cannot compete. So he is enlisting Europe in his ambition. In President Trump’s view, America will become great again by withdrawing from the world. In President Macron’s view, France can be great again only by making Europe a global actor.
Compare the two leaders’ visits to China: In November, Mr. Trump, flattered and treated to a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People by a very determined Chinese president, forgot to talk about trade — supposedly his biggest issue with China. In January, Mr. Macron proclaimed in Beijing that “France is back, Europe is back” and proceeded to demand from the same leader, Xi Jinping, reciprocity in access to Chinese and European markets — a constant theme of his three-day visit. Whether the Chinese will give in is another story, but presumably they spotted the difference.
.. Now, they represent two camps within the Western world:
- a camp of nationalist leaders, which include a handful of Trump followers inside the European Union, and
- a camp of internationalists, gathering most of Europe’s heavyweights around President Macron and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Thanks to Donald Trump’s clumsiness, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has joined the latter camp, even while negotiating Brexit.
.. Why similar domestic political dynamics produced such different effects is very much a question of electoral mechanics. Under America’s Electoral College system, Donald Trump could beat a candidate who won the popular vote by a majority of three million, while France’s two-round system never gave Ms. Le Pen a chance.
.. Mr. Trump’s erratic debut at the White House, coupled with the shock of the Brexit referendum, also made French voters think twice before taking the nationalist direction.
.. The two men may pretend to enjoy a warm relationship. They may even think they do, based on their common imperative of fighting terrorism. Yet the way they exercise power and the policies they promote keeps them apart.
.. Mr. Trump, who campaigned as a populist and rules as one, is accused of diminishing the American presidency. His compulsive tweeting habits, betraying a limited vocabulary, aim to bypass the mainstream media that he loathes; he watches TV, doesn’t read books, takes a lot of time off.
Mr. Macron, as soon as he was elected, reverted to a quasi-monarchical presidential role. His goal, he explained, was to restore authority and dignity to an office that had been weakened by his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande. His Twitter line is kept strictly to official announcements. He communicates through 90-minute speeches and lengthy interviews studded with references to philosophers, archaic words and refined grammar.
.. He is a true workaholic and makes it known that his nights are short.
The two leaders do have a few things in common. They are both lucky — and in politics, luck matters. The American president enjoys buoyant economic conditions, part of a global economic surge; similarly, his French counterpart has benefited from an upswing in the eurozone. They both managed to pass, in their first year, a tax reform criticized by their opponents for mostly benefiting the wealthy and intended to convince the corporate world that they are on its side. But neither conforms to a classic ideological line; pundits in their respective countries struggle to define Macronism or Trumpism.
.. The approval ratings of President Macron, unlike those of President Trump, are on the rise.
.. Much of the future of the liberal democratic West will depend on these two mavericks’ fortunes.
In their eyes, religious conservatives aren’t making a cynical bargain by embracing a president with dubious religious bona fides. They finally have the street brawler they’ve always wanted.
they all centered on returning the country to a better and more comfortable time.
To economic nationalists, it meant going back to an era of high tariffs and buying American. To defense hawks, it meant returning to a time of unquestioned military supremacy. To immigration hard-liners, it meant fewer jobs for foreign-born workers—and, for some of those voters, fewer dark faces in the country, period.
But for many evangelicals and conservative Catholics, “Make America Great Again” meant above all else returning to a time when the culture reflected and revolved around their Judeo-Christian values. When there was prayer in public schools. When marriage was limited to one man and one woman. When abortion was not prevalent and socially acceptable. When the government didn’t ask them to violate their consciences. And, yes, when people said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
.. the president recalled the Founders’ repeated reference to a “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence. “How times have changed,” Trump said. “But you know what? Now they’re changing back again. Just remember that.”
The audience roared with a 20-second standing ovation.
.. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council .. Trump’s greatest impact is legitimizing those people and views that have been marginalized. “Barack Obama used the bully pulpit and the courts to demonize those who held to the very values that made America great. And Trump is doing the opposite,” Perkins says. “What the president and his administration can do is once again make people feel like it’s OK to stand up and talk about these traditional values, and engage in these conversations. Then we can win hearts and minds, and that’s where the transformation begins.”
.. When Moore spoke to a Friday luncheon sponsored by the American Family Association, he was introduced unapologetically as someone who would put Christianity ahead of the Constitution.
.. He raised eyebrows by inviting former White House aides Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, the polarizing promoters of Trump’s “America First” message, to speak at the event, despite neither having any roots in the Christian conservative universe.
.. This shotgun wedding resulted in some predictably awkward moments. Bannon, emphasizing the importance of grass-roots politics in winning elections, raised the 44th president’s former job title. “What’s a community organizer? I’ll tell you what it is. Somebody that could kick your ass—twice.” There were crickets from the audience; it was almost certainly the first time someone had ever used a curse word during a speech to the Values Voter Summit.
.. Erick Erickson, a frequent Trump critic, tweeted, “Sad to see this said at a Christian conference. Where is the grace? Where is the mercy? Where is the Christ?”
.. Many Christian voters embraced Trump not despite his provocative style but because of it, betting on a brash street brawler to win the culture battles they had been losing for generations.
.. And their faith has been rewarded: From abortion policy to religious liberty to judicial appointments, Trump has delivered for social conservatives more than any other constituency, making them the unlikely cornerstone of his coalition.
.. With political victory, however, has come the loss of moral high ground
.. If he wins the Senate seat, a spiritual renaissance in America is unlikely to result. But something else will: a deepening alliance between economic nationalists and social conservatives, two distinct tribes that are growing codependent in the era of Trump. As Perkins now sees it, Republicans will win elections only by merging these factions—hence his inviting Bannon and Gorka to speak.