Believe it or not, the Republican Party is ideally positioned for at least the next two years. As an opposition party, it will not be expected to offer solutions to the countless problems of the country, let alone introduce substantive legislation. He will not be expected to do anything other than what he does best – oppose the Democratic administration and the Democratic Party.
But the spirit of opposition in which much of the Republican Party feels so at home exposes the Achilles heel of the movement’s conservatism, a weakness that threatens to doom the party’s efforts to “pass” from Donald Trump. While many who proudly call themselves conservatives agree on what conservatism is not, there is no such consensus on what conservatism is. is.
For this reason, even in power, the conservatism of the movement is fundamentally an opposition movement. This impetus served her well when she stood up against President Barack Obama and, therefore, everything he apparently stood for. But Donald Trump’s candidacy exploited the blatant lack of conservatism of a central driving force.
Unlike the 16 candidates he faced in the Republican primary, Mr. Trump has grasped the simple idea that many things voters – even in a Republican primary – want may not align with the conservative bromides on “personal responsibility” and “limited government”.
“Economically conservative” conservatism may support the idea of government-provided health care or payments aimed at remote family formation (for fear of “addiction activation”), But many voters do not. The conservatism apparently accepted by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and National Review was not the conservatism that Mr. Trump sold to the American people.
Mitt Romney campaigned in 2012 to be “sternly conservative” and lost. Mr. Trump has campaigned for a self-serving redefinition of what it means to even be conservative and won. After all, as Mr. Trump told ABC News in early 2016, “It’s called the Republican Party, it’s not called the Conservative Party.”
But what Mr. Trump was, and what his constituents supported, was not the populist nationalism typically associated with “Trumpism.” Populist nationalism has a long history in this country. Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan, Nixon’s former aide and political commentator, have espoused a mixture of isolationist foreign policy rhetoric and distrust of perceived culture and political “elites” for decades.
While populist nationalism exists, its existence does not depend on any individual. Trumpism does. In reality, Trumpism does not exist. “Trumpism” is a recreation of Mr. Trump’s rise to the presidency, a version of history in which his countless statements, outbursts and tweets were based on fundamental politics and not what he thought about what. moment. Mr. Trump was for Donald Trump, and what Trumpism is is Donald Trump. In other words: if Mr. Trump had run for president as a “sternly conservative” candidate, he probably would have won the nomination anyway.
He did not have a coherent political platform, because he was the political platform, the middle finger for perceived enemies and the bulwark against real or imagined progressive assaults. Many Republican presidents have reportedly moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or supported a capital gains tax cut or attempted to conduct a Kulturkampf against “cancel culture” or any corner issue that provided political warfare. impossible to win and impossible to lead in the Twitter Trenches. It is telling that as President, Mr. Trump has become a remarkably standard Republican on many issues (his opposition to raising the minimum wage, for example) and has received no sanction from his constituents or allies. He didn’t need to keep Trumpism’s promises to gain their support. He just needed to be Donald Trump.
Whether the movement’s conservatism can mean more than loyalty to Mr. Trump is an important question not only for the Republican Party, but for the future of the country as well. On “The Argument,” I spoke with Ross Douthat of The Times and Michael Brendan Dougherty of the National Review about the possibility of Trumpism without Trump, but I doubt his prospects. In 2019, I spoke with conservative writer Rod Dreher, and he told me that unlike any other Republican challenger, Mr. Trump could serve as a “kind of katechon – a force that holds back something much worse.” . The word “katechon” comes from the Apostle Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians, presented in the New Testament – where force holds back the revelation of the Antichrist. This concept of Trumpism – Trumpism as a bulwark – demands Mr. Trump.
The conservatism of the movement has indeed found a focal point, a forward direction – but it is a person who now serves as the center of gravity of the movement. A poll conducted by CBS News found that 33% of Republicans would quit the party for a new party formed by Mr. Trump, and 37% said they “maybe” join him. This makes Trumpism – and therefore Donald Trump – inseparable from the Republican Party. No wonder, then, that Mr. Trump spent part of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference excoriating his suspected enemies – other Republicans – to fierce applause, making it all the more clear that Republicans in attendance had chosen between one person and their party.
If Mr. Trump were not the key to Trumpism’s future, it wouldn’t be necessary to storm Capitol Hill in an attempt to grab an election victory in the jaws of clear defeat. A successor would be found who could wear the mantle without the baggage of being Donald Trump. But a Trump-centric conservatism movement is Donald Trump-centric movement, and no imitation can suffice. So while the conservatism of the movement can focus on what it opposes the most at the moment, what the conservatism of the movement is intended for remains very clear: it is for Donald Trump.