With Trump’s rise, conservatives lose Republican Party

by Russell's Rants

First published May 30, 2016


Conservatives instinctively know that Donald J. Trump is not one of them and vow to oppose his candidacy now that he has won the GOP nomination. George. F. Will called Trump “the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party’s history” and urged all right-thinking Republicans to “keep him out of the White House. “ The National Review dedicated an entire issue to essays from conservative luminaries with the common theme of being “Against Trump.” What conservatives fail to recognize, however, is that Trump’s very success proves that conservatism itself lacks a constituency.

Conservatism in the modern area was a political philosophy created to justify low taxes and decreased regulation on big business – leading to the accumulation and perpetuation of great wealth among the very few. In order to sell that ideology, conservative philosophers, including Irving Kristol, Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley, linked laissez-faire economics to notions of “liberty” and general prosperity. And they created a false narrative to attract middle class voters who aspired to improve their station: that they, too, will benefit from low taxation when they become rich.

Ronald Reagan perfected the conservative appeal to white, middle income earners, conflating big government with inefficiency and social welfare programs with minority cheats who game the system and become dependent on it. The use of racial politics was obvious. But make no mistake. Republicans in the 1980’s stigmatized government programs because they didn’t want to be taxed to pay for them. They just hid their true agenda behind dog whistles and the dogma of trickle-down economics, even as the Laffer curve bent in the wrong direction.

To broaden the conservative base into a true ruling coalition, religious traditionalists and anti-communists were added. Jerry Falwell infused the GOP with evangelical, mostly Southern Christian theology – although the Moral Majority, as the saying went, proved to be neither. That national security hawks came to be associated with the Republican Party was a fluke of history. Every U.S. administration since Harry S Truman has been anti-communist. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, however, the Democratic party became less interventionist and more concerned with domestic inequities – which gave the Republicans an opening to attract those interested in a more assertive foreign and military policy.

Reagan made liberalism a dirty word and Kristol, the senior, railed against what he dismissively characterized as the “new class” of Democrats: “scientists, teachers and educational administrators, journalists and others in communication industries, psychologists, social workers, those lawyers and doctors who make their careers in the expanding public sector, city planners, the staffs of the larger foundations, the upper levels of the government bureaucracy, and so on. . . .”

Since Democrats have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections, it appears that this so-called “new class” has done a better job of attracting voters than the plutocratic class. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama proved to be good stewards of the economy and the nation. Indeed, when Trump and his supporters presently attack Bill Clinton for his actions in the 1990’s, Hillary Clinton responds with an apt question:

“[W]hen you criticize the ’90s, what do they criticize? The peace, or the prosperity?”

The conservative coalition of the Reagan years has now broken apart, with Trump wielding the final axe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, anti-communists scattered. Social conservatives lost the national debate on abortion and marriage equality, and their preferred presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, lost badly in the primaries. Even the new pope, Francis, instructs the faithful to refocus their efforts on social justice and away from social judgment. Now with Trump championing the white working class, conservatives have lost their final broad constituency for laissez-faire economics.

Rich candidates for the presidency who have succeeded have always done so as traitors to their class: think Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. That is the one thing that Trump has in common with them. He gained much currency for his vow to use his billions to self-fund his campaign – immune from the corruption of money in politics. He promises to use his negotiating prowess on behalf of the little guy who agrees with him that the system is “rigged.” And unlike Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump does not contend that the government is corrupt per se, just that it is run by “incompetent people,” i.e., not him. Once Trump is in charge, he promises to buttress, not cut, Social Security and Medicare, impose huge trade tariffs and consider higher taxes on upper income-earners (or at least higher taxes than his original economic plan contemplated). Oh, and round up and kick out 11 million undocumented immigrants.

This all sounds very expensive to the plutocrats – leading even Charles Koch to proclaim that it was “possible” that Hillary Clinton would be preferable to Donald Trump.

On foreign policy, Trump is an isolationist; on trade policy, a protectionist; and on social policy, a secularist. If these count as Republican positions, they are pre-Reagan, pre-Barry Goldwater and certainly not conservative. But they are winning positions for Trump.

Like a virus, Trump may have infected the Republican primary electorate, but conservatives were the ones that lowered its immunities – by embracing an anti-science, anti-intellectual and anti-modern ideology in service of personal economic gain. When you strip high-minded conservatism from the Republican base, you’re left with xenophobic nationalists in search of an economic populist like the Donald. Conservatives just never realized that the voters they counted on would become anti-capitalist as well. The well-to-do will survive this coming election, but conservatism may not fare as well