Populists vs. Conservatives In 2016

Rich Lowry is amazed by the bitter struggle that has broken out between “traditional conservatism and populism” for “the soul of the right”:

“At the moment, the Republican establishment is relevant to the presidential nomination battle only as an epithet.

Two weeks from the Iowa caucuses, the fight for the Republican nomination isn’t so much a vicious brawl between the grass roots and the establishment as a bitter struggle between traditional conservatism and populism that few could have foreseen. …

But the populism was tethered to, and in the service of, an ideology of limited-government constitutionalism.

The fight between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump is over whether that connection will continue to exist, and whether the conservatism (as represented by Cruz) or the populism (as represented by Trump) will be ascendant. For her part, Sarah Palin, a conservative populist could have been pulled either way, decisively chose the populism of Trump.

It is precisely that “tethered to, and in service of, an ideology of limited-government constitutionalism” which makes utterly no sense.

Historically speaking, Populism was a revolt against Eastern conservatism represented President Grover Cleveland, who was the Ted Cruz of his era. The Bourbons, who were the enemies of the Populists, were the limited-government constitutionalists and supporters of laissez-faire capitalism. They were the ones who the Populists blamed for the plight of the farmer and the laborer in the 1890s. Among other things, the Populists were for the income tax, immigration restriction, government ownership of the railroads, and a national currency. They stridently opposed the gold standard.

Do the Populists sound anything like modern conservatives?

“The conditions which surround us best justify our co-operation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection; imported pauperized labor beats down their wages, a hireling standing army, unrecognized by our laws, is established to shoot them down, and they are rapidly degenerating into European conditions. The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes – tramps and millionaires.

The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders; a vast public debt payable in legal tender currency has been funded into gold-bearing bonds, thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.

Silver, which has been accepted as coin since the dawn of history, has been demonetized to add to the purchasing power of gold by decreasing the value of all forms of property as well as human labor, and the supply of currency is purposely abridged to fatten usurers, bankrupt enterprise, and enslave industry. A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once, it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.

We have witnessed for more than a quarter of a century the struggles of the two great political parties for power and plunder, while grievous wrongs have been inflicted upon the suffering people. We charge that the controlling influence dominating both these parties have permitted the existing dreadful conditions to develop without serious effort to prevent or restrain them. Neither do they now promise us any substantial reform. They have agreed together to ignore, in the coming campaign, every issue but one. They propose to drown the outcries of a plundered people with the uproar of a sham battle over the tariff, so that capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts, watered stock, the demonetization of silver and the oppressions of usurers may all be lost sight of. They propose to sacrifice our homes, lives, and children on the altar of mammon; to destroy the multitude in order to secure corruption funds from the millionaires.

Assembled on the anniversary of the birthday of the nation, and filled with the spirit of the grand general and chief who established our independence, we seek to restore the government of the Republic to the hands of “the plain people,” with which class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution, to form a more perfect union and establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

We declare that this Republic can only endure as a free government while built upon the love of the whole people for each other and for the nation; that it cannot be pinned together by bayonets; that the civil war is over and that every passion and resentment which grew out of it must die with it, and that we must be in fact, as we are in name, one united brotherhood of freemen.

Our country finds itself confronted by conditions for which there is no precedent in the history of the world; our annual agricultural productions amount to billions of dollars in value, which must, within a few weeks or months be exchanged for billions of dollars’ worth of commodities consumed in their production; the existing currency supply is wholly inadequate to make this exchange; the results are falling prices, the formation of combines and rings, the impoverishment of the producing class. We pledge ourselves that, if given power, we will labor to correct these evils by wise and reasonable legislation, in accordance with the terms of our platform.

We believe that the power of government – in other words, of the people – should be expanded (as in the case of the postal service) as rapidly and as far as good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify, to the end that oppression, injustice and poverty, shall eventually cease in the land.

While our sympathies as a party of reform are naturally upon the side of every proposition which will tend o make men intelligent, virtuous and temperate, we nevertheless regard these questions, important as they are, as secondary to the great issues now pressing for solution, and upon which not only our individual prosperity but the very existence of free institutions depend; and we ask all men to first help us to determine whether we are to have a republic to administer, believing that the forces of reform this day organized will never cease to move forward, until every wrong is remedied, and equal rights and equal privileges securely established for all the men and women of this country.”

“We believe that the power of government – in other words, of the people – should be expanded …”

The Populists wanted a stronger state to promote the general welfare of the people. They wanted to break the trusts, regulate industry, abandon the gold standard, raise wages and commodity prices, etc. In spirit and policy, it was a reaction against conservatism. Can you imagine the Populists being in favor of ¡Jeb!’s Right to Rise SuperPAC?

Note: More on this here.

About Hunter Wallace 12380 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. Great info, I think you have a clear picture of what’s going on. I think Trump reminds me of the “Kingfish”, Huey Long who was for the mass man and populist sums things up pretty well!

  2. Trump is Buchanan-lite, and Cruz is Trump-lite.
    All three represent a repudiation of National Review’s left-wing globalism. They all oppose the proposed no fly zone in Syria, and they all support the enforcement of our immigration laws.
    They aren’t as articulate as the old time populists, but at least they understand the importance of the immigration issue. The populists were unable to expand beyond the south and great plains, in part because their advocacy of inflation didn’t appeal to the prosperous middle class of the northeast and west coast, who had savings accounts. Immigration restriction could have appealed on nationalistic grounds to those worried about Jewish and Japanese immigration, while also supporting the economic interests of failed farmers entering the industrial working class in direct competition with immigrants.

    • Cruz’s wife works for Goldman, who financed his Senate campaign. She also moonlights for the CFR and helped author a paper on creating an EU of the Americas, where we would be merged with Mexico and Canada.

      I don’t see Cruz as either Trump light or descended from Buchanan, sadly for us.

  3. It is precisely that “tethered to, and in service of, an ideology of limited-government constitutionalism” which makes utterly no sense.

    Especially since a lot of tethered to limited government constitutionalist conservatives just gave us Paul Ryan’s budget.

    Today’s bourbons want no part of limited government, they want big powerful spending government that they either control or that people they control use to their benefit. Which is why we really can’t fool around with limited government arguments anymore, because limited government politics won’t win much; the real argument now is a Who-Whom argument, who controls Leviathan and exercises its spending and power on behalf of whom; discussion over the size and power of government is a secondary issue.

  4. Yeah, some populist movements of the past were interesting. I would be careful about trying to bring all past populist things to the present. The whole silver money thing isn t something you want to waste your every waking moment thinking and talking about.

    Also don t go down with those insisting that restoring the original intent of the Constitution is the be all. Pretty soon you ll be back in the Ron Paul cult. Ron Paul is apparently still living , doing infomercials on late night TV and YouTube on subjects of Liberty. His latest on there is supposedly no Clash of Civilizations with Islam is one of the worst ever.

  5. Trump is – apparently – a Nationalist. At least while running for Prez. And that’s about all. The White hardRight is investing way, way too much libido in this guy. And, yes, I do give him credit for accelerating the liquidation of the Cuckservative Trojan Horse Republiscam party. What I’d like to see, ideally, is Trump get to the Convention with a plurality or maybe even an absolute majority of the delegates…and then have the neoCohens steal the nomination from him by invoking the 8-state Rule or some such Talmudic trick. Then have Mrs. Clinton – if she can stay out of handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit – win the election against whatever Cuck (probably Cruz) the Republiscams vomit up. Cthulu on the bridge of the Titanic. Ideal for us

    • I frankly am tired of being demoralized and watching this country (especially the South) sink into shit with the applause of all the smirking snarky assholes that run the GOPe.

      I for one am thrilled that Trump came on the scene and stuck it to these cucks. I’ll take it…It’s great.

    • Stuka- Others have already suggested a massive ‘summer vacation’ in Cleveland, at the time of the Conventions, to ASSURE HIS NOMINATION. Millions of ‘White Americans’ who ‘just happen’ to come to NE Ohio at the time of the Convention, to make all highways, airports, and other avenues of ‘escape’ IMPOSSIBLE/IMPASSIBLE, if our will is thwarted.

      We are DONE.

      Rule of Law? BS!!!

      Either the will of the people (ESPECIALLY in this instance) is SOVEREIGN, or we WILL have Revolution. More guns were bought by White Americans last year than Ever before. And we’re not staking out a ranch in Oregon or Wyoming, you betcha! America for Americans.

      the rest? THEY ALL HAVE TO GO.

      Deo Volente.

  6. I do wonder how much of the conservative animus against populist Trump is motivated by class hatred, i.e. pompous bourgeois pundits looking down their nose at brash, grubby blue-collar guys.

    To be quite honest, a lot of these aspirational NRO-types just seem bitter and envious that they aren’t universally seen as the ‘natural aristocracy’ they perceive themselves to be.

  7. AA over at DS put it succinctly, when he quoted this article from Politico:

    “Politico has done a review of how evil The Donald’s foreign policy is.

    But it sounds to me like walking on sunshine.

    ‘He has three key arguments that he returns to time and again over the past 30 years. He is deeply unhappy with America’s military alliances and feels the United States is overcommitted around the world. He feels that America is disadvantaged by the global economy. And he is sympathetic to authoritarian strongmen.Trump seeks nothing less than ending the U.S.-led liberal order and freeing America from its international commitments. ‘ ”


    It’s the last sentence that matters.

    “Trump seeks nothing less than ending the U.S.-led liberal order and freeing America from its international commitments.”

    Yes. THIS IS ALL THAT MATTERS. U.S. out of the position of being Israel’s B*tch, and the policemen of the entire world, while Jews do NOTHING.


    And our Nation, ALONE. Let the rest of the world follow suit, and soon, the mantra, ‘They ALL have to GO’ will be on every dollar bill we print- and not owned by the Jew Federal Reserve, either!

    • Interesting article. It quotes Trump’s response to that robocall”

      BURNETT: Mr. Trump, when you hear that, does that shock you? Do you denounce that?

      TRUMP: Nothing in this country shocks me. I would disavow it, but
      nothing in this country shocks me. People are angry. They’re angry at
      what’s going on. They’re angry at the border. They’re angry at the
      crime. They’re angry at people coming in and shooting Kate in the back
      in California and San Francisco. They’re angry when Jamiel Shaw shot in
      the face by an illegal immigrant. They’re angry when the woman, the
      veteran, 65 years old is raped, sodomized, and killed by an illegal
      immigrant. And, they’re very angry about it, and — by the way,
      thousands of other cases like that. They’re very angry about it. So, I
      would disavow that, but I will tell you people are extremely angry.

      BURNETT: People are extremely angry, but to be clear, when he says,
      “We need smart, well-educated white people to assimilate to our culture,
      vote Trump,” you’re saying you disavow that. You do denounce that?

      TRUMP: Well, you just heard me. I said it. How many times do you want me to say it?

      BURNETT: A third would be good.

      TRUMP: I said I disavow.

      Then it quotes Taylor’s reaction:

      In effect, he’s saying, “Yeah, yeah, if you want me to denounce it I will,..”

      I think Taylor missed the point. Trump was asked repeatedly to denounce
      it, but instead he repeatedly “disavowed” it. I don’t think that was
      accidental. In effect, he’s not saying “That’s wrong”, he’s saying “I
      didn’t say that”.

    • Sir, it seems to me that they are trying to imply that anyone who has an interest in a government that actually tries to protect John Doe, is, by necessity a Nazi.

  8. Maybe if traditional conservative was actually successful at conserving something we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  9. I’ll go along with Trump being Buchanan lite (ultra-lite) but not Cruz being Trump lite.
    He supported the Iraq War (unlike Trump) and still lies about the intelligence being “wrong.” It wasn’t “wrong,” it was cherrypicked–as Buchanan pointed out before the war, with the non-authoritative highlighted and the authoritiatve suppressed.
    Besides Cruz is some kind of “Christian” Zionist, though not necessarily the premillenialist “rapture ready” type. Would never trust those to be non-interventionists when it mattered to Israel. He made that clear by insulting Arab Christians at a public forum.

  10. I think you are reading a bit too much into the term populist. It’s one of those political terms that has gone “generic”, like Fascist. Few people who use the term fascist imply that the person they are attaching it to believes in syndicalism, and the unity of big labor, big business and the State, or other cornerstones of Mussolini’s platform. He actually wrote a book on Fascism. No one has read it, but they have an idea of what a fascist is that is non-specific. Fascism means “bad person, anti-immigrant, right winger”.

    Populism has the same sort of modern usage. It means “unschooled, uncooth, not keeping discourse in bounds, riling up the natives”. And that’s about all. Talk of nationalizing railroads or going off the gold standard are not part of what people mean when they use the term.

    • I think and hope that you are right. Most of the mainstream conservative principles are good for the economy. If only keeping the undesirable immigrants out were one of them.

  11. Wish the South had a billionaire tough guy who would appeal to Southern nationalism and encourage the South to become independent of the decadent blue states. The South has been waiting for over 150 years now…

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