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.