Editor’s Note: I’m just having some fun celebrating the retreat of True Conservatism which I am seeing in the polls. I’ve been waging this war for nearly twenty years.
As I have stressed in recent weeks, the electorate has been resorting over the last several elections along class, education and cultural lines. Racial polarization and True Conservatism peaked in the Mitt Romney campaign in 2012. The voters who are Republicans and Democrats have shifted since 2010.
Voters who were affluent neoliberal suburban Republicans are now Democrats and disaffected populist working class Democrats and Independents are now Republicans. The professional managerial class are increasingly concentrated in the Democratic Party. The working class is becoming increasingly Republican. This is steadily changing the ground underneath both political parties and undermining the conservatism vs. liberalism politics which we inherited from the 20th century. The demise of conventional politics is being called “the rise of domestic far-right extremism” by the formerly mainstream media when in reality we are returning to the populist vs. progressive alignment that existed before the New Deal era.
The 1896 and 1900 elections which pitted William Jennings Bryan against William McKinley were two of the bitterest elections in American history. The political establishment went all out to crush Bryan who had hijacked the Democratic Party which was then a conservative party. A hitherto unfathomable amount of money was spent to stop Bryan. It is no accident that the 2020 election was the most intense election and generated the highest turnout since the 1900 election. William McKinley won that election only to be assassinated by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz which is how Theodore Roosevelt became president.
Aside from Trump’s enduring popularity, there are striking parallels between America at the end of the Gilded Age and America in 2021. Socialism and anarchism were both on the rise in these years. Immigration restriction had become a major cause. The populists supported the regulation or nationalization of the railroads and telegraph companies. The gap between the rich and the poor was at an all time high and mainstream politics had become an arena for political theater. The Social Gospel movement was shifting American Protestants from a more individualist to a more collectivist ethos. The Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War which began under William McKinley stirred a debate over imperialism. The Philippine-American War and the Iraq War had a similar level of casualties and were similarly controversial. Prohibition ultimately became that era’s version of political correctness.
What about the rise of “white supremacy”? In the South, this was the dawn of the Jim Crow era and the age of Tom Watson, Theodore “The Man” Bilbo, The “Great White Chief” James K. Vardaman, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and Gov. Jeff Davis and the demise of the more genteel conservatism of the Bourbon Democrats. White racial attitudes hardened as the Civil War generation died out. It is worth pointing out that William Jennings Bryan later became Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State and resigned in protest as tensions built up between Imperial Germany and the United States. Vardaman voted against American entry into World War I. Davis railed against the trusts that ruled Arkansas. Thomas Watson was one of the most famous populists of his time and was Bryan’s running mate in 1896. He led the charge against Leo Frank. Bilbo who has been called “the archangel of white supremacy” for his tireless defense of the White race supported virtually all New Deal programs. It was Southerners who backed Wilson and FDR’s economic agenda. The Glass-Steagall Act which separated investment and commercial banking during the Great Depression was written by two Southerners. Alabama senator John Bankhead championed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 which was the first federal highway legislation.
In retrospect, none of this was “fascism.” It was populism which has recurred time and again throughout American history in response to aloof elites like in the Jacksonian era. The country was moving into a new era and was dealing with new problems which changed our politics. Most people were tired of the “waving the bloody shirt” politics of the Gilded Age. Sheer generational turnover put an end to the bitterness of the Civil War era which receded further and further into the past like World War II in our times. Elderly people accustomed to power with no answer to contemporary problems fought over dead issues.
CPAC is this weekend.
The question on the minds of everyone is the enduring power of Donald Trump and Trumpism. It occurs to me that one could ask the same question of the Bourbon Democrats in the William Jennings Bryan era. True Conservatism faded in these years until it was resurrected by Goldwater and Reagan.
“Which is why there will be no fewer than seven panels rehashing the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.
CPAC always offers a good read on the state of the GOP, especially at times of transition. That’s not because it presents a representative sample of the Republican electorate; the attendees are activists, who in either party will always be further to the edges ideologically. But the concerns and preferences of the activist class always drive party politics, especially so long before anyone has a chance to cast a presidential primary vote. …”
What percentage of Republican voters are objectionable by the standards that CPAC has upheld in previous years? Judging by recent polls, there is something wrong with at least 90% of them. Maybe the old “center right” Reaganite politics is dying out and fading into a long twilight.
“At least eight 2024 hopefuls will speak at CPAC, the conservative movement’s premier conference this weekend in Florida, giving Republicans their clearest look yet at who’s competing in the traditional GOP presidential lanes.
But there’s only one lane that really matters: the one currently occupied by former President Donald Trump. …
“There isn’t a Trump lane. There’s a Trump Turnpike with multiple lanes and multiple people,” said Chris LaCivita, a veteran GOP strategist who most recently headed the anti-Biden super PAC Preserve America. …”
Liz Cheney’s politics currently speaks to 1 out of 10 Republican voters.
The Weekly Standard has already folded and become The Bulwark. National Review is competing with The Dispatch in influence. Rich Lowry recently took the side of Liz Cheney. Something like 80% of Republican voters say in the polls that they are less likely to vote for the Republicans like Liz Cheney who voted to impeach Trump. Are the True Cons going the way of the Bourbon Democrats?
“Tim Miller, former political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, said: “He’s gonna speak right after the 2024 straw poll, which presumably will show him with a landslide victory, and so I think it’s set up for him speak in a way that will signal that he sees himself as the leader of the party, as the frontrunner for 2024. He will attack those who have questioned him in that regard. …
Miller, writer-at-large at the Bulwark website and former communications director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign, commented: “In the actual battlefield of the campaigns, there’s no McConnell wing, there are no candidates saying that Trump shouldn’t have advanced the big lie. There are going to be no candidates for Senate besides Lisa Murkowski [of Alaska] saying that we should move on from Donald Trump and that he’s complicit in the coup and there’s a shameful moment in our history. The Republican candidates are all for Trump.”
Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Trump have been censured and vilified by their home state parties. Solomon, the Trump merchandise seller, attended a recent rally in Wyoming that called on the local congresswoman Liz Cheney to resign.
He said: “McConnell just got re-elected. If McConnell was up in 22, there’s no way he would have said what he said because there’s no way he would win. Right now in Kentucky, a cat would win a primary against McConnell.”
What is the point of CPAC in 2021?
Evidently, no one believes in this shit anymore or at least that is what they say. Conservatism, Inc. is a jobs program for hacks and grifters that is sponsored by Republican donors. The true believers like Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Liz Cheney, Paul Ryan, Ben Sasse and so forth aren’t even coming due to their unpopularity. The politics of David French and Jeff Flake are clearly on the way out.