“Conservative populism” is a transition phase.
Bourbonism went extinct in the first decade of the 20th century. It reemerged in the mid-20th century in reaction to the New Deal. We’re headed back toward a Populist vs. Progressive alignment.
In 2012, the Republican Party was a conservative coalition in the waning years of the Reagan era. In 2017, it was a conservative-populist coalition under Trump. In 2021, it is still a conservative-populist coalition, but now post-Trump the populist wing is ascendant on social issues and growing stronger on economics. By 2025, the Republican Party will be a populist coalition on social issues and economics.
“One of the perennial challenges of conservative politics in democratic countries is that conservative policies aren’t, generally speaking, very popular. That may be inevitable for those whose worldviews embrace militant capitalism, a limited role for government in redressing wrongs, the moral unfitness of the undeserving poor, and a natural order of things that consigns large majorities to a subordinate positions in society and the economy. Some conservatives, moreover, are soldiers of authoritarian religious and/or cultural movements that are not terribly compatible with the ebb and flow of the political marketplace at any given moment. A lot of right-wing parties around the world have accepted much of the modern welfare state. But here in the U.S., conservatives have grudgingly accepted the popularity of liberal policies.
By way of compensation for their built-in disadvantages, U.S. conservatives over the years have become adept at posing as champions of the real salt-of-the-earth Americans, in a fight against liberal elites who despise both the values and the material interests of regular folks. This “conservative populism” should not be confused with the nearly extinct tradition of liberal Republicanism, common in some parts of the country before the post-civil-rights ideological sorting out of the two parties. Liberal Republicans typically competed with Democrats for the allegiance of many of the same voters, deploying many of the same messages and policies. Right-wing “populists” haven’t so much competed with Democrats as they have denied their legitimacy as representatives of the “silent majority” (a term devised by pioneer conservative populist Richard Nixon and revived by Donald Trump). But at this point in the 21st century, conservative populism and the Republican Party are both at a negative inflection point, having lost power in Washington and now facing hostile demographic trends. …”
Jonathan Chait got in a good dig this morning on Senate Republicans who are out of step with their voters. The Republican Party is kind of in between ideologies right now. Conservatism, Inc, the Republican policy agenda and elected Republicans are all very old and haven’t caught up with their voters and the wider electorate. It is easy to forget that Congress is a gerontocracy.
“Last month, Senator Ted Cruz appeared at CPAC and declared that their party had become the authentic representative of the proletariat. “The Republican Party is not the party of the country clubs,” he boasted, “it’s the party of steel workers and construction workers and taxi drivers and cops and firefighters and waitresses.” Republicans have been saying things like this for many years, but with special emphasis since Donald Trump became their standard-bearer. …
What’s more, there is no indication that the Republican Party is moving toward some kind of working-class agenda. Just yesterday, 25 Senate Republicans introduced a bill to repeal the estate tax. To understand how few people would benefit from this measure, begin with the fact that the estate tax currently exempts completely any transfer worth $11 million — per spouse. That means a couple can pass on more than $22 million to their heirs tax-free, without any estate-planning maneuvers at all. …”
Want to make the Republican Party more popular?
Note: Willie Stark’s announcement speech should be studied and emulated. Hey, it worked for Trump in 2016. He sounded different than all the other politicians. It resonated. We’re much further along the curve now in the transition from conservatism back to populism.