Bill Kristol’s son-in-law has a new article on the history of the conservative establishment in the post-World War II era.
“Conservatives like to say that their movement began in the wilderness. Then William F. Buckley Jr. came along and founded National Review in 1955. He led the Right to political relevance by winning the 1964 Republican nomination for Arizona senator Barry Goldwater.
Goldwater lost that year, but the ashes of his candidacy were fertile soil for Ronald Reagan, who brought conservatives to power in 1980. Since Reagan’s presidency, conservatives say, the movement has endured setbacks and diversions. But the Right still shapes American democracy through intellectual institutions and media platforms that were unimaginable when the movement began. Conservatives admit that Donald Trump caused friction within the Right. But they also believe he recalibrated the Right along populist and nationalist lines and attracted new constituencies to the movement.
This story contains elements of truth. But it is too neat. The edges of the movement have been smoothed over. Its blemishes have been covered up or ignored. …
If the Vietnam War splintered the Democratic coalition, then the 2003 Iraq War fractured the Republican one. Conservatism was never the same. The public’s rejection of the war, the economic calamity of 2008, and the Republican Party’s continued support for an amnesty of illegal immigrants delegitimized the establishment in the eyes of the populist independents, conservative Democrats, and disaffected voters who had been crucial to GOP victories in years past. …
One century later, in the early 2020s, the Right had been driven from power at the federal level. It no longer viewed core American institutions as worth defending. It was apocalyptic in attitude and expression. It resembled more closely the populist Democrats of William Jennings Bryan — who rallied under one banner all those who felt excluded from or dispossessed by the economic, social, and cultural powers of his time — than the business-friendly Republicans of Warren Harding. …”
So, what is the difference between the Right of Calvin Coolidge and the Right of Donald Trump?
The thing that stands out most to me is that the South and East have traded political parties. Eastern conservatism has been replaced by Southern conservatism. The big change since George W. Bush was president is that populist swing voters in rural areas and small towns vote so much more Republican than in 2008. This is why Chuck Todd was crying about how Democrats lost Iowa.
The Right in the Cold War era was a conservative-libertarian coalition. The ideology of mainstream conservatism was conservative liberalism. The Left was a populist-progressive coalition that was created by FDR in the New Deal. The governing ideology of the Democratic Party was progressive liberalism. The term “liberal” came to be used in its modern sense during the 1920s when it was adopted by the liberal progressives who embraced modernism and broke with Woodrow Wilson over World War I and Prohibition. The division between progressive liberalism and conservative liberalism can be traced back to early 20th century thinkers like John Dewey.
American politics was much more interesting and colorful before the progressive liberal vs. conservative liberal era which lasted for nearly a century from the 1920s down to our own times. The Democracy as the Democratic Party was known in the 19th century was a populist-conservative coalition. The Whigs and later the Republicans were the party of Big Business and utopian social reformers. Liberals migrated from the Republican Party into the Democratic Party in Woodrow Wilson’s time. Before the 20th century distinction between progressive liberals and conservative liberals arose in the Progressive Era, the conservative liberals or 19th century liberals were the Left in this country. Conservative liberals are “conservative” in the sense of being yesterday’s liberalism or 19th century liberalism. Jefferson Davis was the conservative in his era. Abraham Lincoln was on the progressive side.
American politics has cycling back to the old 19th century alignment since the Truman administration. Populists have been defecting from the New Deal coalition. Liberals have been defecting from the Republican coalition.