Yes, says Bill Galston, contending that “Donald Trump is waging and winning the third major revolution in the Republican Party since World War II.” First there was Eisenhower reconciling the GOP with the New Deal. Then there was Reagan, who wrought a “remarkable fusion of supply-side economics, anti-Soviet internationalism and social conservatism.” And now? Excerpt:
Mr. Trump’s candidacy has showed that the cadre of genuine social conservatives is smaller than long assumed, that grass-roots Republican support for large military commitments in the Middle East has withered, and that the business community is politically homeless.
So it has come to this: A mercantilist isolationist is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination. Whether or not he goes on to win the general election, the Republican Party cannot return to what it once was. The Reagan era has ended, and what comes next is anyone’s guess.
Read the whole thing. Well, he’s right about that, but instead of giving Trump credit for killing Reaganism, I think we would do well to think about the extent to which Reaganism died a natural death from old age, and the extent to which its heirs killed it.
As a social conservative, I hate to admit it, but our side could not find a way to make our mores plausible to younger generations. It’s true that we faced (and do face) massive, implacable opposition from the news and entertainment media, but the forces dissolving social and religious conservatism are deeper than propagandistic — and we have been unable to mount any meaningful resistance in our churches, or anywhere else. (The epic abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church was a serious blow to our side’s credibility.) The loss of religion, the redefinition of marriage, and the fragmentation of the family represents dramatic losses for our side.
On the military front, the end of the Cold War necessarily posed a challenge to Reaganism, but it was the hubris of George W. Bush and the Republican Party on Iraq that really put the knife into the GOP’s credibility.
On business, even though the Democrats were just as mobbed up with Wall Street as the Republicans, thanks to the Clinton era, the economic crash occurred under a Republican administration. And Wall Street’s recklessness savaged Reaganism’s valorization of free market capitalism. It did not discredit capitalism, not by a long shot, but it did reveal that the largely uncritical stance Reaganites take towards the business class was a big mistake.
Finally, Reagan worship killed Reaganism. As far back as 2005, a full decade before the Trump phenomenon appeared, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam proposed a reformist conservatism that paid more attention to the concerns of the working and middle classes. Excerpt from their Weekly Standard piece:
In May, the Pew Research Center released the 2005 edition of its Political Typology, a survey that slices the American electorate into nine discrete groups. Unsurprisingly, the core of the GOP’s support turns out to be drawn from “Enterprisers,” affluent, optimistic, and staunchly conservative on economic and social issues alike. But the so-called Enterprisers represent just 11 percent of registered voters–and apart from them, the most reliable GOP voters are Social Conservatives (13 percent of registered voters) and Pro-Government Conservatives (10 percent of voters). Both groups are predominantly female (Enterprisers are overwhelmingly male); both are critical of big business; and both advocate more government involvement to alleviate the economic risks faced by a growing number of families. They tend to be hostile to expanding free trade, Social Security reform, and guest-worker proposals–which is to say the Bush second term agenda.
This is the Republican party of today–an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now “the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”
Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn’t just out of touch with the country as a whole, it’s out of touch with its own base. And its majority is hardly unassailable: Despite facing a lackluster Democratic presidential candidate who embodied virtually all the qualities Americans loathe–elitism, aloofness, Europhilia, vacillating weakness–George W. Bush, war president and skilled campaigner, was very nearly defeated in his bid for reelection. GOP operatives boast that their electoral efforts were targeted down to the minutest detail, and that their marketing prowess delivered victory for the incumbent. The trouble is that even such extraordinary efforts delivered only a narrow victory.
These guys could see someone like Trump coming a decade ago — but the Republican Party did not change. Instead, we got presidential candidates with a conspicuous lack of vision, standing up in 2008 and again in 2012 jawing about dear old Ronnie, and how much they loved him.
Which was fine, to a point. But 1980 was a long, long time ago.
Trump didn’t kill Reaganism. He just was the first Republican presidential candidate to notice it was already dead.