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Two GOP Dead Ends

Sen. Jeff Flake, a decent man who is 1988's idea of the future (Christopher Halloran/Shutterstock)

For his sins, Ross Douthat read two recent conservative books — one by Sen. Jeff Flake, the other by Dinesh D’Souza — and says that though they are very different, they are bad in the same way. In short, Flake’s book pines for the resurrection of Reaganism, and D’Souza’s says only Trump can save us from the Nazi Democrats.


So D’Souza’s book embodies the outrageous right-wing style that Flake’s book condemns. Which makes it all the more striking when D’Souza, the Trump-defending huckster, comes around to many of the same economic policy prescriptions as Flake, the Trump-abjuring would-be statesman. Whether in the name of honorable libertarianism or frenzied, “I’m not saying they’re Nazis, but they’re Nazis” anti-liberalism, the senator and the demagogue both think that conservatives need to … cut social programs in order to cut taxes on the rich.

That striking agreement distills conservatism’s crisis. As Flake’s sharpest critics on the right have pointed out, a simple “cut the safety net to pay for upper-bracket tax cuts” agenda is both wildly unpopular and a non-response to our present socioeconomic problems.

Indeed, its unpopularity and anachronism is precisely the reason that Trump, with his Jacksonian populism, was able to defeat so many of Flake’s fellow Republicans on his way to the G.O.P. nomination — because he alone was not bound by right-wing ideological correctness. But now, as a weak and corrupt and unpopular president, those constraints have come to imprison him as well.

Douthat says the GOP can go back to the zombie Reaganism of Flake, or:

it can follow D’Souza’s lead (and Trump’s, now that his populist agenda seems all-but-dead) and wrap unpopular economic policies in wild attacks on liberalism. With this combination, the Republican Party can win elections, at least for now — not because most Americans can be persuaded that liberals are literally Nazis, but because liberalism’s intolerant and utopian tendencies make people fear the prospect of granting progressives political power to match their cultural hegemony.

Read the whole thing. He’s right as right can be. The best thing Donald Trump did was smash the deadweight of GOP orthodoxy. Gorsuch aside, it’s been pretty much downhill from there. But let’s give him credit for that inadvertently good act of iconoclasm.

One of the Flake critics to whom Douthat links is Pete Spiliakos, who lets Flake have it in his First Things column. The columnist points out that Flake wants to cut old-age entitlements and reduce taxes on the rich. And:

If Flake is confused as to why people are turning their backs on the traditional Republican Party, he might remember that he is part of the reason many see the GOP as the party of the rich rather than the party of limited government.

That’s right. Flake’s pro-immigration stance is also unpopular. Only 11 percent of Republicans like it. But get this:

But that is just the nativist Republican party, right? Wrong. Only 18 percent of Hispanics favor increasing immigration. Only 15 percent of Mexican-born Hispanics favor increasing immigration. Over twice as many Mexican-born Hispanics favor decreasing immigration. These Americans have no place in Flake’s imagination and, for much of our news media, they might as well not exist.

More Spiliakos:

This is Flake’s real political weakness. In their bones, people of both major parties know that America’s least skilled workers and their families need help—and help that is likely to be expensive. A politics of using immigration to increase the ranks of the low-skilled, and then reducing the programs they will depend on when they are old and unable to do physical labor, might seem like good business to the affluent. But it isn’t good statesmanship, and it isn’t good citizenship.

The center remains to be grabbed by a politician (or political party) that can move to the left on economics while either moving to the right on social issues, or at least making a firm stand against the loony leftism that has taken over the Democratic Party. A tolerably center-right party would not necessarily campaign for socially conservative initiatives, but it would stop using the federal government to push the causes of the progressive fringes.

I don’t see the Democrats relaxing on social issues enough to become that party, but a savvy Republican whose social-conservative credentials are unquestioned, and who has the credibility, the political skill, and the policy good sense to put Yuval Levin in charge of reform  move the government more towards working for Main Street instead of Wall Street (so to speak) — well, that man or woman could go far.

Who is he, or she?

UPDATE: Here’s the answer:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEy-xTbcr2A&w=525&h=300]

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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