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Pence vs. Populism

State of the Union: Mike Pence really wishes it was 1980 again.
Mike Pence speaks at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. (Youtube / Screenshot)

Mike Pence is big mad about populism:

Today, another strain of this ideology challenges conservatism not from the Democratic Party, but from within, for control of the Republican Party. It takes the form of what’s known as “populism,” rather than “progressivism,” but make no mistake about it. Those ideologies are fellow travelers on the same road to ruin.


What are these dangerous populists proposing?

The Republican populists would abandon American leadership on the world stage, embracing a posture of appeasement in the face of rising threats to freedom. Republican populists would blatantly erode our constitutional norms. A leading candidate for the Republican nomination last year called for the “termination of all rules regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” His imitators in this primary have demonstrated a willingness to brandish government power to impose their will on opponents.

Pence (who for some reason seems incapable of uttering his former boss’s name) was referring to Trump’s reaction to the Twitter files revelation that the social network did, in fact, deliberately suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story—a decision which certainly had an impact on the 2020 election.

Outrage over election interference, putting American interests first abroad, and using the levers of power to rein in woke corporations—sounds like a good platform to me.

Pence is also gets his intellectual history of conservatism and populism wrong. He quipped that the Republican Party “did not begin on a golden escalator in 2015,” suggesting that the populist positions he decries were largely alien to the American right before Donald Trump. But conservative thought has always included a healthy strain of populism, perhaps most notably represented by Patrick J. Buchanan, one of the founders of this magazine. Donald Trump simply popularized the discontent that was already there.

And as Michael Brendan Dougherty correctly pointed out on “The Editors” podcast, Pence’s “conservatism” isn’t even coherent. His commitment to “strong national defense and global leadership” is clearly in tension with the constitutional norms and liberties that Pence also champions. See, the "Global War on Terror."

I could go on. It was a bad speech, perfectly illustrating how badly Mike Pence misreads the current moment. Luckily for the country, polls indicate that voters agree.


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