Once you get past all the noise on both sides, Donald Trump is clearly a different kind of Republican and he succeeded in the Republican primary and with swing voters in Flyover Country precisely because he isn’t a typical Republican. Too what degree Trump has fundamentally changed the GOP in his image remains to be seen, but Trump has clearly moved the party in a more economic populist direction. The party has become more overtly a party of the working class that better reflects its actual voting base.
With such a significant transformation, some resistance is to be expected. There remain many holdouts who still support the previous more ideological “conservative” version of the party. These are the people who groused that Trump’s inaugural speech didn’t say enough about high-minded issues like freedom, limited government, the Constitution, spending cuts, tax cuts, the debt, values, etc. etc. You know, the whole laundry list that Republican candidates have traditionally paid lip service to every election cycle and then returned to Washington or their various state capitols and resumed business as usual. Who has time for such pedestrian concerns as reviving our decimated manufacturing base and putting people back to work when there are abstract principles and generic policy preferences to yammer about?
The cartoonish Evan McMullin, former independent anti-Trump supposed representative of “true conservatism,” remains the museum quality specimen of such holdouts. He is still impotently flailing away at Trump on Twitter for Trump’s alleged conservative failings while the actual Republican base is ecstatic about all the #Winning! in the first few days of the new administration.
The problem that the old guard “conservatives” like McMullin and House Speaker Paul Ryan and the ideologues who defend the old paradigm have is that their cluster of issues, when taken as a whole, aren’t particularly popular. Free trade, relatively liberal immigration policies, budget cutting, cuts to the marginal tax rate and the capital gains tax, and entitlement reform are not a winning platform.
There is already an urban, globalist neo-liberal party. It’s called the Democrat Party which has free trade and lax immigration covered for urban cosmopolitans without the baggage of spending cuts, tax cuts that benefit the rich and the particularly toxic issue of entitlement reform and consequently already has the urban elite vote locked down. The “true con” agenda really only appeals to a relatively small number of basically libertarian minded ideologues.
The working man in Flyover Country who is living paycheck to paycheck and fears that his job is going to move south of the border is just not moved by economic appeals to free trade and a capital gains tax cut that are supposedly going to raise all boats, but he is moved by Trump’s promises to protect his job from globalist predation and bring back jobs for his fellow Americans. The tone deafness of these true con holdouts is remarkable. The GOP has succeeded with its stale orthodoxy in spite of its limited appeal because they have been able to rely on Red Team vs. Blue Team identity politics and relatively tight message discipline. Message discipline is why Trump seems so unique and is best compared to Pat Buchanan and independent Ross Perot who both ran in the 90’s.
I don’t begrudge people their political idealism per se, as much as I think true con ideology has very little to do with actually conserving anything. I’ve been involved with third party politics in the past myself. The system needs its political idealists to keep the process honest, but idealism is best understood as a rhetorical position, not a political program.
The true con bitter-enders don’t seem to realize that this is what they are, and that their cluster of issues, taken on their own and apart from Red Team/Blue Team dynamics, is a political loser. The idea that there is going to arise from the ashes of a Republican Party ideologically damaged by Trumpism a revived Republican Party or a new party based on free trade, cheap labor, capital gains tax cuts, budget slashing, entitlement reform, overseas adventurism and mindless invocations of “our values” is delusional. This is an agenda that appeals only to catechized true con eggheads. There is simply very little constituency for this program otherwise and no reason to believe there will be a more substantial one in the future.