David Frum tweets in response to an interview with Speaker of the House / potential GOP Hubert Humphrey-style nominee Paul Ryan:
1) A personal statement first. It’s been my perception since 2008 that US politics are shifting left, as they shifted right after 1970
Pedantic quibble: I suspect that Frum, who has written a book on the 1970s, meant to say “1970s” rather than 1970. There were two peaks of liberalism, 1964 and 1974, with the country then definitely moving right in policy from, say, 1979 when the Carter Administration started to switch to Reaganism Lite (inflation fighting, symbolic defense build-up, etc.) under the disheartening events of that year.
2) It seemed to me that this was a moment for conservatives to offer timely concessions to mitigate even worse possibilities.
3) EG yield on universal healthcare coverage to avert pressure for more radical income redistribution.
4) To put it mildly, few other conservatives shared this view. They saw the same landscape, and saw a country ripe for Reagan-Kemp 2.0
5) While high turnout elections (2008 and 2012) confirmed my assessment, low turnout elections (2010 and 2014) seemed to confirmed theirs
6) Result: while Democrats turned to center after their beatings in 80, 84, 88 – Republicans turned further right after 08 & 12.
7) The problem was, that the Republican leadership’s version of a right turn – Paul Ryan’s version – was not what the base had in mind
The Tea Party struck me as an implicit solidaristic conservative movement organized around an individualist ideology of libertarianism, but less for reasons of ideology than of patriotic history: America was founded by liberty lovers, so this history was seen (murkily, I admit) as offering a potentially unifying national theme in an increasingly diverse and fractious country. Of course, these citizenist stirrings were contemptuously rejected by the left as the racist twitchings of dying white men etc.
8) So as GOP generals stood at Armageddon to battle for the Lord, i.e. Reagan, their troops were deserting to Donald Trump
9) Trump being a candidate whom most Republicans elite regard as a Goldwater-style disaster who will drag whole party to defeat after him
10) But (as Ryan told Harwood), desperately as GOP elites seek an escape, they cannot see it. They will allow themselves to be dragged
11) The big clarifying election Ryan yearns for is much more likely to consolidate D control than R control- as he must see.
12) Yet even as the R elite sees what’s probably coming, it won’t believe it. What worked in 1980 must work again. It just *must*.
13) I’ve spent a lot of time being dismissed as a RINO squish, or worse, because I think to save most of conservatism, we must change some.
14) The dominant faction on my side of the argument, however, has insisted that it can win all, by changing none.
15) Instead, the “change-nothing” faction has lost control of their own presidential nomination. We’ll see what more there is left to lose.
Individualistic Reagan-Kemp conservatism had a good run in its day, but then it hit diminishing marginal returns. So, it’s time for solidaristic conservatism for awhile. Do the low-hanging fruit that have been neglected, like build a border fence, implement E-verify, fire the SJWs from Executive branch sinecures, eliminate the most plutocratic tax loopholes like carried interest for hedge fund guys, encourage the most desirable global manufacturers to set up factories in America (as Reagan reluctantly did with Japanese car companies), etc.
Then when solidaristic conservatism starts to run out of ideas and gas, individualistic conservatism can have another shot, after they’ve been away in the wilderness for awhile and have had time and incentive to come up with some better ideas. First, though, let the solidaristic conservatives have a time to fix the biggest weaknesses in the individualistic model, such as not defending the nation’s borders in an age of ever increasing smartphone-enabled Third World migrations.
In general, I’d like to emphasize that you can change your mind about what policies you’d like in the future without admitting you were wrong in the past. The smuggest way to rationalize changing your mind is to emphasize that your old policies were so successful that the current reality is so different that it simply requires a reasonable course correction.
I tend to think like this because I have a pretty good historical memory, and I’m old, so I remember a fair amount about what the past was like. Most people aren’t going to remember the past that well, so they will tend to look for Permanently True policy ideas that they can support under any and all circumstances. They will especially tend toward demanding more of the same of whatever worked for them in the past, whether tax cuts for the 0.001% if they are Republicans or more minority rights/privileges if they are Democrats, even if they’ve largely won those battles are now mostly engaged in bayoneting defeated enemy stragglers trying to hide in the bushes.