Trump and Republican Orthodoxy

Tucker Carlson’s infamous monologue about the working class’s struggle with Republican economic orthodoxy precipitated a maelstrom of debate within the conservative movement. The National Review crowd, gatekeepers of mainstream right-of-center opinion, decried Carlson’s protestation, calling it “victimhood populism.” More heterodox conservative thinkers embraced some, if not all, of the message. If these Burkean dissidents, by no means uniform in their views, disagreed with parts of Carlson’s argument, they agreed wholeheartedly with its sentiment: The Republican Party’s position on trade, economics, foreign policy, and immigration has been tried and found dreadfully wanting for the current age.

The election of Donald Trump, with his non-austere views on entitlements and government spending, showed that the old three-variable Reaganite formula isn’t necessary for electoral victory. The 45th president may govern as a traditional Republican in many ways, but he didn’t campaign as a Milton Friedman-reading Cold Warrior.

Now, one liberal pundit has drafted a manifesto for what he calls the “new American center” that rejects the tired Washington wisdom on where the country’s political center lies. And the data he cites to sketch this vision should cause some conservatives to rethink their usual maxims.  Damon Linker, a former First Things editor and now correspondent for TheWeek.com, says the mainstream definition of the American center is all wrong. While editorial page doyens and cable-news prattlers insist that our median political dispensation is somewhere along the lines of socially liberal, fiscally conservative (the mantra of 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and failed geography student Gary Johnson), the lines of distinction are less cut and dry. In fact, the real political center might be, grosso modo, inversed.

Linker, speaking for the Washington class, describes the political center as “pro-market, pro-free trade, pro-immigration.” The description certainly applies to denizens of Park Slope or Chevy Chase, Md., who don’t mind hedge fund profits as long as their undocumented nanny remains out of ICE custody. But, it leaves out large swaths of the rest of the country who don’t reside in what Charles Murray calls SuperZips. “There may not be very many voters in this so-called center,” Linker writes.

He’s got the data to back it up, too. Linker cites a 2017 report from the Voter Study Group to show that most Americans are economically liberal and somewhere between moderate and conservative on social issues. Self-identifying Democrats are thoroughly liberal when it comes to economics, but can occasionally wade into culturally conservative waters, particularly on immigration. Republicans are steadfastly conservative on culture and identity, but are more mutable on economic issues, sometimes swinging to the left. That leaves a lacuna where the so-called center resides, a political absence Murray Rothbard derided as “low-tax liberalism.”

There are always exceptions, and the data will never paint a complete picture of complex voters. But, generally speaking, Americans are comfortable with a (not too) generous welfare system and are less open to the radical left’s desire to knock down barriers, either between the sexes or sovereign nations.

What does this mean for the conservative movement with Trump as president? Is it time to pack up the Reagan/Bush ‘84 mementoes, shred Commentary back issues, and hide the Jeb! guacamole bowl?

No, that’d be as unnecessary as forcing yourself to forget the German you learned as a college freshman because you have no practical need for it. The old Republican consensus was apt—even necessary—for a specific time, namely in the struggle against communism.

But, Donald Trump is the best indicator that something is off in the traditional conservative recipe. Americans aren’t as stridently pro-market as some cloistered think tankers posit. And they don’t view the free flow of capital and people as an unadulterated good.

It might even be the case that they just don’t care to hear about the material glories of capitalism. They certainly enjoy them, but the Left has just done a better job turning the image of the free market into a rapacious bugbear.

There’s no need to go full Bernie Sanders, casting blame on market economics for our woes. It is, however, worth keeping in mind the appeal that country-and-worker-first messages have. America and its people deserve the material and social benefits of the nation -- not the textbook theories of David Ricardo. Trump understood that well enough; it was responsible for winning him Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and, thus, the presidency.

In his own manifesto, “A New Conservative Agenda,” Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy attempts to modernize conservatism for the increasingly globalized economy. Endorsing a revived version of “economic nationalism,” McCarthy urges conservatives to embrace particularity as a governing philosophy, specifically one that “takes account of the different needs of different walks of life and regions of the country, serving the whole by serving its parts and drawing them ­together.” That means considering the wants and needs of all citizens, and not just capital over labor. And it puts emphasis on the citizenry above other considerations.

The good thing is, Trump has already pushed the GOP into taking a harder line against untrammeled immigration. Democrats, in their inveterate need to stand against the president, have flirted too closely with open-borders rhetoric. Conservatives should learn from this dynamic and apply it to their other precepts accordingly.

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk can school Marx on the temporal structure of production, but citing him is not going to help a politician win an American election. Reaganites need not abandon their principles. They need only to take a realistic look at the electorate and consider the hard truth of politics: Political beliefs that don’t win don’t stay alive for long.

Tucker Carlson’s infamous monologue about the working class’s struggle with Republican economic orthodoxy precipitated a maelstrom of debate within the conservative movement. The National Review crowd, gatekeepers of mainstream right-of-center opinion, decried Carlson’s protestation, calling it “victimhood populism.” More heterodox conservative thinkers embraced some, if not all, of the message. If these Burkean dissidents, by no means uniform in their views, disagreed with parts of Carlson’s argument, they agreed wholeheartedly with its sentiment: The Republican Party’s position on trade, economics, foreign policy, and immigration has been tried and found dreadfully wanting for the current age.

The election of Donald Trump, with his non-austere views on entitlements and government spending, showed that the old three-variable Reaganite formula isn’t necessary for electoral victory. The 45th president may govern as a traditional Republican in many ways, but he didn’t campaign as a Milton Friedman-reading Cold Warrior.

Now, one liberal pundit has drafted a manifesto for what he calls the “new American center” that rejects the tired Washington wisdom on where the country’s political center lies. And the data he cites to sketch this vision should cause some conservatives to rethink their usual maxims.  Damon Linker, a former First Things editor and now correspondent for TheWeek.com, says the mainstream definition of the American center is all wrong. While editorial page doyens and cable-news prattlers insist that our median political dispensation is somewhere along the lines of socially liberal, fiscally conservative (the mantra of 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate and failed geography student Gary Johnson), the lines of distinction are less cut and dry. In fact, the real political center might be, grosso modo, inversed.

Linker, speaking for the Washington class, describes the political center as “pro-market, pro-free trade, pro-immigration.” The description certainly applies to denizens of Park Slope or Chevy Chase, Md., who don’t mind hedge fund profits as long as their undocumented nanny remains out of ICE custody. But, it leaves out large swaths of the rest of the country who don’t reside in what Charles Murray calls SuperZips. “There may not be very many voters in this so-called center,” Linker writes.

He’s got the data to back it up, too. Linker cites a 2017 report from the Voter Study Group to show that most Americans are economically liberal and somewhere between moderate and conservative on social issues. Self-identifying Democrats are thoroughly liberal when it comes to economics, but can occasionally wade into culturally conservative waters, particularly on immigration. Republicans are steadfastly conservative on culture and identity, but are more mutable on economic issues, sometimes swinging to the left. That leaves a lacuna where the so-called center resides, a political absence Murray Rothbard derided as “low-tax liberalism.”

There are always exceptions, and the data will never paint a complete picture of complex voters. But, generally speaking, Americans are comfortable with a (not too) generous welfare system and are less open to the radical left’s desire to knock down barriers, either between the sexes or sovereign nations.

What does this mean for the conservative movement with Trump as president? Is it time to pack up the Reagan/Bush ‘84 mementoes, shred Commentary back issues, and hide the Jeb! guacamole bowl?

No, that’d be as unnecessary as forcing yourself to forget the German you learned as a college freshman because you have no practical need for it. The old Republican consensus was apt—even necessary—for a specific time, namely in the struggle against communism.

But, Donald Trump is the best indicator that something is off in the traditional conservative recipe. Americans aren’t as stridently pro-market as some cloistered think tankers posit. And they don’t view the free flow of capital and people as an unadulterated good.

It might even be the case that they just don’t care to hear about the material glories of capitalism. They certainly enjoy them, but the Left has just done a better job turning the image of the free market into a rapacious bugbear.

There’s no need to go full Bernie Sanders, casting blame on market economics for our woes. It is, however, worth keeping in mind the appeal that country-and-worker-first messages have. America and its people deserve the material and social benefits of the nation -- not the textbook theories of David Ricardo. Trump understood that well enough; it was responsible for winning him Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and, thus, the presidency.

In his own manifesto, “A New Conservative Agenda,” Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy attempts to modernize conservatism for the increasingly globalized economy. Endorsing a revived version of “economic nationalism,” McCarthy urges conservatives to embrace particularity as a governing philosophy, specifically one that “takes account of the different needs of different walks of life and regions of the country, serving the whole by serving its parts and drawing them ­together.” That means considering the wants and needs of all citizens, and not just capital over labor. And it puts emphasis on the citizenry above other considerations.

The good thing is, Trump has already pushed the GOP into taking a harder line against untrammeled immigration. Democrats, in their inveterate need to stand against the president, have flirted too closely with open-borders rhetoric. Conservatives should learn from this dynamic and apply it to their other precepts accordingly.

Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk can school Marx on the temporal structure of production, but citing him is not going to help a politician win an American election. Reaganites need not abandon their principles. They need only to take a realistic look at the electorate and consider the hard truth of politics: Political beliefs that don’t win don’t stay alive for long.