Back in the 90’s, the set of things called conservative began to merge with the set of things called Republican. By the time George Bush the Minor was crowned, the two words were interchangeable. Liberals would start hooting “extreme right-wing Republican conservative” as soon as you mentioned Bush. It was not just liberals doing it. The Conservative Industrial Complex was happy to make the two things synonymous. It made it easier for them to raise money from GOP donors.
At the same time, the folks who had been the core of American conservatism were pushed out of the set of things called conservative. There was lip service paid to things like abortion or homosexual marriage, but traditionalism was reduced to a marketing concept. Big foot conservatives and the GOP no longer cared about social issues. Instead, they were obsessed with globalism and making war on the Muslims. “Conservative” became Frank Meyer fusionism without the traditional social conservatism.
I’ve written a lot about how Buckley Conservatism is exhausted. It existed primarily as an argument in favor of a tough line with the Soviets and secondarily as an argument against 19th century socialism. It was a reaction to American Progressivism, not an independent intellectual movement. The Soviets are gone and no one, not even Progressives, think the worker’s paradise is a worthy goal. Conservatism no longer has a dance partner so it staggers around looking for a reason to exist.
Buckley Conservatism is now a collection of slogans mostly, but it is also a massive money making racket. The collection of monasteries around Washington DC are still cranking out policy papers and think pieces for the political class. On the Left there’s nothing to write, but their monasteries are still in place, just looking for tenants. They busy themselves now with Democratic party politics, but the rickety state of the party is a reflection of the Left. It’s an old women clutching at power.
The result is we have a strange period in American life. The old binary style of politics that has been with us since the Civil War now has a vacuum on both sides. The Left has no economic arguments and the Right has no cultural arguments. The reason the two sides scream bloody murder at one another over trivial stuff is they have no other way to distinguish one side from the other. Both sides are a straw-man for the other.
That does not mean we are headed for the singularity. The neo-cons are still with us and they may be ready to make the return trip from neo-conservative to neo-liberal, by moving out of Republican politics into Democratic politics. Intellectually, the Left has been an abandoned building since the fall of the Soviets so there’s a vacuum to be filled. The coalition of groups on the Left are emotionally hostile to traditionalism, but they are open to the authoritarian globalism favored by the neoconservatives.
That Tevi Troy piece is worth reading and is probably more wishful thinking/veiled threat at this point. We’re not going to see the American Enterprise Institute change uniforms overnight. That’s not how these things work. Instead, it will be a slow evolution as we see guys like Jonah Goldberg, for example, transition from conservative to moderate and then liberal or whatever label they settle on at that point.
I’m picking on Goldberg because he is already laying the groundwork for his break with the Republican Party this fall. You can almost see the wheels turning as he tries to figure out how to argue that sitting out the election is the “conservative” position, despite arguing against that same position for two decades. Many of his fellows in the Conservative Industrial Complex are struggling with the same dilemma.
Now, Trump and the groundswell carrying him to the nomination is not an intellectual movement. It’s not really a movement at this stage. It’s simply a reaction to the fundamental contradictions in the globalist world view. You can’t have national governments beholden to their citizens in a purely global economy. If national governments are not beholden to their citizens, there’s no point in being a citizen. More important, there’s no reason for people to remain loyal to their rulers.
That said, ideological movements always start this way. Most peter out or become narrowly focused on achievable ends. Still, we see a lot of very smart people writing out on the fringe. If you are curious about the world and are looking for arguments about what’s happening, you’re not reading the mainstream guys. You’re reading the weirdos of the Dark Enlightenment. That’s where the action is now.
Political and ideological realignments happen in fits and starts so Trump could fizzle out only to be replaced the next time by a more polished version that is more complete as a political leader. Alternatively, the Conservative Industrial Complex could go through a counter-reformation and tilt back toward the traditionalist-conservative side. There’s a large and growing mass of people rejecting the status quo. It’s a market that will be met by someone.