Friday, February 24, 2017

The New Nationalism in America

Decades of intellectual and political activity preceded the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. William F. Buckley Jr. founded National Review in 1955. A little less than a decade later, National Review publisher William Rusher helped orchestrate Barry Goldwater's presidential nomination. The following year, 1965, Buckley ran for mayor of New York City and Irving Kristol, then still a member of the anti-Communist left, founded The Public Interest. The year after that, Reagan was elected governor of California. The 1970s saw the proliferation of single-issue interest groups that comprised the New Right. The first Conservative Political Action Conference was held in 1973. In 1977, a year after losing the Republican nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford, Reagan addressed the conference. "The new Republican Party I am speaking about," he said, "is going to have room for the man and the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat, and the millions of Americans who may never have thought of joining our party before, but whose interests coincide with those represented by principled Republicanism." When President Reagan took office in 1981, he could count on 25 years of accumulated conservative thought, argument, rhetoric, policy proposals, and political experience. The movement came first. The voters followed.
Today the situation is reversed. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and the presidency of the United States despite the resistance of the conservative intellectual movement and many party activists. While his administration leans heavily on institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, those aspects of his campaign that diverged most significantly from the conservatism of the Beltway remain undefined. Where Trump stands on trade, immigration, entitlements, America First, and the Iraq war is clear enough. Not so clear, however, is whether those stances add up to a coherent worldview, what that worldview is, and what it implies for political action. In the case of President Trump the voters came before the movement. Hence one explanation for the turbulent beginning of his administration is that Trump, unlike Reagan, is unable to draw from years of intellectual work and policy research. 

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