Conservative author's new book about the battle between populists and institutionalists in the GOP sounds interesting...

torbee

HR King
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Essay on the book from the (self-described liberal publication) The New Republic below about longtime conservative Matthew Continetti's new book "The Right: The 100 Year War for American Conservatism." It sounds like an interesting read. The premise of the book is that the past century has seen an internecine battle between "Conservatives" and "The Right" for the soul of the GOP - with the conservatives being mainstream institutionalists and "The Right" being populist radicals. Obviously, the populist radicals have won.

I have included a few of what were to me interesting excerpts and there is a link to the full article below that:


Conservatives are the Continettis of yesteryear, institutionalists quoting Edmund Burke to explain why staying credible with the mainstream is essential to moving the cause forward. The Right stands in for activists at the grassroots, latter-day Jacksonians willing to burn the whole system to the ground. Picture George Will on one side, Steve Bannon on the other.


On the day Continetti proclaimed the onset of the Ryan Revolution, Donald Trump was the clear leader in Republican primary polls, pulling in a higher total than Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Jeb Bush combined. Continetti greeted Trump’s candidacy with equanimity at first. Of course, a reality TV star with a penchant for ludicrous conspiracy theorizing and crude racial demagoguery could never win. But a leader from the statesman’s wing of the GOP (maybe even—swoon—Paul Ryan) could translate Trumpian grievance mongering into a populist platform that would clobber Hillary Clinton in the fall.


By the time Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, Democrats had transformed the country, including the elite, which now had a decidedly liberal (though far from radical) orientation. But after decades of political dominance, FDR’s majority was coming apart. McCarthyism had given conservatives a populist makeover by linking anti-communism to the campaign against big government. Civil rights activists were pushing debates over racial justice to the foreground, providing Republicans with an opportunity to break open the solidly Democratic South that had been the base of Roosevelt’s coalition. The establishment was becoming more liberal, discontent with the status quo was bubbling, and the GOP was poised to attack a New Deal order that was already cracking under the weight of its contradictions.


In the 1970s, grassroots activists calling themselves “the New Right”—ERA-slayer Phyllis Schlafly, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie—brought activists to the polls. But it was neoconservative intellectuals who shaped the conversation in the Capitol and scored the sweetest think tank sinecures. Under Reagan, the conservative movement grew into a proper conservative establishment located in Washington and dominated by Ivy Leaguers speaking on behalf of the heartland. A dissident intellectual wing of paleoconservatives bemoaning the rise of “Conservatism Inc.” later rallied behind Pat Buchanan. By the time George W. Bush was sworn into the presidency, however, Buchanan had been driven out of the Republican Party, and Buckley’s heirs had matured into what Continetti describes as a “self-confident conservative ruling class.”


Continetti has a more favorable opinion these days of the man he once called “a misogynist and bigot, an ignoramus and doofus.” With Trump’s presidency safely in the rearview mirror, for now, Continetti describes the doofus of 2016 as “a disruptive but consequential populist leader,” who was only forced into “the ranks of American villains” by his crusade to overturn the 2020 election. (He notes, too, that most of Trump’s signature achievements could have been the handiwork of a President Rubio: tax cuts, deregulation, and a litany of judges stamped with the Federalist Society’s seal of approval.) But he cannot resist casting a mournful look at the institution that Trump did the most to disrupt. Even if the White House borrowed much of its agenda from GOP orthodoxy, Trump’s rise “disestablished the postwar conservatism of Buckley and Goldwater, of Irving Kristol and Ronald Reagan, of William Kristol and George W. Bush”—and, he could have added, of Matthew Continetti and Paul Ryan.


Historians will already be familiar with most of Continetti’s examples of collaboration between elite conservatives and the grassroots Right, but seeing them parade one after another through the decades makes its own kind of argument. Conservatives and the Right weren’t fighting a war. They were partners in a joint venture kept alive by strategic silences, willful blindness, and mutual self-interest. Together, they cleared a path that led directly to Donald Trump. And Continetti is a good enough historian to mark the key points in this itinerary, even if he isn’t willing to reckon with the implications of his own findings.


 

ThorneStockton

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Thanks for posting. I certainly won't read the book - far too depressing - but the write up was interesting. I do appreciate the distinction between Conservatives and The Right. As well as the description of the arrangement between the two: one provides the votes, the other the policy. One gets fed cultural grievances and in return the other side gets tax cuts and deregulation.

Although the term isn't mentioned, he's certainly talking about the deplorables here: “What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want.”
 

Chishawk1425

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Nov 27, 2019
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Thanks for posting. I certainly won't read the book - far too depressing - but the write up was interesting. I do appreciate the distinction between Conservatives and The Right. As well as the description of the arrangement between the two: one provides the votes, the other the policy. One gets fed cultural grievances and in return the other side gets tax cuts and deregulation.

Although the term isn't mentioned, he's certainly talking about the deplorables here: “What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want.”
This
 

kc78

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I have been a Republican for my entire life. I was campaigning for Bush and then once he dropped out for Rubio. I was certain there was no chance that Trump could win, that the heart of Republicans were actually good and caring Christians. I was wrong. I was forced to take a long step back and reckon with where the party was when I realized I was no longer a part of it. It really had left me behind, I'd just been unwilling to admit it.
 

Chishawk1425

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Nov 27, 2019
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I have been a Republican for my entire life. I was campaigning for Bush and then once he dropped out for Rubio. I was certain there was no chance that Trump could win, that the heart of Republicans were actually good and caring Christians. I was wrong. I was forced to take a long step back and reckon with where the party was when I realized I was no longer a part of it. It really had left me behind, I'd just been unwilling to admit it.
We need millions more like you.
 
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LuteHawk

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Nov 30, 2011
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It is significant that the last 2 Trump Rallies in 2022,
have had shrinking crowds. In Commerce, Georgia,
there was a small crowd compared to previous one.
The most recent rally in Selma, North Carolina had
about 1,500 in attendance compared to 15,000 in
2016.

The truth is that Donald Trump is losing his grip on
the GOP. He is not a good candidate for President
in 2024 and he knows it. HIs legal troubles are going
to greatly diminish his popularity as the pressure to
indict him intensifies. Slowly, the average GOP voter
is tired of his antics and want a fresh face in 2024.

Bottom Line: Mainstream Conservatives will win the
battle with the radical populists in the GOP
 

kc78

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Nov 25, 2002
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It is significant that the last 2 Trump Rallies in 2022,
have had shrinking crowds. In Commerce, Georgia,
there was a small crowd compared to previous one.
The most recent rally in Selma, North Carolina had
about 1,500 in attendance compared to 15,000 in
2016.

The truth is that Donald Trump is losing his grip on
the GOP. He is not a good candidate for President
in 2024 and he knows it. HIs legal troubles are going
to greatly diminish his popularity as the pressure to
indict him intensifies. Slowly, the average GOP voter
is tired of his antics and want a fresh face in 2024.
The problem is that he taught an entire generation of up and coming politicians a new playbook. The real fear to me isn't Donald Trump getting elected again because he's too stupid to stay out of his way. It's an intelligent person with no ethics or morals who understands his playbook and can stay out of his own way getting elected and truly destroying the country in a way that Trump's ego couldn't allow him to do.
 

Nole Lou

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Apr 5, 2002
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I agree with that summary, especially this.

With Trump’s presidency safely in the rearview mirror, for now, Continetti describes the doofus of 2016 as “a disruptive but consequential populist leader,” who was only forced into “the ranks of American villains” by his crusade to overturn the 2020 election. (He notes, too, that most of Trump’s signature achievements could have been the handiwork of a President Rubio: tax cuts, deregulation, and a litany of judges stamped with the Federalist Society’s seal of approval.) But he cannot resist casting a mournful look at the institution that Trump did the most to disrupt. Even if the White House borrowed much of its agenda from GOP orthodoxy, Trump’s rise “disestablished the postwar conservatism of Buckley and Goldwater, of Irving Kristol and Ronald Reagan, of William Kristol and George W. Bush”—and, he could have added, of Matthew Continetti and Paul Ryan.

I don't know if the reviewer has the gotcha he thinks with this:

They were partners in a joint venture kept alive by strategic silences, willful blindness, and mutual self-interest.

I mean, duh. That's exactly how it works.

I think what you've really got is a situation where since the 60s establishment conservatives traditionally allied with the populist right in kind of a silent handshake agreement...you give us the votes, and we'll do the actual adult governing how we see fit. What you populists get is protection of your guns, a nominal nod to religious right concerns, and a sense of being an important part of a winning coalition..."you matter". But you don't actually, you know control the strings.

As correctly noted, occasionally those like Pat Buchanan tried to wrestle actual power to the populist right...with no success.

Somehow that balance fell apart in the Trump case. The populist right actually got their guy, as if the folks in the boiler room actually seized control of the ship.

Why did it happen? Part of it is just so much lip service to the populist right without delivering much over the years. People forget now (because so much came after and he didn't deliver anything) just how resonant Trump's promises to deliver jobs and industry back to the heartland was after decades of establishment conservatives literally not even making a passing gesture toward that. Establishment conservatives have had literally nothing to say, let alone deliver, about the cratering of the manufacturing economy.

Even bigger is what I think is the most overlooked and underappreciated motivation behind the Trump phenomenon and the break between the establishment conservatives and the populist right - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The establishment conservatives weren't the ones sending their kids over their to run over IEDs. As far as Republican voters go, the full human resource cost of those engagements were borne by the populist right. It wasn't as sexy as other issues, but over and over again, especially early on, Trump enthusiasts were highly motivated by a firm break from American military engagement. I still don't think people fully appreciate just how powerful a differentiator and a motivator it was for Trump to denounce the war in Iraq and promise an end to foreign engagements.

The really wild thing, as noted, is that by way of policy, the Trump administration couldn't have been much more in line with a traditional Republican presidency. He didn't do, or even try to do, anything very radical policy wise. But that's not necessarily the case at the local and state levels where the populist right has gained.
 

ThorneStockton

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Oct 2, 2009
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I agree with that summary, especially this.

With Trump’s presidency safely in the rearview mirror, for now, Continetti describes the doofus of 2016 as “a disruptive but consequential populist leader,” who was only forced into “the ranks of American villains” by his crusade to overturn the 2020 election. (He notes, too, that most of Trump’s signature achievements could have been the handiwork of a President Rubio: tax cuts, deregulation, and a litany of judges stamped with the Federalist Society’s seal of approval.) But he cannot resist casting a mournful look at the institution that Trump did the most to disrupt. Even if the White House borrowed much of its agenda from GOP orthodoxy, Trump’s rise “disestablished the postwar conservatism of Buckley and Goldwater, of Irving Kristol and Ronald Reagan, of William Kristol and George W. Bush”—and, he could have added, of Matthew Continetti and Paul Ryan.

I don't know if the reviewer has the gotcha he thinks with this:

They were partners in a joint venture kept alive by strategic silences, willful blindness, and mutual self-interest.

I mean, duh. That's exactly how it works.

I think what you've really got is a situation where since the 60s establishment conservatives traditionally allied with the populist right in kind of a silent handshake agreement...you give us the votes, and we'll do the actual adult governing how we see fit. What you populists get is protection of your guns, a nominal nod to religious right concerns, and a sense of being an important part of a winning coalition..."you matter". But you don't actually, you know control the strings.

As correctly noted, occasionally those like Pat Buchanan tried to wrestle actual power to the populist right...with no success.

Somehow that balance fell apart in the Trump case. The populist right actually got their guy, as if the folks in the boiler room actually seized control of the ship.

Why did it happen? Part of it is just so much lip service to the populist right without delivering much over the years. People forget now (because so much came after and he didn't deliver anything) just how resonant Trump's promises to deliver jobs and industry back to the heartland was after decades of establishment conservatives literally not even making a passing gesture toward that. Establishment conservatives have had literally nothing to say, let alone deliver, about the cratering of the manufacturing economy.

Even bigger is what I think is the most overlooked and underappreciated motivation behind the Trump phenomenon and the break between the establishment conservatives and the populist right - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The establishment conservatives weren't the ones sending their kids over their to run over IEDs. As far as Republican voters go, the full human resource cost of those engagements were borne by the populist right. It wasn't as sexy as other issues, but over and over again, especially early on, Trump enthusiasts were highly motivated by a firm break from American military engagement. I still don't think people fully appreciate just how powerful a differentiator and a motivator it was for Trump to denounce the war in Iraq and promise an end to foreign engagements.

The really wild thing, as noted, is that by way of policy, the Trump administration couldn't have been much more in line with a traditional Republican presidency. He didn't do, or even try to do, anything very radical policy wise. But that's not necessarily the case at the local and state levels where the populist right has gained.

Largely agree and I appreciate the observations. Although on your last paragraph: I don't think Trump's tariffs, bailouts/subsidies/stimulus, emergency declaration to reallocate military funding to the wall, and views on NATO/alliances would be considered part of a traditional Republican presidency.

I also think you have a bit to reconcile between the idea that the populists went with Trump because they realized for years they were always getting lip service and the idea that Trump was basically a traditional Republican president policy wise.

Maybe these populists still don't actually care about policies, they want the lip service, and the type of lip service they want is based on being a jackass, being mean to the right people, "fighting back", "telling it like it is", conspiracies' - you know - everything Trump provided on a daily basis.
 

kc78

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Largely agree and I appreciate the observations. Although on your last paragraph: I don't think Trump's tariffs, bailouts/subsidies/stimulus, emergency declaration to reallocate military funding to the wall, and views on NATO/alliances would be considered part of a traditional Republican presidency.

I also think you have a bit to reconcile between the idea that the populists went with Trump because they realized for years they were always getting lip service and the idea that Trump was basically a traditional Republican president policy wise.

Maybe these populists still don't actually care about policies, they want the lip service, and the type of lip service they want is based on being a jackass, being mean to the right people, "fighting back", "telling it like it is", conspiracies' - you know - everything Trump provided on a daily basis.
They liked that Trump said what they felt. They were tired of the "educated" republicans talking down to them. Finally they had a politician who hated the same people they hated and said what they'd always been made feel ashamed for feeling. It's why they all came out of the woodwork with their damned flags and hats and cult like behavior. They finally felt seen and they felt vindicated for being hateful racists rather than being ashamed for harboring those feelings.

The other side wasn't necessarily excited about how he acted but felt he was finally going to push for their policies of outlawing abortion, getting more conservative justices on the court, immigration clampdowns, etc... To them he was a useful idiot.
 

Nole Lou

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Apr 5, 2002
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Largely agree and I appreciate the observations. Although on your last paragraph: I don't think Trump's tariffs, bailouts/subsidies/stimulus, emergency declaration to reallocate military funding to the wall, and views on NATO/alliances would be considered part of a traditional Republican presidency.

I also think you have a bit to reconcile between the idea that the populists went with Trump because they realized for years they were always getting lip service and the idea that Trump was basically a traditional Republican president policy wise.

Maybe these populists still don't actually care about policies, they want the lip service, and the type of lip service they want is based on being a jackass, being mean to the right people, "fighting back", "telling it like it is", conspiracies' - you know - everything Trump provided on a daily basis.

Yep, you call out some policies where Trump did deviate, the tariffs probably the most relevant of them. The wall isn't a legacy of his presidency, and while his view on NATO were divergent, he didn't manage to withdraw us from NATO or anything. The things that are actually things that resulted from his presidency...there isn't that much radical there. A couple things here and there, but the only things that would be considered meaningful accomplishments are standard republican stuff.

I also think you have a bit to reconcile between the idea that the populists went with Trump because they realized for years they were always getting lip service and the idea that Trump was basically a traditional Republican president policy wise.

This is totally fair, and that's why I said it was wild. He didn't actually do anything meaningful for the populist right, and they still love him. At some point it turned from a movement to a cult of personality for a segment of his supporters, and they frankly don't give a shit about anything policy wise. It makes it extremely hard to draw real conclusions about the Trump era. How much of it is simply him being a unicorn, a super famous person already, lined up against an especially loathed Democrat, at just the right time? And how much of it actually represents something?

While I do think a lot of Trump voters (not talking about January 6 lunatics) had coherent reasons (we may or may not agree, but they were coherent) for supporting him, any of that has long since fallen away. How does Trumpism live beyond Trump? There is no longer any "platform" for Trumpism other than overturning the 2020 election.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not ready to claim Trumpism is over, and as an ethos or style I think it will live on in various forms. But there is nothing really there anymore...so I honestly don't know what it is supposed to look like if it continues to dominate Republican politics.

Maybe these populists still don't actually care about policies, they want the lip service, and the type of lip service they want is based on being a jackass, being mean to the right people, "fighting back", "telling it like it is", conspiracies' - you know - everything Trump provided on a daily basis.


Well, this is absolutely true. I think any future Republicans with a chance will have to have some of this. One reason I'm not TOTALLY despondent about the future of the Republicans is this factor. I mean, I think "Mean Mitt Romney" would do perfectly fine with that group honestly. Someone could have perfectly mainstream Republican ideas, and could succeed just by fighting.

And I get that...it's not me, but I get that. There's an entire post-Daily Show cultural industry based around the mocking of Republicans, conservatives, Christians as viciously as possible that just didn't exist not long ago. And companies are on board as well.

And that's fair, power to them. But to act like these are the days of Carson or Letterman and Leno and Dana Carvey's GWB impressions...that's not the world anymore. I don't know that there's any chance for a Republican that doesn't engage back.
 

Titus Andronicus

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Thanks for posting. I certainly won't read the book - far too depressing - but the write up was interesting. I do appreciate the distinction between Conservatives and The Right. As well as the description of the arrangement between the two: one provides the votes, the other the policy. One gets fed cultural grievances and in return the other side gets tax cuts and deregulation.

Although the term isn't mentioned, he's certainly talking about the deplorables here: “What disturbs me most is the prospect that Donald Trump is what a very large number of Republican voters want.”

It is more a case of Trump being what we NEED. He is a disrupter and he makes decisions, all the while keeping his promises.

I highly doubt that anyone else would have effectively eliminated the SALT provisions in federal tax law. He greenlighted drilling and piping. He let the generals fight the wars. He greenlighted the search for a vaccine and much more. He seemed to be a guy who decided, implemented, and then moved on; a guy with no respect for the entrenched bureaucracy. He got a lot done in four years.

I am actually on the fence as to whether he would have done a better job than Biden on Ukraine. Biden is outperforming my expectations on that front. NATO had however been called out by Trump, so my guess is that the strong response by the NATO countries might have been prodded on by Mr. Trump ... at least the narrative was out there.

In my view, whether Trump had earlier on banged a crazy stripper, (or was she really an actress?) or had a son (Hunter Biden) who had knocked up a less-crazy stripper is just stuff we have to put up with. Modern day libertinage is embedded in the culture, and will remain there until Mike Pence, or his grandson's son or daughter becomes president.

...................................................

Incidentally Torbee, that is an interesting book review. Thanks for posting it.
 
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