“This Is The Antithesis Of Classical Liberalism And Must Be Stopped.”

trump_600px“This is the antithesis of classical liberalism and must be stopped.”

So writes Patrick Ruffini this morning on a theme we’ve been beating here on Bearing Drift for some weeks now.  The populist/conservative civil war now careening very close to a Fort Sumter moment, we are perhaps witnessing the rise of European-style far right populist parties.  Matthew Yglesias over at Vox who is about as hard left as the come is reveling in the prospect:

As Lee Drutman detailed for Vox, the policy blend that combines hostility to immigration with support for Social Security and Medicare is actually quite popular.

. . .

In particular, many people are beneficiaries of government programs to support the living standards of the elderly while also being skeptical of the kinds of social change brought about by immigration. Sometimes this can express itself in a kind of “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” ideological confusion. Other times, leaders of mainstream conservative parties can try to square the circle, as when the Republican Party promises to cut Social Security benefits for young people but not for old people.

But it can also manifest itself through the formation of new political parties, or anti-party movements.

Drutman’s piece is instructive (even if it is wrong — I’ll let those better at polling the American electorate do the Fisking here) and demonstrates the very serious nature of the populist/conservative divide, even if it places a thumb on the scale towards the prospects of the liberal left:

(L)imitations aside, if these two issues (Social Security and immigration) turn out to be salient for the months to come, the establishment Republicans — and the business Republican donors who support them — are in a very weak position.

This suggests that candidates who can take on the populist mantle on these issues will resonate with the preferences of a considerable share of the electorate. Given this, it makes sense that Trump and Sanders (the only candidates who don’t spend most of their time sucking up to establishment donors) are the candidates filling the populist void — and winning support as a result.

Translation: the Democrats really want to run against Donald Trump.

The problem is that these two issues will not dominate the public policy discourse by a long shot.  Foreign policy, job creation, and reform will have their moments in the sunlight.  Social conservatives are still up for grabs in an environment where the case for legislating morally vs. legislating morality has yet to be made.

Still, this conversation will not happen in a vacuum — neither within the GOP or without.

buchanan_patrick_600pxPatrick Buchanan remains one of the more enigmatic figures of American politics.  Stalwart Reaganite, it was Buchanan who captured the populist dissatisfaction with the Bush 41 presidency in the wake of the end of the Cold War.  Buchanan’s 1992 campaign followed by his “culture war” speech defined a generation of American politics, and it was Ross Perot who picked up Buchanan’s battle standard after Buchanan’s tacit endorsement of the Bush-Quayle ’92 ticket.

Buchanan’s A Republic Not An Empire remains one of my favorite political books.  His history on the events leading up to the Second World War were unfairly ridiculed as being sympathetic to Nazi Germany, as Buchanan perhaps touched on the “what ifs” of a German bulwark against Soviet communism in perhaps a page of an otherwise fascinating book on what Buchanan believed to be the unnecessary fall of the British Empire.

Yet the lean towards what Buchanan is terming neo-nationalism is a dangerous turn, and as Ruffini mentions, antithetical to the principles of classical liberalism:

While his foreign policy positions seem unformed, his natural reflex appears non-ideological and almost wholly results-oriented. He looks on foreign trade much as did 19th-century Republicans.

They saw America as the emerging world power and Britain as the nation to beat, as China sees us today. Those Americans used tariffs, both to force foreigners to pay to build our country, and to keep British imports at a price disadvantage in the USA.

Then they exploited British free-trade policy to ship as much as they could to the British Isles to take down their factories and capture their jobs for U.S. workers, as the Chinese do to us today.

Whatever becomes of Trump the candidate, Trumpism, i.e., economic and foreign policy nationalism, appears ascendant.

Even if you are allergic to World Net Daily as a news source, the op-ed is worth reading in its entirety.   The baton has been officially passed, and Buchanan has blessed Trump’s candidacy in toto — not a small event, ladies and gentlemen.

Every 20 years, the populist movement attempts to break out and form its own third way.  Whether it is the old Populist Party, Bull Moose Party, America First, America Independent Party, or the Reform Party, this is a percolation we have seen time and time and time again.

Yet if political trends in the United States merely reflect what goes on in the Old World in 5-10 years, the far-right populist parties aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  No, Republicans should not be silly enough to say that they will reflect the neo-Nazi parties that cling to the populist movements in Europe (such an ideology simply has no root here in a multicultural America), but the revanchism will be a defining feature.

While I disagree with attempts to enforce a loyalty oath on the likes of Trump — and let’s be honest, since Virginia has “sore loser” laws for primaries, this is more saccharine than substance — and though I disagree profoundly with Trump’s positions on a great number of issues, the process for selecting the Republican nominee ought to be fair, above board, and transparent.

If there is to be a rending of the Republican Party into populist and conservative camps, let it come quickly.  Trump’s advisors have to know that they cannot win the Republican nomination in the long run.  Mainstream conservative candidates such as Rubio, Bush, and Walker also know that while the populist prize is considerable, the opportunity to re-forge Reaganist fusionism is too delicious not to pursue.  Rand Paul is not finished yet, and the future lies in a constitutionally secure, libertarian-leaning Republican Party focused like a laser on the business of government as business: creating jobs, accountable standards, a fair and level playing field, an an affordable shot at the American Dream.

…the populists just want to keep government out of my Medicare.

There are other issues as well.  Trump is abhorrently weak on national security and civil liberties.  Trump’s total disrespect for the wartime service of John McCain remains deplorable at best, regardless as to whether or not one agrees or disagrees with McCain’s public service as an elected official.  Trump’s coziness with the Russian Federation at a time when NATO is literally staring down the Russian Army in Lithuania and Ukraine should give any number of foreign policy analysts pause.  Moreover, Trump’s intentions to declare a trade war with our #3 trading partner is economic suicide, policies that will recklessly embolden our enemies and strengthen their hand in an uncertain world.

Conservatives need not fear the coming divorce.  What conservatives ought to be doing is articulating a clear path forward, one that is constitutional in size and libertarian in scope, that will not get us to that shining city on a hill tomorrow… but lays out the path for the next 20 years in bold, responsible language that unleashes the American economy and inspires a generation.  The opportunities for a center-right coalition are immense if we only have the courage to grab it.

So let it come.  Classical liberalism deserves a renaissance in this country.  The principles that made America great once before can make her great again… that is the Jeffersonian conservative tradition in practice, and the retrograde populists seeking to defend the social welfare state that happens to be working for them (for the moment) could not be a bigger roadblock.

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