The Republican Party was bitterly divided during this year’s primaries, and victory in November has not altogether bridged the divisions. The Hill reports that Stephen Moore, an economic adviser to President-elect Trump, “surprised” some GOP lawmakers last week “when he told them they should no longer think of themselves as belonging to the conservative party of Ronald Reagan.” Instead Moore said, in the reporter’s paraphrase, that “they now belong to Trump’s populist working-class party.”
In an interview, Moore (a former member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board) elaborated:
“He wants to spend all this money on infrastructure,” Moore said, referring to Trump’s potentially trillion-dollar infrastructure package. . . .
“I don’t want to spend all that money on infrastructure,” Moore said. “I think it’s mostly a waste of money. But if the voters want it, they should get it.”
“If Trump says build a wall then he should build a wall. If Trump says renegotiate TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal], he should renegotiate TPP.” . . .
Moore is excited about large parts of Trump’s agenda. He helped write Trump’s tax plan and thinks the cuts will accelerate economic growth and create new jobs. He’s also had a hand in Trump’s energy plan and looks forward to slashing regulations hindering American energy production.
But Moore knows the days of Reaganite conservatism are probably over.
“Reagan ran as an ideological conservative. Trump ran as an economic populist,” he said.
“Trump’s victory,” Moore added, “turned it into the Trump party.”
It was especially surprising considering the source. “For God’s sake, it’s Stephen Moore!” said an unnamed source present at the meeting. “He’s the guy who started Club for Growth. He’s Mr. Supply Side economics.”
In Moore’s defense, it may be said that it is indisputably true, if trivially so, that the GOP is now Trump’s party, not Reagan’s. Reagan belongs to history, and the Republican Party belongs to the living.
Also true, and not trivial: During the campaign, some Nevertrump conservatives had an annoying tendency to use “Reagan”—meaning what they imagined the 40th president would think and do today—as a rhetorical device to portray Trump’s supporters as apostates from conservatism.
Some are still at it. One of them is Evan McMullin, the former CIA officer and congressional aide who ran as a “true conservative” independent, receiving 0.4% of the nationwide popular vote and topping 20% in his native Utah. In response to the Moore report, he tweeted: “For conservatives who didn’t see this coming, it should be a wake up call. Trump is going to expand the size of the Federal Government.”
Then again, so did Reagan—or, to be precise, so did Congress during his presidency, usually with Reagan’s assent.
McMullin has gone in some strange directions since the election. In a Wednesday op-ed for the Hill, he opines: “Repudiating and eradicating opponents of equality in America should be a primary duty of all of our leaders, conservative and liberal alike.”
He’s referring specifically to “around 250 white supremacists” who celebrated Trump’s victory at a Washington powwow Saturday. Repudiating white supremacists (or white nationalists, as they would call themselves), as Trump himself did in an interview with the New York Times, is an entirely reasonable thing to do. Our preference would be to ignore them, but the liberal media are intent on giving them attention, so repudiation it is.
But really, “eradicating opponents of equality”? What kind of communism is that? Among the left Reagan had a reputation as a war monger, but it was undeserved. He did not, as we recall, go in for eradicating people.
All that said, it seems to us it was likewise unwise for Moore to set up an opposition between Trump and Reagan, whose memory many Republicans revere. Better to stress their similarities and seek common ground between Reaganite conservatism and Trump’s populism.
That is the approach of McMullin’s fellow Utahn Sen. Mike Lee, who in a piece for National Review urges conservatives to “embrace principled populism”:
At our best, conservatives craft policy reforms that empower bottom-up, trial-and-error problem-solving and the institutions that facilitate it, such as markets and civil society. At our worst, though, we can seem indifferent to suffering and injustice because we overlook problems that require our action or resign ourselves to their insolvability.
Populists, on the other hand, have an uncanny knack for identifying social problems. It’s when pressed for solutions that populists tend to reveal their characteristic weakness. Unable to draw on a coherent philosophy, populists can tend toward inconsistent or unserious proposals.
The rough terms of a successful partnership seem obvious. Populism identifies the problems; conservatism develops the solutions; and President Trump oversees the process with a veto pen that keeps everyone honest.
Lee—whose late father, Rex, served as Reagan’s solicitor general—was anything but a Trump supporter. In the primaries he endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, who easily won the Utah caucuses. In June Lee delivered what Politico called an “epic rant” against Trump in an interview with NewsMax. He never endorsed Trump, and last month, after the infamous “Access Hollywood” video became public, he urged the nominee to “step aside” and “allow someone else to carry the banner of these principles.”
None of which deterred Trump from including Lee on his list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Lee “swiftly shot down the idea that he would accept a nomination,” Politico reported in September. That’s his prerogative, but we’ve discussed constitutional law with the senator, and we think he’d be a fine choice.
Well, populism strikes me as very close to democracy, and we’ve seen democracy’s downsides this year. We conservatives would all be in jail or dead if liberals had the majority vote in this country, and Hillary Clinton would be about to become president. (In a democracy, remember, the majority can vote to imprison, or worse, the minority. That’s, among other reasons, why we have a Constitution and Bill of Rights, and why we have, in the words of Ben Franklin, a republic, if we can keep it.)