In the latest issue of National Review, Baseball Crank has a big history lesson on the history of True Conservatism in the Republican Party. It was interesting to read in the context of 12% of Republican voters supporting Donald Trump’s impeachment and everyone from Ben Sasse to Liz Cheney to Bill Cassidy who represent this worldview getting censured.
“Republicans have, since the beginning, been the party of Abraham Lincoln. The Democrats never have been and never will be. But Lincoln’s party was never only the party of Lincoln. The early Republicans professed broad principles that still stir the party, but they were shaped by American nationalism, by Christian cultural conservatism, and by the regional ethos of the Midwest as it matured from the American frontier into the nation’s crossroads. Republican history is one of fusion: between universal classical-liberal ideas and the particular identity of a distinctively American conservatism. Both traditions are more continuous in the party than is typically acknowledged. The party has always included many voters and leaders who combined the two.
The presidency of Donald Trump strained the historic continuity of the party as much as any prior era had, but it is better understood as a disruption of the balance of power between the two tendencies. It remains to be seen whether the Republican Party will permanently abandon the fusionist project. In order to conserve the legacy of Lincoln’s party, it is necessary to understand its roots.
The Republican Party, alone among the major political parties in American history, was founded on a coherent set of principles: the classical liberalism of the American founding …
In the formulation of Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute, Republicans are those who see themselves as part of the American mainstream; Democrats, no matter how little else they have in common, are the remainder who don’t. The wild ideological swings of the Democrats over the years are the main reason we think of the parties as having “flipped.” Republican ideology has not, in fact, changed that much. Even the southward regional shift of the Republican center of gravity reflects changes in the regions themselves: Today’s New Englanders are less religious than their Republican forebears, while today’s white southerners are more prosperous and less isolated from the national culture.
Trump is not the first Republican leader to unsettle the old fusion. Moderates such as Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, and George H. W. Bush were uncomfortable fits for both the classical-liberal tradition and the native conservative tradition. In Bush’s case, that led to a populist revolt by Buchanan and H. Ross Perot that temporarily unraveled the coalition. Trump appealed directly to the Perot tendency — but in so doing, he triggered a crisis of identity for the party’s classical-liberal wing. That is partly because the party has never before had a leader who was so willing to violate core commitments about the rule of law and the universalism of party principles.
And yet, many of the same voters who supported Trump voted for Romney, McCain, and George W. Bush. Trump’s voters continued to elect to Congress and state offices scores of Republicans who still speak in the same old Republican terms and support the same agenda. If Republicans turn away from the classical-liberal element of the party of Lincoln, it will not be because they passed through four years under Donald Trump but because they freely chose, after watching Trump, to turn their back on their own heritage.
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