Government & Politics

The Future of Conservatism

It's time for principles to meet action.

Robin Smith · Nov. 14, 2016

What happens when you build a national political organization around the elected elites versus the beliefs of the people it serves? You get the Democratic National Committee. In its efforts, both legal and illegal, ethical and unethical, Democrats were operating an organization with a stated purpose of serving all Americans. In reality, however, the DNC functioned as the backstop to the Hillary Clinton campaign as it cheated millions of its own voters — read Bernie supporters — out of their voice.

On the center-Right, a frustration has been palpable over the years that, while the party platform reflects constitutional grounding and conservative policy, the Republican National Committee also permitted Beltway elites to define its beliefs. This failed approach was perhaps driven by a desire to mute the harsh criticism from Barack Obama and his leftist cadres that Republicans are nothing but bigoted racists. Leftists always demean instead of debate.

Bottom line, the RNC has been less than stellar in upholding the principles of the Grand Old Party. The Republican Platform, published on a quadrennial basis, has historically been a thoughtfully prepared and truly grounded document. Yet it’s treated like a paperweight instead of a business plan or measuring tool to validate results and philosophy.

Why is any of this important? Well, according to some, the victory of Donald J. Trump guarantees the end of the GOP “as a vehicle for conservatism.”

No less than George Will declared conservatism effectively dead. His logic follows that the GOP permitted the populism of a candidate to displace the traditions and beliefs of a conservative bloc of voters. Ironically, as populism is defined as citizens mistreated by a small group of elites, conservatives completely relate to said mistreatment in their attempt to coexist within the Republican Party that, at times, seemed disdainful toward its own base.

Will wrote, “The ease with which Trump has erased Republican conservatism matches the speed with which Republican leaders have normalized him.”

We understand his point, but we’ve missed such statements when other more moderate Republicans have frequently beaten conservatives in primaries. Instead, the call to unity is most often heeded by the defeated knowing that the policies of the Left are the true danger. We’ve also missed such fretting about conservatism when, election cycle after election cycle, promises to defund ObamaCare with the power of the purse never materialized or any semblance of enforcing legal immigration at the cost of losing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s support. We suppose the “far right” was just supposed to suck it up and shut up when conservative rhetoric was as worthless as teats on a bull because it was coming out of the mouths of those too fearful to stand up to Barack Obama.

Yet Trump is set to be America’s next president after proving everyone wrong — the elected establishment, the media, the Hollywood self-important, the pollsters and everyone else — except the average person. That average person has been voicing their concerns for years that wages are stagnant because of illegal labor; that out-of-pocket health expenses are skyrocketing; that our kids are getting activism and not academics in school, whether K-12 or in the university setting; that Washington, DC, is allowing too many able-bodied adults to take taxpayer-funded entitlements instead of getting a job.

So let’s answer the question: What happens to conservatism in the GOP under President Trump?

Well, in education, it might look like what Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did with school choice by allowing school funding to follow the student, not the bureaucrat or “teachers” union project. In the economy, conservatism might look like the work of Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose monumental job growth while in office literally buoyed the entire United States during the worst of our economic times. In relation to public sector unions, conservatism might look like the approach of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who harnessed their overreach to make his state’s government more efficient. It might also look like the tough calls of Florida Governor Rick Scott in prioritizing spending and reforming welfare. Conservatism might look like Tennessee’s balanced budget with the lowest debt per capita thanks to Governor Bill Haslam and the legislative supermajority of Republicans. Oh, and it might look like Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona who fought the tough fight of illegal immigration reform against even the Obama administration.

You see, conservatism works and it’s been working … outside the swamp.

As DC’s swamp has mired to an almost immovable sludge, America has seen what Republican governors have been doing and getting results. So for those who are truly concerned about the prospects of the ideological Right, there’s no need to fret. Little has changed except the guy who got elected has in so many words told the elected elite to take a seat if they aren’t going to join him in his goals: opening markets, revitalizing trade with smart agreements, standing up to global bullies who demand high-cost climate purity while belching out pollution in excess, and protecting Americans through enforcement of laws.

The true danger to conservatism may be within its own ranks. While critical to have a well-formed and grounded set of beliefs and values, pure ideology without results is as useless as the simile of that bull with teats.

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