Trump and conservatism

Good post from the Atlantic’s Russell Berman:

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell didn’t have a whole lot to say on Wednesday, a day after Donald Trump became the presumptive standard-bearer of their party.

You’ll have to forgive them if they needed some time to cope; their dream of enacting the conservative agenda that has been a bedrock of Republican policy for a generation might well die with Trump’s nomination…

Consider the apostasies of the Republican nominee-in-waiting:

Ryan has made his career out of proposing dramatic reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, arguing that they must either be partially privatized or block-granted to the states to save them for future generations. Trump has shot down these ideasin language that could be taken straight from the lips of Nancy Pelosi…

Trump’s opposition to pretty much every trade accord of the last 25 years is now a centerpiece of his economic platform…

Ryan has been a leader in the camp of congressional Republicans that has pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legal status—if not citizenship—for undocumented immigrants. McConnell is more hawkish on immigration, but like Ryan he is adamantly opposed to Trump’s call to deport millions of people or ban Muslims from entering the United States.

And there’s more, of course.  And, of course, there’s areas of agreement, but I think this is the crux:

Beyond all of this, conservatives must face an even scarier possible conclusion about Trump’s success. What if the conservative platform that congressional leaders like Ryan and McConnell have long advocated was never all that popular with rank-and-file Republicans? Conservative lawmakers in Congress have assumed that however much Democrats demonize Republicans for trying to slash spending and entitlement programs, cut taxes, and pursue free-trade policies, at least that agenda unified and excited the conservative base. Trump’s nomination, however, seems to blow up that claim. [emphasis mine]

And, there’s plenty of polling evidence to, in fact, support this conclusion.  Republican elites could convince themselves their policies where popular because they managed to conflate them with white ethnocentrism (i.e., none of this stuff for those other people).  Once you pull out the white ethnocentrism on its own, as Trump clearly has, there’s just not the support for Medicare cuts, trade deals, immigration reform, etc., that Ryan et al., would prefer.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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