It is no surprise to anybody who surveys the news, or reads this column, that the electoral and policy successes of the Trump administration have papered over internal conflicts in the GOP and conservatism. Though they occasionally still come to a head on subjects like free trade.
When the president leaves office those rivalries are bound to rise to the surface again.
The right is generally composed of three elements: social conservatives, national security conservatives, and libertarian conservatives. There is also the populist versus elitist divide. People on the right belong to one or all designations to varying degrees. I myself belong to facets of all except populism, though I recognize that in a republic populists must be heard and heeded by elected representatives. Hence my strong support of the president, whose base is extremely populist.
In almost a case of “National Brotherhood Week”-like enmity, the factions are at odds at the best of times. In perhaps 2021, more likely 2025, the split, for one, between social conservatives and libertarian conservatives will take the stage in GOP politics. Though the center stage will belong to the fight between the populists and the elitists.
Firing off their starting pistols after the cease-fire during the Reagan-Bush years of 1980-1992, Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 GOP convention in Houston sparked a cultural revolution that spread like wildfire. It put the party on notice that it wasn’t all just about defense or money. Bigger things mattered.
When Trump hijacked the party from the Romney types in 2016, Vichy Republicans sniped, and continue to take off target potshots, at the president and his supposed band of populist trogs and simpletons. But guess what? The trogs of various ideologies, who make up a majority of any party in any republic or democracy, aren’t going anywhere. Emboldened by the Trump phenomenon and its ability to attract the votes of cross-party trogs, the elite GOP mandarins must ally with the populists or die a particularly harsh political death. Though it should be said that shrewd elitists recognize the strength and legitimate role of the populists.
National security conservatives of the neo-con school vie with libertarian leaners of the Trump School who are suspicious of open-ended foreign adventures like the Iraq operation. Economic libertarian conservatives face off with populists on issues like free trade. Social conservatives disagree with the libertarians on a host of social questions. Though all groups have many core ideals in common to include love of country, respect for the free market, and a shared belief in national security. These concepts bring them together and separate them from their Dem opponents by a wide margin.
So the Republicans, to be true to their general ideals and work for election victories, have become and must stay dim sum Republicans, taking small dishes from each faction and putting them together in sometimes uneasy political coalition.
If that alliance falls apart then the electoral meal will taste of the bitter herbs of defeat. And even alliance with trogs is better than that.