How Long Will the New Republican Regime Last?
Think decades, not years.
(2) TNB is tonight at 8:00 p.m. I’m going to lob your questions to Ted Johnson, Cathy Young, and Will Saletan.
The link for the livestream tonight is here.
On the site today we have pieces by Will Saletan and Bill Kristol which are very much in dialogue with each other. I’d like to talk about them.
Saletan tries to get his arms around what the epithet RINO even means anymore. He notes that pre-2016 it had specific ideological connotations wrapped up in the conservative movement circa 1980. This is no longer the case. Pretty much every live Republican you meet in the wild will tell you that Liz Cheney is a RINO and Elise Stefanik is not.
Will comes up with three boxes that a Republican needs to check to avoid being considered a RINO today:
Personal loyalty to Donald Trump.
Tolerance of corruption by favored groups and persons.
Tolerance for the actions of Vladimir Putin.
That’s it. That’s the Republican program now. And if you’re not onboard with those three positions, then all the ACU scores in the world won’t save you.
In one way, this is a remarkable change. Thirty years of Republican orthodoxy were overthrown in a stroke. We expect revolutions to take longer.
But in another sense, it’s business as usual. A political party is not an organism, it’s a vessel, a tool—a vehicle to be driven in whatever direction its owners want.
FDR was probably the last American politician to “own” a major American political party. From his time until 2016, the universe of power centers in our parties were so diffuse that it was impossible for a single person to command ownership of one of them. That has changed. Donald Trump owns the Republican party more completely that LBJ, or Reagan, or any other figure in our life times.
And with this ownership has come the decision to align the Republican party around different imperatives. We had a long series of debates from 2016 to 2018 as to what “Real Republicans” were. That debate is settled. Real Republicans are what the vast majority elected Republicans and their voters identify with, vote for, and prefer.
They want Donald Tump and all his works.
There are still some former Republicans1 out there who think they are positioning themselves for a “post-Trump” future.
On the third day, the stone will be rolled back from the tomb and Ronald Reagan will rise from the dead, modified by some sensible populist policy reforms from Yuval Levin. And possibly with some mean tweets meant to assuage the base. But yea and verily, Our Savior won’t actually believe them and he will restore True Conservatism to all the Earth.
What Bill Kristol’s piece points out is that these former Republicans may be waiting a good bit longer than three days:
It’s now blindingly obvious that the Reagan insurgency was so successful, so quickly, that by the late 1980s we’d completed a transition from one Republican establishment to another. By the time Ronald Reagan left office, there was no question that the Reagan insurgency had become the Reagan establishment.
And this group, this new establishment, dominated the Republican party at all levels for the next three decades.
When one establishment replaces another, not everything changes. Quite the contrary. The victory of a new establishment within a party (or in a movement) is marked by lots of assimilation, lots of accommodation, and lots of maneuvering as parts of the old establishment find their place in the new.
So plenty of Nixon-Ford Republicans did fine in the years of Reaganite dominance. Take George H. W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for example. And plenty of early- or true-believing Reaganites didn’t do particularly well for themselves. Being an OG Reaganite was not a guarantee of victory in Republican primaries and the most true-blue Reaganite policies didn’t always prevail. But you couldn’t survive in Republican politics if you were anti-Reaganite.
This is what it means to be a dominant establishment.
Politicians who were still suspicious of Reagan’s worldview had to adjust on some key things. They had to silently put their Ford Republican past behind them. They had to sign on to Team Reagan.
This all sounds familiar to you, yes? Depending on your view of Reaganism, you might