What Happened to the Conservative Movement?

As the father of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of the country in ways most American presidents have not. Sadly, I believe the election of Donald Trump marks the end of the conservative movement, as Reagan envisioned it. Trump’s campaign was ardently nationalist and populist in ways real conservatives are not, promising to build a border wall, make America more isolationist, rip up trade deals, and impose tariffs to protect American manufacturing. Despite the outcome on Nov. 8, the GOP is a party divided, caught between the forces of the radical tea party movement, the more moderate establishment, and the rapidly changing demographics of the United States. Clearly, this election has highlighted the fractures that exist in the Republican Party.

To me, Trump’s campaign represents problems that have long beset the Republican Party. The national GOP has become a party of exclusion, with, as Michael Smerconish put it, “zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its parameters.” Over the next five decades, the majority of American population growth will be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration. By 2055, the United States will no longer have a single ethnic or racial majority. In 1980, Ronald Reagan won 56 percent of white voters, and won a landslide victory of 44 states; in 2012, Mitt Romney won 59 percent of white voters and lost 24 states, and the election. Trump’s lack of effort to reach out to disgruntled conservatives, and his half-hearted attempts at build inroads with Latino and African American communities pose significant electoral challenges for Republicans moving forward. Of course, Trump’s candidacy is merely a symptom, not the crux, of the GOP’s demographic problem. Republicans generally have not learned to speak in culturally relevant ways that resonate with groups other than old, white men. In the coming years, Republicans must adapt to a younger, more diverse electorate in order to maintain viability. Nevertheless, the election of Trump is a huge middle finger to minority outreach efforts.

Party loyalty was a major factor this election cycle, as the “Never Trump” Republicans by and large either voted for Mr. Trump or stayed home. Immediately following the presidency of Ronald Reagan, there has been a gradual weakening of the coalition between social and business-minded conservatives. Republican Strategist John Feehery said, “The party of Reagan was the party that had coalitions that worked seamlessly together.” However, the marriage between the alternative right and fiscal conservatives is one that is soon to fail. Today’s Republican Party is deeply entangled with a heavy alternative-right influence. The American conservative compromised not just in principle, but also in character, by voting for Trump. Their “loyalty” gives license to a Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress to rail against core conservative principles in order to appeal to a swath of white working class nationalists in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

Nowhere has the dichotomy between the establishment wing and the radical alternative-right been more visible than in one-time president hopeful John Kasich’s speech to the Women’s National Republican Club.  The members of the radical right, according to Governor Kasich, “only see America as a broken place, and the people who did the breaking are ‘the other:’ people with more money—or less money, people with different-sounding last names, or different religious beliefs, or different colored skin or lifestyles.” He argued that politicians “feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it to feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention.”  The anger felt by his supporters has led to a rising sense of nationalism. These feelings of resentment, channeled through the Trumpist and Tea Party factions, have driven the GOP away from its core principles of limited government, free markets and free trade. Despite this election outcome, the party clearly lies at a crossroads. I believe they must sweep away the fear-mongering and divisive rhetoric that has exploited Americans for the preservation of Reagan Era conservatism, and for the benefit of balanced and educated political dialogue.