The Republicans need an ideology because they do not seem to stand for anything.
This lack of ideas is a problem because Republicans have historically been the party of values and high ideals. For instance, Abraham Lincoln stood for freedom and national unity; Theodore Roosevelt fought for patriotism and fairness, while Ronald Reagan championed capitalism and the American Dream.
In contrast, the Democrats are the party of can-do pragmatism offering technocratic solutions to America’s problems. For example, FDR offered prosperity and security through his New Deal, while Lyndon B. Johnson fought poverty and racism with his Great Society.
Are Republicans abandoning the Battle of Ideas?
Today, a variety of Democrats are offering an incredible number of technocratic solutions for America’s problems. Yet Republicans respond with recycled diatribes about the dangers of socialism that were tired in Barry Goldwater’s day or inactivity.
For instance, Andrew Yang offers voters a basic income and US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) peddles the wealth tax. Moreover US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) promises free college and Medicare for all, and US Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) offers big tax refunds.
Not surprisingly, Republican thought leaders are frightened because it looks as if their party is abandoning the battle of ideas. For example, Senate Republicans oppose the Democrats’ Green New Deal but do not say why it is bad.
In reality, Republicans are avoiding the battle of ideas because they do not know what to believe anymore. Essentially, Republicans; and the wider conservative movement, are locked in a battle of ideas. Most Republicans and conservatives, know the old ideas no longer work; but they cannot agree on what will replace them.
The War for the Republican Mind, and America’s Future
The war of ideas is occurring because the old ideological consensus that shaped the modern Grand Old Party (GOP) is dead.
To explain, Republicans used to agree on capitalism, limited government, a strong defense, a militaristic foreign policy, free trade, family values, patriotism, and a few other things. Today, that consensus no longer exists in the GOP.
For example, President Donald J. Trump (R-New York) and his followers oppose free trade. Yet, most Republican U.S. Senators strongly support free trade.
Meanwhile Paleoconservatives; or Paleocons, like Pat Buchanan; and his friends at the American Conservative, question defense spending and oppose any American military adventure. In contrast, the Trump administration mindlessly champions weapons programs and advocates the overthrow of some foreign leaders.
Finally, radical populists like Tucker Carlson are attacking capitalism itself and Big Business, something unimaginable just a few years ago.
Death of the Republican Coalition
The ideological confusion is occurring because the Reagan-era Republican coalition and the consensus it enforced is dead. The coalition died with the groups that composed it.
Notably, the Religious Right has collapsed completely, and what remains of the great Libertarian coalition of the late 20th Century is kept alive by a few wealthy donors. In particular, the Koch Brothers outlets like Reason seem to be the only voice of classical libertarianism left.
Tellingly, the conservative establishment has lost its moral authority. In particular, conservative intellectuals were unable to stop the resurgence of racism, xenophobia, and white nationalism that helped propel Trump to the White House. More recently, conservatives have been silent about Trump’s lack of ethics and clumsy abuses of power.
What will the New Republican Ideology be?
Instead of an ideology, today’s Republican Party has a few groups grasping at ideas that could coalesce into a new ideology.
First, there is what Peter Spiliakos labels the Reformocons or “Reform Conservatives.” Essentially, the Reformocons embrace a watered-down version of the data-driven technocracy that is slowly taking over the Democratic Party.
The Democrats’ modern ideology is that a strong government can use a combination of data and technology to create utopia. Thus Reformocons; like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), want a less invasive and business-friendly technocracy.
For instance, basic income and low taxes at the same time. Thus what the Reformocons want is Technocracy Lite.
No Populism is not an ideology
Second, there are the new populists or nationalists, also known as the Trumpists. Basically, the Trumpists are a lose coalition of people who do not like what America has become or where it is going. However, they have no ideology or plan for restoring what was lost.
Instead, the populists’ react to developments with blind use of government power and fear. For example, President Trump builds a wall, proposes poorly designed tariffs, and restricts Islamic immigration. However the Donald offers no plan to rebuild the communities technological unemployment is devastating.
Fatally, the populists lack any sort of ideological discipline or consistency. For instance, populists claim to represent the “people” but support voter suppression. Moreover, populist leaders like Trump oppose the long-overdue reform of making the Electoral College represent the popular vote.
In addition, populists complain about the persecution of Christians but want to strip Muslims of their rights. Thus populism will probably choke on its blatant hypocrisy.
Zombie Reaganism is not an ideology
Third, there are the Zombie Reaganists, whose goal is to preserve the limited government/low tax/free trade consensus of the late 20th Century at all costs.
This group is a lose coalition of aging free market true believers and corrupt special interests that enjoy low taxes and limited regulations. Zombie Reaganists ally themselves with Trump because he signs tax cuts and opposes regulations. Yet they lack the power to force Trump to toe their party line on free trade.
However, none of these groups has what it takes to energize a mass movement or inspire a nation. For example, Trump for all his popularity has no mass movement behind him. Moreover, no Reformocon has a national following comparable to those of popular Democratic technocrats like Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and Andrew Yang (D-New York).
Specifically, Republicans lose House seats they’ve held for generations in areas where Trump rallies draw big crowds. Republicans lose because instead of building a coalition, Trump exposes the party’s divisions.
Paleocons are not Republicans’ Future
Finally, there are the Paleocons or paleoconservatives. Effectively, Paleocons are hard cultural conservatives who venerate pre-New Deal America.
Ultimately, traditional Paleocons like Pat Buchanan want to go back to 1950s or 1920s America by repealing the second half of the 20th Century. More realistic and thoughtful younger Paleocons; like the American Conservative’s Rod Dreher, reject modernity but do not know what to replace it with.
Unfortunately, the best the Paleocons can offer is a thoughtful critique of modern America. In fact, Paleocons have been singularly unsuccessful in their efforts to influence the political debate. Notably, I cannot think of a single major Palecon elected official in office today.
Moreover, many Paleocons like Dreher have little interest in politics or in policy. For example, Dreher admits to knowing about healthcare policy and having no interest in it.
My prediction is that the Paleocons will remain a noisy but interesting minority. The Paleocons lack popular appeal because they have no organized agenda and offer no realistic solutions for modern America’s problems.
So what is Republicans’ future?
My prediction is that the Reformocons are the GOP’s future.
The Reformocons will survive because they alone among the Republican coalition grasp the serious problems facing America and the need for reform. For example, Reformocon U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) is willing to talk about Climate Change and offer a technocratic solution.
Therefore, the Reformocons are the modern descendants of the Eisenhower Republicans of the 1950s who accepted the inevitability of the New Deal but tried to restrain its excesses. Thus, the Reformocons will triumph because they are the one group in the present Republican Coalition capable of compromise with the Democrats’ Wall Street/Silicon Valley Technocracy.
Hence, the Reformocons are the one group of modern Republicans capable of formulating an effective agenda that will appeal to 21st Century voters. Hence, the Reformocons will win elections and pass laws.
The Reformocons are Republicans’ future
Consequently, I predict most populist leaders; including Trump, will embrace the Reformocon agenda at some point. In addition, many Reformocons will pay lip service to some of the populist concerns until the majority of the Baby Boom generation dies off.
However, Paleocons and Zombie Reaganists will destroy themselves fighting a destructive rearguard action against the Reformocon revolution. Likely, what will remain is a small but noisy rump of Paleocons who will be increasingly critical of the Republican leadership but incapable of influencing it. Only history will tell if this group can sow the seeds of a future conservative renaissance like Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley did in the 20th Century.
Importantly, the Reformocons’ technocratic agenda, like that of the Democrats’ technocracy is only developing. Thus, we do not what the ultimate Reformocon ideology will be, but I predict it will be something that both Donald J. Trump and Ronald Reagan would hate. However, I suspect Dwight D. Eisenhower could easily accept whatever the Reformocons offer.
So yes, the Republicans will get an ideology. However, it will be an ideology that many of today’s Republicans will hate.