The GOP is Post-Policy
When Ronald Reagan accepted the Republican Party nomination in Dallas in 1984, he declared that “we are the party of new ideas, we are the party of the future whose philosophy is vigorous and dynamic. And they are the party of the tried and not-true.”
The battle for which side represents the “party of ideas” has raged for generations. After the progressive policies of the New Deal, perhaps the political pendulum swung forcefully towards the GOP. (A certain dynamism accompanies the “ideas party,” as Reagan won young voters by 19 points.)
“Once the party of ideas, the Democrats have become the party of assistant professors,” veteran columnist George Will quipped in 1984.
What were some of these ideas that the GOP was suddenly energized with? According to history professor Lawrence Glickman, they included urban enterprise zones, welfare reform, the Laffer Curve, Supply Side economics, school vouchers, and balanced budget amendments.
Not the best ideas, or ideas I would necessarily endorse, but ideas nevertheless.
The transition from conservatism to Trumpism — and by extension issues to emotions — is a relatively new phenomenon.
The Republican ticket in 2012 was Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, two of the wonkier members of the GOP. Their speeches would utilize graphs and pie charts when discussing budgetary policy and welfare reform. (I am reminded of a particular Ryan initiative that would have transformed Medicaid into block grants, for example.)
Bad ideas, sure. But ideas.
Enter Trumpism. The party is now defined less by its pro-conservative agenda, and more about by its anti-leftist reactionary flank, fueled by grievance. The movement isn’t focused on ideas anymore, but on emotions. Often, that emotion is anger.
This year’s CPAC gave only lip service to traditional conservative causes, once a priority of the event. Senator Mike Lee addressed an unenthusiastic crowd about the Bill of Rights for about ten minutes. After the speech, a four person panel gathered to discuss “the angry mob and violence in our streets,” which lasted four times as long as Lee’s speech.
The crowd preferred the latter.
The de-regulatory, (supposedly) budget hawkish element of the Republican Party hasn’t just taken a backseat — they’re off the vehicle entirely. Trump ran up historic deficits each year in the White House with little GOP resistance along the way.
The full schedule of CPAC this year would have seemed bizarre to an attendant of the same conference ten years ago. There were relatively few presentations or speeches about previous litmus test issues for the right — abortion, same sex marriage, or federal spending to name a few.
This left a void, which was filled by discussions over cancel culture, political correctness, and even an odd obsession with the-character-formerly-known-as-Mr.-Potato-Head, Potato Head.
The old guard was nowhere to be seen. Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell are practitioners of the old conservative way, which places an emphasis on right wing judges, moral leadership, and economic deregulation. Not only were these voices absent at this year’s CPAC, the mere mention of their names garnered deafening boos.
Trumpism, not conservatism. Political correctness, not tax cuts.
Perhaps the transformation of the once dynamic GOP to the mangled carcass we see today shouldn’t have been so surprising. Even after the 2016 election, Republicans showed no interest in course correction. Conservatives tried to frame the 2018 midterms around an economy with low unemployment, but the old playbook was quickly disposed of in favor of a “migrant caravan” themed election strategy.
Republicans suffered historic losses that cycle.
The modern Republican Party is intellectually depleted. Instead of policy or principle, they push emotion and grievance. They were once a party of ideas and principles.
Now, we have entered the era of the post-policy GOP.