We saw that modern, or mainstream conservatism is a movement that has passed through its life cycle and is spent, like a salmon dying after struggling hundreds of miles upstream. The more urgent causes of its demise are more recent, and associated most closely with George W. Bush.
The Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, is an institution that has served as a vehicle for different interests at different times in its history. The Democratic Party started as the voice of the white common man; The Republican Party for those against slavery for either pragmatic self-interest (free soil) or idealism (abolition). In the early 19th century, the Republican Party served as the counterweight of Northeastern and Midwestern businessmen and the small town middle-class against big-city Democratic machines.
This Republican Party was genteel, liberal in the sense of being open-minded and fair, and opposed to the heated rhetoric of populism. It was pro-business, but did not view business as a glorious pursuit not to be bound by any rules.
As the Democratic Party came to be controlled by progressive social radicals, traditionalists and libertarians gravitated to the Republicans. These people worshipped business much more, were much more individualist and and repelled by non-conformity of the bohemian kind. Goldwater and Reagan represented this tendency; Goldwater lost big, after being explicitly rejected by the establishment (including Mitt Romney’s father). Reagan was also regarded as a threat, and lost the nomination in 1976. But he won in 1980, and after HW attacked his “voodoo economics” (that is tax cuts for economic growth, the one defining policy of Republicans since then) made a deal and served as Reagan’s VP. Reagan’s popularity and the weakness of Dukakis made him president in 1988.
HW was not grateful. No, not at all. Not at all grateful to the libertarian conservatives and Reagan who had brought him from a staff man to the most powerful position in the world. He thought it was time to put things right, talked about a “kinder, gentler nation” and agreed to a tax increase. He did not win reelection.
The Bushes blamed this on the rubes not being loyal and grateful enough to them, and put more family members up to lead the great unwashed. Jeb got elected governor of Florida, W of Texas. The pitch to the conservative base in 2000 was this- you’ve had eight years of Clinton, and his liberal shenanigans. A strong conservative won’t get elected. You have to lay off your mean-spirited libertarianism and take a compromise.
The conservative base has long been very obedient, and they bought this. The fundamental incompatibility of the various Republican factions- libertarians, social conservatives, hawks, big business, and the old WASP elite- were just beginning to feel friction.
Then came 9/11. In recent historical terms, this started the destruction of the modern conservative movement and the modern Republican Party.
The 9/11 hijackers were mostly from Saudi Arabia, and fundamentalist Moslems. Pretty obviously we had an enemy in Saudi Arabia and fundamentalist Moslems, but W was committed to both, via his family business. W promoted the idea that Islam was a “religion of peace”- that Islam means “peace”- and our enemy in the Middle East was not fundamentalist Moslems and the terrorism they support, but secular, Arab nationalist dictators like Saddam Hussein. We would them and secure our safety by overthrowing them and establishing democracy.
People bought it. I know I did. They were ugly times, and we were given the choice to fight the wrong people or fight nobody, apologize for existing, cower, and beg for mercy. Had leftists had a better response things would have been a lot different, but we were told to ask “why do they hate us?”
So we got the wars, and all the terrible things that happened. People have come to understand in the fifteen years since that Islam is our enemy, it is not a religion of peace, Islam is by its fundamental nature terroristic and oppressive, and Moslems hate us and want to kill us, except for the women they want to rape and keep as sex slaves. Moslems in other words are just like blacks.
W deployed the language of political correctness to suppress this, that being truthful about Islam was racist and bigoted. People didn’t like this but Iraq was going to be a democracy any day now, and W would be proven right. Of course it didn’t work out that way, and people remember, although they dare not say.
The next big thing was the attempted amnesty of 2005. (W tried to privatize Social Security in the spring of that year, and this was rejected, and people remember this too, but it didn’t enrage people.) The people reacted negatively, and W pretty much came out and said if you were against amnesty you were a filthy racist. It still didn’t pass- congressmen like to keep their jobs- but it was understood the filthy racist blue-collar rednecks would be cowed into submission eventually.
The financial crisis and the idea of turning Hispanics into Republican voters with no questions asked mortgages was another fiasco, and then Obama. Mitt Romney didn’t get rich firing people- he was plenty rich already- but trashing companies with leveraged buyouts by Bain Capital was supposed to make people who had recently been laid off eager to vote for him.
Mitt was at least able to pretend, sort of. McCain absolutely could not. His open contempt for the voters was too much. “Just build the damn wall” was followed by some pro forma promises, quickly forgotten.
The “Reagan Coalition” as it is called worked because elite Republicans like the Bushes were able to hold their noses and work with blue collar, ethnic Northern and Southern whites, people they viscerally loathed at worst and were mildly contemptuous of at best. The Bushes ruined the thing because they were just too arrogant.
The “pundits” of National Review and Red State, the consultants and the think tank people are socially retarded, like most of the elite these days. If you have been a spoiled brat all your life going to elite schools, getting elite internships and working elite jobs in elite institutions you may not understand that insulting people is actually dangerous in many places, and considered bad manners most other places. I get the feeling that among the modern elite, insulting people and acting like a jerk is considered cool and status-enhancing.
Backing down is something you do when things are a little hotter than you can handle, you made a misjudgment and went a little too far, and now you need to keep from getting your ass kicked. People at the lower level of society have to understand how and when to back down. I get the impression that the elites don’t know how, never having been in a situation where they could get hurt or lose their job, or just don’t think they should ever have to.
It’s this crudeness and arrogance that enrages people. They call Trump rude and arrogant, and vulgar, but he is far from it. He knows what he can say and what he can get away with. He never insults anyone who doesn’t have it coming.
If you are really good friends with a person, maybe they can say something nasty to you and you will let it go. Generally however openly insulting someone means not only are you no longer friends, you are now enemies.
The Republican Party will survive in some different form. The mainstream conservative movement is dead. Its spokesmen, pundits, commentators, authors, talk show hosts, radio show hosts, and consultants will be hard pressed for work. Nobody is going to spend tens of millions for an obviously empty suit like Rubio again. The market for books by Mark Levin and Glenn Beck has certainly shrank a great deal.
Marie Antoinette is rumored to have said, if peasants didn’t have bread, they could eat cake. At least she wasn’t saying they should f*** off and die, like National Review. The NR staff will all keep their heads, and even their titanic egos won’t suffer much, although they lost their credibility and their dignity long ago.