Politics & Policy

What Happens to Conservatism Now?

(Photo Illustration: NRO; Images: Dreamstime)
Trump is neither the problem nor the answer.

Donald Trump just released a superb list of potential Supreme Court justices, something no other candidate has ever done. But in the exact same moment he proffered the list, Trump reneged on his promise that he would choose his justice from one of the names on it, as LifeSite News reports:

In announcing his judicial selections, Mr. Trump appeared to walk back his promise to nominate only judges who are on the list he released. In March, he said his Supreme Court nominee “will be one of those judges, and I will guarantee it personally.”

But last night he said he may nominate other judges of a similar background.

The judges on the list “are all of very high, high intellect. They’re pro-life,” he told Sean Hannity on Fox News. “We’re going to choose from — most likely — from this list. But at a minimum, we will keep people from this general realm.”

“This would be the list that I would either choose from or pick people very close in terms of the spirit and meaning of what they represent,” he said.

It’s Trump’s world now. Some 80 percent of Republican voters now say the party should unify around him. He has carved out a new pro-government Republican coalition composed of economic nationalists, anti-immigrationists, and social conservatives who believe his pro-life promises. Libertarians seem to have no place at all in it.

The old Reagan coalition, which has been teetering for some time, has just crashed apart. The Republican party’s meaning and purpose will be defined by the nominee chosen by GOP voters, especially if Trump becomes our next president. (If the Democrats persist in nominating Hillary Clinton, I believe he will win).

But what then happens to the conservative movement? If an independent conservative candidate emerged, what would be the heart of the message he would bring?

Because right now, as Bill Kristol just pointed out, we have a “third world” election, featuring a socialist, an establishment cronyist from a ruling family, and a rich demagogue, a.k.a. “your classic presidential race in Argentina.”

RELATED: How Should Conservatives Respond to the Age of Trump?

Now seems a good moment to pause and review what conservatives have been trying to accomplish through engagement in politics — what has worked and what hasn’t.

In the 1980s, conservatives slashed tax rates, strengthened the pro-child features of the tax code, tamed runaway stagflation in conjunction with the Fed, defeated Communism, and restored worldwide faith in the power of markets.

That was quite a decade.

In the 1990s, we passed a symbolic ban on late-term abortions and reformed welfare to emphasize work. Much less impressive.

#share#But better than the aughts. I am having a hard time thinking of a single conservative achievement in the last 16 years, except that this was the decade in which we figured out how to appoint constitutionalists to the Court who would not drift relentlessly leftward. We pinned our hopes on defeating the bad guys by going to war. But it is the nature of any war on terrorism that it is a war that can never be won. There will be bad guys with razor blades. Or guns. Or fertilizer bombs. And it is not the kind of existential threat Ronald Reagan faced down: an internationally aggressive Communist empire with tanks and nuclear weapons aimed at us.

RELATED: What Now, Conservatives?

But sounding aggressive about getting the bad guys doing horrible things, like beheading Christians, is, if you watch Fox News, the daily diet of conservatism. Because it unites the party whose internal cohesiveness has been failing.

Creating a conservative legal culture, a big enough world for constitutionalists to live, work, and write in, was an impressive achievement. If only Reagan had known how to identify and support such people, the world would be a vastly changed place. The best conservative institutions we have are our legal ones: The Federalist Society, a haven for conservative thought in an increasingly hostile academy, achieved a remarkable success in providing a pipeline of talent into the judiciary. It is a prime example of how culture can be affected by politics, one form of doing culture. The model combines stimulating intellectual thought and debate with access to professional opportunities — doing well by doing good. It is hard to see how to replicate it: The fact that conservatives get to nominate Supreme Court justices, the apex of the legal profession, is key to the Federalist Society’s success.

Getting a good Supreme Court is key, but it is hard to see how one can found a political movement on this one thing alone.

RELATED: After the GOP Darkness, the Dawn of Conservative Opportunity

The key to the next conservative movement is to identify the reason the average American worker hasn’t gotten a pay raise in the last 16 years. Which makes George Gilder’s new work, The Scandal of Money: Why Wall Street Recovers but the Economy Never Does, “the most important political book of the year,” as Jerry Bowyer writes in Forbes.

(Disclosure: Gilder is an affiliate scholar at the American Principles Project, where I also work.)

Our economic conversation has degenerated to the point that our economic establishment relies on the Fed to “stimulate” growth into being. It isn’t working and it isn’t working worldwide — Europe is toying with going into negative-interest-rate territory, which involves confiscating cash.

Gilder makes the case, as only he can, that one cannot manipulate money into being. The negative effects of making that attempt are not just inflation but a broader stifling of the free flow of information that free markets need to do the learning that is economic growth. That, along with regulatory overreach, is taming Silicon Valley and starving Main Street. The government monopoly on money works little better than other government monopolies — unjustly enriching the insiders — and it is unnecessary and outmoded.

#related#It’s not about going back to the gold standard but about breaking that government money monopoly by unleashing competing currencies, whether gold or Bitcoin. The financial technology to allow you and me to buy gold and spend it on our smartphones is here. What is blocking our ability to rein in the Fed’s control of money is our government’s refusal to tell the companies in this sector — the industry dedicated to alternatives to government money — that it is legal.

This is the story that has not been told before. Before there was Reagan, there was Jack Kemp singing the supply-side song. We need a new Jack Kemp — smart enough to see that we cannot keep saying the same old thing to voters and expect a different result. Smart enough to focus like a laser on the problem voters face, the problem that produced Trump but that Trumponomics won’t solve. Smart enough to see and to say something new.

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