The Corner

Politics & Policy

On Navigating Intra-Conservative Debates

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

A frustrating aspect of intra-conservative debate in the Trump era is the tendency of some to pretend that genuine disagreements over policy are questions of understanding or even courage. This tendency was exemplified by a recent tweet from Greg Price, who runs the Daily Caller’s social-media platforms. Responding to a query about how Republicans would feel about a Marco Rubio–Nikki Haley GOP ticket in 2024, Price derided the hypothetical pairing as desirable if and only if  “ . . . your understanding of the GOP comes solely from Tuesday night College Republicans meetings.”

Price did not offer any further explanation for this analysis, but it seems a fair assumption that he would prefer a ticket that offers more of a populist edge. Perhaps he’d rather see Josh Hawley — the Missouri senator with a perpetually lean and hungry look made leaner and hungrier when an unwitting tech executive enters his sightline — as the 2024 nominee. Maybe Tom Cotton’s emphasis on law and order appeals to him. It is after all eminently reasonable for one to favor Hawley, Cotton, or Florida’s Ron DeSantis over Rubio or Haley given the differences on trade, tech, immigration, and disposition between the two camps. But to dismiss Haley and Rubio as candidates with no grassroots support whatsoever outside of the establishment seems to be a category error.

Rubio is a young, charismatic, second-term, swing-state senator who finished third (by total delegates won) in the last serious GOP primary contest; won his seat by primarying a moderate Republican on a Tea Party platform; and has recalibrated his image over the past several years in order to show a deeper concern for the issues underpinning Trump’s victory. He also was leading Hillary Clinton by four points in the RealClearPolitics average when he dropped out in 2016.

Polling in 2018 indicated that Haley was one of the most popular politicians in America, with 75 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents, and 55 percent of Democrats approving of her job performance as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations. She has also proven particularly adept at avoiding criticism from Trump while maintaining a brand independent of him. Rubio and Haley are also both in line with their party’s base on important issues such as abortion, gun rights, support for Israel, and a hawkish posture toward Iran and China.

All of this is to say that Rubio and Haley are not exactly Maryland’s pro-choice GOP governor Larry Hogan or Ohio’s ex-chief executive John Kasich, who will reportedly be taking a break from denouncing positions he’s held for the duration of his career in order endorse Joe Biden during the Democratic National Convention. Rubio and Haley are both well within the mainstream of their party, they both have considerable credibility within the conservative movement, and they both are widely expected to be serious contenders for the nomination come 2024.

So why would Price scoff at the idea of Rubio–Haley? It seems that Trump’s victory has convinced a fair number of conservatives that the ideal GOP is one that drifts leftward on economics, rightward on immigration and social issues, and toward a more isolationist foreign policy — excepting an aggressive opposition to China. Tucker Carlson, the founder of the Daily Caller, has certainly moved his chips in on this future. On his Fox News program, Carlson has sung the praises of Elizabeth Warren’s economic program, all but accused Haley of being a race-baiter, and dismissed the idea that immigration makes the country stronger.

Price, Carlson, Hawley, and to a certain extent even the new-look, “common good” capitalist Rubio may be right about where the conservative movement is headed. But then again, they may not. Few would have guessed that Donald Trump would take over the party whose previous three standard-bearers were George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. If 2020 is the electoral dumpster fire for the GOP that most polls indicate it will be, the tenets of Trumpism may be far less appealing in a 2024 primary. Alternatively, we may come to find out that it was the man and not the ideology that Republican voters found compelling. Regardless of where the party ends up though, it’s important that it arrive at its destination the right way.

The American Right has always bickered over conservatism’s definition and direction. From the libertarian Frank Meyer and traditionalist Russell Kirk to Bill Buckley’s fusionism and L. Brent Bozell’s rejection of it, we have argued. Once again, the movement finds itself at an inflection point, and how we handle this debate will tell us as much about the health of the movement as its outcome. It may be a tall order, but a party that’s serious about achieving its political aims post-2020 would refrain from denouncing its disparate factions as out of touch or deplorables and discuss its differences honestly.

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