By Samson Audino
While so many factions have persisted throughout the GOP for eons, the rise of Donald Trump presents a crossroads for the Republican Party. Do they want to embrace and continue the message for American conservatism, or go the way of populist, rightist parties of European countries?
The term “conservative” in the United States doesn’t exactly carry the same meaning in the rest of the world. Ronald Reagan called the ideology a three-legged stool, balancing components of religious social conservatism, military gravitas, and classical liberal or libertarian economic philosophy. Often referred to as fusionism, the ideology stressed traditionalism yet also adhered to liberal principles. While the right-wing authoritarians of old put order and religion above all else, the United States was founded on liberal principles of individual liberty, freedom of religion, sound money, and all that good stuff that conservatives today claim to be the standard-bearers of. In effect, modern day conservatism uses liberal principles to justify traditional structures that form an orderly and morally just society.
In this vein, the Republican Party today seems to be becoming more right-wing, and less conservative. Republicans today are much more stringent on the military and border security in ways Ronald Reagan wouldn’t dream. While media outlets often criticize the Republican Party for becoming more radically conservative, the primary reason for constant disagreement with the Left seems to be more about identity and culture; there is less concern for government spending and taxes, more concern for protecting an American identity over what they see as an overbearing leftist, multicultural agenda. Donald Trump, seeming to find this vein lacking a voice in mainstream politics, has perfectly captured this sentiment. Co-opting Tea Party themes of constitutionalism, middle American culture, and standing against the political establishment for the sake of it, Trump has been able to justify a big government agenda.
Republican candidates have been attacking Trump as not being a conservative, showing his past and often current support of policies such as single-payer health-care, abortion, higher taxes on the rich, gay marriage, you name it. Regardless of these attacks, it doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the supposed conservative principles of the other Republican candidates, Trump is representing a new coalition of voters. Trump’s emphasis has nothing to do with small government, but simply restoring American pride, tradition, and greatness. The type of voters that Trump is aiming for are less concerned with the intellectualism of free market economics and want a leader in a country they see going downhill. There isn’t a care for constitutional rule of law or economic principles, but rather a big government that represents their type as opposed to an elite that caters to minorities and secularists.
Pat Buchanan, former presidential candidate and paleoconservative author, stated that Trump represented “the future of the Republican Party.” Like Trump’s campaign sentiments, Buchanan focuses on nationalism, anti-multiculturalism, strict trade barriers, and stringent border controls. Free market economics are all well and good to these thinkers, but protecting the nation and the culture remain more prevalent. The National Front, a growing party in France, espouses similar principles of strict immigration controls, zero tolerance law and order policies, and breaking away from the European Union.
National Front poster child and Member of Parliament, 26-year-old Marion Le Pen, has been quoted as saying, “You messed everything up, they gave you a treasure- France- and a diamond- its people. You have ruined the one and abandoned the other.” Bringing us back to the United States, this type of nationalist rhetoric was uncommon throughout its history until the more recent times of the Republican Party becoming more rightist and coming to fuller fruition with the candidacy of Donald Trump.
A liberal nation, the American right wanted to preserve America for its freedoms and its potential for individual opportunity. With Donald Trump’s messaging proving to be popular, it’s growing to become an ideology of protecting American culture for the sake of its identity, not necessarily its principles.
With all of this, the Republican Party and its members are facing a stark decision. Candidates like Marco Rubio focus their message on American entrepreneurship, constitutional rule of law, and free market economics (whether he genuinely believes in these tenants is a separate discussion), while Donald Trump has campaigned on nationalism and protecting America’s identity.
With his popularity rising, it may be time for the Republican Party to transform towards the way of Trump, and towards the way of European proto-fascist parties such as the National Front. Rather than attempt to message conservatism for ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities, a populist message appealing to disaffected whites and anti-elitists may be more effective at winning elections. Donald Trump remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but with Ted Cruz performing well and Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s home states both approaching the primary calendar, we may not know the final nominee until July. No matter what you believe politically, it will surely be interesting to see if the Republican Party can survive and if so, how it will adapt to changing times.