Last September, Bill Kristol posited that American conservatism died in 2020.
Modern American conservatism was born in 1955, peaked in full flower in the 1980s, and then aged, mostly gracefully, for three decades. Until it could easily, if suddenly, be pushed aside in its dotage—forced, or induced, to surrender to its younger and stronger, if disreputable, distant relative.
In sum: 2020 was the year in which American conservatism as we have known it for three generations was weighed in the balance, and found wanting.
You don't have to agree with Kristol about much of anything to see that he has a point. We might quibble, however, about the timing. As Jonathan Chait suggested, the conservatism that is dying is the one that's been focused on rolling back the New Deal. I could provide you will all kinds of historical references to the battle Republicans have waged against the New Deal. But instead, I'll simply share one of my favorite video clips, in which Ann Coulter says that, if she could be a person from history, she'd chose to be FDR and NOT introduce the New Deal. You'll love Al Franken's response.
- Senator Mitt Romney has proposed a universal child allowance,
- Senators Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney have proposed raising the minimum wage to $10/hr, and
- Senator Josh Hawley has proposed a three-year program that would increase worker wages in 2021, paid by taxpayers rather than employers.
We have long said that the Child Tax Credit must be further increased to help working families. In the current pandemic relief bill under consideration, we would support increasing the Child Tax Credit to $3,500, and $4,500 for young children.
However, we do not support turning the Child Tax Credit into what has been called a ‘child allowance,’ paid out as a universal basic income to all parents. That is not tax relief for working parents; it is welfare assistance.
In other words, Rubio and Lee are making a classic Republican argument: tax cuts are good and welfare is bad.
During the Obama administration, Republicans embraced perhaps their purest anti–New Deal fundamentalism. Conservative members of Congress insisted Roosevelt’s policies had lengthened the Depression, and insisted only immediate spending cuts would restore the economy to health.
When it comes to actual policies being put forward by the two parties, we are witnessing a significant shift. Democratic policies are not only overwhelmingly popular with voters, they have been demonstrated to work. On the other hand, the Republican policies of trickle-down economics and deregulation have been a colossal failure, but conservatives haven't come up with a reasonable alternative. They're stuck arguing among themselves about whether to return to those failed policies or embrace a Democratic-lite alternative.
In the meantime, what Republicans have to replace a policy agenda are anti-democratic means to maintain power: voter suppression, gerrymandering, etc. In many ways they are conceding that they lost the battle of ideas. That's the good news. The bad news is that David Frum's prediction is coming true. He once wrote that, "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”
Bill Kristol isn't the only one pontificating about whether or not conservatism is dead. There's a lot of chatter about where the Republican Party goes post-Trump. But to me, there are two clear paths they have to chose from: (1) develop policy proposals that will work and appeal to the majority of voters, or (2) reject democracy. For right now, the GOP has gone all-in on #2.
UPDATE: At The Bulwark, Richard North Patterson writes that Biden "wants to do to Ronald Reagan's governing philosophy what Reagan did to FDR's."
As David Leonhardt has noted, since 1933 GDP under Democratic presidents has grown at nearly twice the rate as under Republican. Observes Leonhardt: “Democrats have been more willing to heed economic and historical lessons about what policies actually strengthen the economy, while Republicans have often clung to theories that they want to believe—like the supposedly magical power of tax cuts and deregulation.” In sum, the Reagan paradigm has outlived its time. The question becomes how best to replace it...