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The Roots of the Republican Party’s Conservative-Establishment Divide, Revealed
Jay Cost writes: I had a bad dream the other night that I still cannot get out of my head. It’s January 20, 2017. Inauguration Day. The Republican candidate for president has triumphed over Hillary Clinton, ushering in the largest Republican majority since 1929. The inaugural balls are finished, the parties over.
The new president retires to the Oval Office, and sits down with the top leaders of Congress to ask: “Okay. We have the largest majority we’re ever going to see again. What do we do with it?”
“Let’s accelerate depreciation!” somebody says
“Let’s repeal the inheritance tax!” another chimes in.
The new president, nodding solemnly, responds, “Okay, okay. These are good. But what we really need to do is quadruple our guest-worker visas.”
“The last time the GOP had complete control over the government, 2003-07, it massively expanded Medicare and enacted more pork-barrel spending than any prior Congress in history.”
Nightmarish? Yes. Fanciful? Maybe a little (bad dreams are like that), but it still derives from a stark truth: the Republican Party, while far preferable to the unchecked liberalism of the Democrats, is not all that conservative.
Sure, it has conservative members, important ones who cannot be ignored. And it talks a good game about small government; just about every Republican candidate for every office is duty-bound to aver his fidelity to Ronald Reagan’s brand of conservatism.
[Check out Jay Cost’s book “A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption” at Amazon]
However, if we understand conservatism as advocating smaller government that treats people impartially, many in the party struggle mightily not to act on those principles. Instead, the recent history of “conservative” governance has been one of ever-larger government, and an expansion of the cronyism and corruption built into the system. The last time the GOP had complete control over the government, 2003-07, it massively expanded Medicare and enacted more pork-barrel spending than any prior Congress in history.
“Conservatism really began to develop as a political force in the wake of the New Deal, which effectively inverted the constitutional schema. Previously, the federal government was only allowed to do what the Constitution expressly authorized…”
Political parties are not coterminous with ideologies. They are big, broad, unwieldy coalitions that contain lots of factions and varying traditions. Oftentimes, these forces are in direct conflict with one another.
“…From the New Deal onwards, the government could more or less do anything that the Constitution did not expressly forbid. This inversion gave birth to the conservative movement.”
Conservatives are part of the Republican Party, but so are other forces that—while they might call themselves “conservative”—are actually something quite different.
From Slavery Defeaters to Business Defenders
Conservatism as we know it today did not really exist before the twentieth century. Prior to that, it was just the way things were done. The powers of the federal government were limited, states and localities were dominant, and people did not look to Washington DC to solve every last problem. Granted, the scope of federal power increased during the nineteenth century—for example, during the Civil War—but conservatives today are wont to celebrate those expansions.