Regardless of whether Donald Trump ends up being the nominee of the Republican Party, conservative politics will never look the same. Even if the forces of destiny pull a rabbit out of a hat, the forces that Trump has unleashed are too big to ignore. The conservative movement, in particular, has been unmasked as out of step with the voters who previously gave it strength and in need of a messaging overhaul.
Here are five must-have agenda items:
For far too long, the conservative movement has tap-danced around the issue of racism. Arguably, by looking the other way over things like birther nonsense, we played sorcerer's apprentice and unleashed forces too strong to corral.
There is no moral case for it. And it happens to be the case that in 2016, it loses far more votes than it gains. We need to be better at policing ourselves. And it's time to stop talking about outreach to minorities and to start actually doing it.
If you're a conservative, you have to believe that the single most important issue facing America is disrespect for the Constitution. Period. Disrespect by the judicial branch. Disrespect by the executive branch. Disrespect for federalism by the federal government. Disrespect for the Bill of Rights by various agencies.
Conservatives talk a good game about this, but they all too often forget. Because, yes, it's an issue that doesn't move voters much. And because once you're in power, it's easier to ignore the constitutional limits on that power. And because, let's face it, there are some amendments, like the First and the Second, that conservatives like more than others, like the Fourth. We should protect all amendments.
If anything can bring us together, it's the Constitution. And it would be a real difference, to have a real debate about this. We're not in a debate about who can best use the machinery of the administrative state to make you better off, we're in a debate about how we can restore constitutional government to a Republic that has been exposed as much too attracted to authoritarianism than we thought.
Trump has made it impossible to continue to ignore the power of racism on the right, but we also shouldn't overstate its influence. South Carolina is the state that launched Trump into orbit, and it's also the state whose Indian-American governor removed the Confederate flag from the Capitol and enjoys Soviet-like approval ratings. The agony of Trump voters has many sources, including socioeconomic and cultural ones. Trump voters, to sum it up, suffer a loss of status. Economic loss of status because of globalization and technological change, and cultural loss of status for a bunch of reasons, some but not all of them racial.
How do you address this legitimate feeling of loss without appealing to race and while being inclusive? There's one word for it: nationalism. Nationalism is the form of identity politics that's not racist. It's the one that can appeal to the feeling of loss of status by downwadly mobile white Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African-Americans. Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest statesmen on the right, called it "one-nation conservatism." It's time to stop simply saying America is exceptional and to talk about why and how it's exceptional. Oh, progressives are going to hate it, and they're going to give us zero points for doing this as a way to ease racial tensions. That's just one of the many reasons to do it.
Like a stopped clock, the Marxists are occasionally right. It's true that sometimes racial divisions are used to obscure deeper class divisions. There are two Americas, and today conservatism is no longer the movement of the elites, it's the movement of the little guy. Cultural elites have been in the tank for progressivism for decades, but that is increasingly the case of big money and big business. It's time to own it. Conservatism is on the side of the little guy, and we should own it.
It's possible to believe these two things simultaneously: Ronald Reagan was a great president, and the world was different 30 years ago. It's time to put our thinking caps on. It's time to come up with new and innovative ideas. To be imaginative means to be smart: Many policy problems that are thought unsolvable can be solved, or at least ameliorated, with out-of-the-box thinking. To be imaginative means to be serious: We have to propose actual, serious policy rather than bromides, especially when those bromides are as old as a Reagan '76 button. To be imaginative means to take voters seriously: Yes, voters — even voters without college degrees! — can understand serious policy proposals and decide on that basis if they're explained well; that's one of the lessons of the Reagan revolution (and the Gingrich revolution, for that matter) that still applies today.
Let's go. We have a lot of work to do.