By Jonathon Van Maren
In July of 2019, conservatives gathered in Washington, D.C. for the National Conservatism Conference, the coming out party for the new Edmund Burke Foundation and a three-day discussion about the future of conservatism in the Age of Trump. Everyone from J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, to James L. Buckley, the former senator and brother of the late William F. Buckley, was in attendance. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri closed the conference with a rousing call to action. Everyone agreed on one fundamental thing: The old GOP coalition of Big Business and social conservatives was dead. It was time to forge a new one.
The pivotal question was whether Trump’s 2016 victory was a fluke or a realignment. Trump, after all, is Trump. Did he expose potential new coalitions and growing fault lines in the Democratic base, or did his unique brand of celebrity and barnstorming rallies make him a one-off candidate? With the 2020 election results coming in, we have our answer. There was no blue wave. Trump lost by a handful of votes in a handful of states; the GOP unexpectedly won congressional races; if Republicans win the two run-off races in Georgia, they will retain the senate. Trump, the “white supremacist” candidate, won the highest share of non-white voters of any Republican presidential candidate since Nixon in 1960—double Romney’s 2012 count and nearly triple Bush’s count in 2000.
The realignment is real, and Republicans are faced with unprecedented opportunities. Renowned conservative intellectual Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, says that the message for the GOP is clear.
“The elections of 2016 and 2020 seem to show that there is a large constituency for a combination of social conservatism and economic populism,” he told me. “That was Donald Trump’s message, and it worked—outperforming even Trump himself in 2020, as the down ballot races tended to show. The GOP is becoming a working (and small business) class party. Its supporters are saying: ‘Uphold our moral and religious values; protect our industries against unfair practices and unfair competition, thus securing our jobs and reasonable prospects for real wage growth; and protect and improve programs that we rely on such as Social Security and Medicare.’”