The party of Trump: The end of conservatism?

Trump’s heterodoxy has prompted some to wonder whether he could fundamentally realign the conventions of American political debate. “For the past 80 years that debate has been about the size of government—Republicans for less government and more market and Democrats for more government and less market,” David Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column. Trump, he said, might replace that “archaic and obsolete” question with a new axis, “open/closed,” with both right- and left-wing opponents of globalism on his side. This new alignment has been seen around the globe, notably in the recent shock of the Brexit vote.

Many have seen in Trump a reprise of the campaigns of Pat Buchanan, who sought the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996 and ran on the Reform Party ticket in 2000, unsuccessfully in all three cases. Buchanan warned about the perils of trade, foreign intervention, and cultural decline; Trump, he told me recently, is carrying his message forward. The difference, Buchanan said, is that when he ran, the dire consequences of these policies were merely hypothetical. Trump has succeeded where Buchanan failed, he believes, because the consequences have now come to pass: manufacturing wiped out, foreign adventures turned to quagmires, traditional values marginalized.

Buchanan, who is 77 and lives in northern Virginia, told me he cannot imagine the Republican Party reverting to its former orientation post-Trump. “You can’t go home again,” he said. “Bush Republicanism—globalism, free trade, interventionism, democracy promotion, waging wars to remake the Mideast in the image of Vermont—it’s all over. Neoconservatism, I don’t know how you come back to it. The American people won’t stand it anymore.”