Conservatism is dead; long live conservatism

The establishment, which was once willing to tolerate grassroots cultural conservatism (to a point) for the sake of political expediency, now openly opposes the grassroots on some of its central issues. The populists, once willing to accept the promise that sweeping free trade agreements would eventually benefit working-class whites, have lost their faith in the almighty global market. In short, the three factions of “conservatism” are now so divergent that, by-and-large, they simply cannot tolerate the core principles or favored candidates of the other “conservative” factions.

The conclusion is as difficult as it is inescapable: the “conservative” movement no longer has either clear first principles or clear policy prescriptions on virtually any issue, from domestic surveillance to overseas military operations to taxation to policing to immigration to marriage. Self-identified “conservatives” with strong conservative credentials and large followings openly contradict one other on nearly all of them. Schisms over one or two major issues are routine within political movements, and are usually self-healing, but this isn’t a schism; this is a shattering.

Conservatism is not a political movement. It’s the memory of one. The Reagan coalition has fallen, and there is no sign it is ever coming back. “Conservatism,” insofar as it persists, is now a mere tribe, incapable of mobilizing for anything besides stopping the liberal tribe, which it pretty consistently fails to do anyway. Conservatism is dead.

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