Missing conservatism? Just wait for a Democratic president

With President Trump’s support, Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress recently enacted an enormous increase in government spending, reversing the only major policy victory of Tea Party insurgents in 2011. Given this blasphemy, where is the conservative revolt?

The typical conservative cycle runs from backlash to embrace to disappointment — and we are right on schedule. After opposing government expansion and social change under Democratic presidents, conservatives typically give new Republican presidents the benefit of the doubt. By the time of the next counterattack against a new Democrat, historical revisionism sets in: Republican leaders are seen as part of the problem, being too accommodating to liberalism and selling out their principles.

The cycle is born of the infeasibility of conservative goals, especially the American right’s attempt to reverse the growth of the welfare and administrative state (which even the world’s most right-wing parties accept) and its tendency to start unwinnable culture wars against inevitable change (a typical conservative foible). The public shares conservatives’ broad desire for limiting government growth and social upheaval, but that does not translate into support for specific policies to achieve those goals. The international and historical norm is that the size and scope of government grow over time and new social changes are codified; conservative resistance slows this liberal policy drift but does not reverse it.

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