Olsen’s worries that Republicans do not have the ability to build a governing majority coalition. In fact, he sets forth a false dichotomy that, if true, would lead to predictions of doom and gloom for Republicans. Namely he posits that Republicans must choose between a RINO vision of Republicanism and Steve Bannon–inspired style of popular nationalism. Neither will be successful in building a national governing coalition.
RINOs will fail either because they force the GOP to repeatedly break faith with its conservative base and forsake campaign promises, or because they insist that there be no Republican agenda at all, which then relinquishes the messaging advantage to Democrats. Such was their fate last Tuesday.
Popular nationalism as expounded by Steve Bannon fails for a different reason. It seeks to revive an economic structure that is no longer relevant in the modern world. Nationalists call for Republicans to abandon key free-market economic tenants such as free trade and even to jettison growth-oriented tax cuts. Instead, they hope to use industrial policy to buy voting blocks of workers in favored industrial sectors. Extreme versions of this approach would involve taxing investors and capital to subsidize working middle-class wages. This is a recipe for economic disaster, and it would doom the Republican party to permanent minority status for several generations, as happened after President Hoover’s protectionist response to the Great Depression.