One reason is this chart of the Congressional Budget Office’s long-term debt projections. As a percentage of the economy, U.S. debt is entering an unprecedented era. It will soon exceed the all time peak of World War II, but unlike the 1940s, the debt isn’t caused by one significant event that will soon go away. Baby boomers will continue to retire in large numbers, they will live longer, and they will consume more expensive healthcare. To prevent a crisis will require some combination of tax increases or reductions in spending. Republicans reminded us during the Trump era that if there’s one thing they can agree on legislatively, it’s that they want lower taxes. So, when the debt problem becomes a more immediate concern, it’s inevitable that the faction with plenty ideas for shrinking government programs in the face of Democratic attempts to raise taxes will regain influence.
Another reason why limited-government conservatism is likely to make a comeback is a more cynical one. At some point, a Democrat will be back in the White House, and whenever that has happened historically, Republicans have tended to care more about spending, deficits, and limits on executive power. We saw this when Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and in the Tea Party-fueled victories in 2010 and 2014. As soon as a Democratic president proposes his or her first budget, a new crop of Republicans will be warning about the crushing debt burden. Sure, Republicans have shredded a lot of credibility on the issue given their acquiescence during the Trump era. But that will not inhibit Republicans from advancing such criticisms, especially younger candidates who were not in Congress during the Trump era.