What they overlook is the third – and most important – leg of the conservative stool: robust American nationalism. Few voters really care that much about small government or free-market economics, as compelling as the case for them is. More important are moral issues like abortion and natural marriage and religious liberty, but even that cluster of concerns represents only a part of the reason people identify as conservatives.
I’d submit that underlying everything else, Republican primary voters are patriots and nationalists. With the post-1968 Democratic party’s rejection of American patriotism, they have nowhere else to go; in our two-party system, there’s no space for a UKIP-style party to establish itself. This lack of options is something the post-American, anti-borders nomenklatura of the GOP has counted on.
But in the primaries, there is an option, a way for Republican voters to rebel against the contempt of their betters. As Colin Dueck writes today over at the National Interest, “Trump’s real niche, carved out in his own strange way, is simply American nationalism. And this is a powerful force among Republicans.”