It’s possible to argue, and many have, that Trump won the Republican nomination because the party’s three-legged stool (social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, and a hawkish foreign policy) failed during George W. Bush’s administration and Trump offered something new and different.
The legs of the stool have seen plenty of wins, losses, and draws over the last 35 years. Fiscal conservatism certainly posted wins when Reagan and Bush cut taxes, but it’s also seen some losses—the national debt has increased and the financial crash happened on Bush’s watch. Foreign-policy hawkishness served the Republican party well during the Cold War and after, but that leg of the stool suffered serious injury during the Iraq War. And while religious conservatives can point to public opinion remaining relatively stable on abortion, they lost the battle on same-sex marriage.
But no matter how you tally up the score, you end up with a Republican party that often runs and governs on ideas that have already won or lost the battles they were designed to fight. The social and political problems facing the United States aren’t identical to the problems it faced in the 1980s. Yet Trump’s GOP, which arguably has more power now than any iteration of the party has had since the 1920s, hasn’t come up with anything more creative than another tax bill and a few attempts to overturn Obamacare.