The earlier conservative self-understanding, in which the right was defending nongovernmental institutions against the power of the state, tacitly depended on the assumption that many if not most nongovernmental institutions would be friendly to conservative values. But as civil society has decayed over recent decades, its remaining power centers have also become increasingly left-wing.

Already-liberal institutions — universities, Hollywood, the big foundations and the mass media — are now more uniformly allied with the left than even the very recent past. Corporate America happily donates to Republicans because it fears a Bernie Sanders presidency, but on cultural issues big business courts its younger customers with progressive lobbying and propaganda. In religion, Catholicism under Pope Francis aspires (scandals permitting) to ease its way leftward as well, leaving evangelical Christianity as an isolated bastion with little culture-shaping power.

Yet conservatives can still win the White House and the Congress, which means that the one power center they can hope to control is the one they are notionally organized to limit — the administrative state.