The fundamental flaw of modern conservatism is that it is unsure whether America today is a fallen republic or an astonishing success story. This confusion has produced a political crisis among conservatives, which might help explain the rise of Trump.
Ever since the 1930s, conservatives have been promising their flock the rollback of the progressive agenda. They have warned about the dangers of leaving the welfare state intact and pilloried conservative leaders for failing in this crucial task. Yet, despite the Reagan revolution, the Newt Gingrich revolution and the tea party revolution, the welfare state is still standing as strong as ever. Republicans dominate almost every arena of U.S. politics — and the state is bigger than ever. Should we chalk this up to incompetence? More likely, conservatives know that the public actually wants the welfare state and that a modern country could not function today under some libertarian fantasy experiment. Of course, they will never admit this.
In any case, the result is that conservative leaders left their base permanently aggrieved, feeling betrayed and distrustful of any new campaign promises. In recent years, as the fever grew, conservative voters became desperate for someone who had not played this game of bait-and-switch with them. And into this rage walked Trump, who easily toppled the old conservative establishment and rode the frustration with elites all the way to the White House.