Earlier this month, I casually asked on Twitter whether the right has a cancel culture analogous to the left. My AEI colleague Stan Veuger dryly suggested checking out this week’s issue of the Weekly Standard for a symposium on the topic. Point taken: Lacking the muscle to compete in the mainstream of American life, the right cancels competing views and their adherents among fellow conservatives. You see the irony? While the left continues its long march through the institutions that guide cultural and social development, the right focuses on stamping out internal differences of opinion. One side steadily adds to and multiplies its influence while the other plays a game of subtraction and division against supposedly heterodox allies.
How did conservatives arrive at this point? The answer lies, I think, in the imbalance between conservative political success and its ongoing and pervasive cultural weakness. The coalition that came to power under Reagan was always far more successful at the ballot box than it was in the broader culture wars. Reaganism succeeded almost in spite of itself. Reagan himself understood this and actively discouraged internecine wars under the auspices of his 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” He knew lasting change required broad, strong, and occasionally even bipartisan coalitions. Victories were achieved by the steady application of political strength and sound governance; incremental advances could, over time, reshape society and politics.