Does the Conservative Brand Need a Reset?

by Daniel Clements

Journalist Bill Kristol tweeted recently that conservatives should consider rebranding themselves as “liberals” to distance themselves from Trumpism, noting they’re for “liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education…”. The pro-Trump pundits immediately took this admittedly flippant remark as another indicator of the Establishment™️’s conspiracy to unseat the president. Of course, “conservatives” in the US would typically be described as “liberals” in Europe (and if the US had a more European-style ideological spectrum, the Republican Party would be a coalition of a liberals, Christian Democrats, and nationalists). Lacking a feudal past and being founded on (classical) liberal principles, it follows that to be conservative in the US is to be liberal, though the term now has a different meaning in common speech.

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The negative reaction from Trump supporters is surprising, as they largely openly rejected conservatism, both as a label and ideology—asserting that limited government and the free-market are non-issues, especially in comparison to cultural and civic cohesion. I for one always found arguments over what is genuinely “conservative” to be pointless semantics: the ideas being signified are more important than the signifiers. It’s doubtful that conservatives need to undergo a rebranding in the same way liberals embraced the moniker of “progressives.” I suspect, to the extent Americans have a distinct idea of “conservatism,” they associate Trump less with whatever that is and more with the terms “populist” and “nationalist.” Though Mr. Kristol was clearly not making a serious proposal, conservatives should still focus more on advancing their ideas and policies instead of playing with words. Namely: they should be willing to work with Trump and his faction on common ground, yet hold fast when the occasion calls for it—just as they should with moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The more significant brand issue is with the label of “Republican,” and it’s yet to be seen whether American voters will equate the party as a whole with Trump. In 2006, voters took out their frustration with George W. Bush on the GOP and the brand became toxic. The same country would reelect Barack Obama shortly after, while thoroughly routing the Democrats at the state level in election after election — not to mention both chambers of Congress. If recent history is a guide, the president’s image can hurt his party, but not help. In this case, Republicans, both conservative and moderate, should be willing to distinguish themselves from the president — although it appears that he is already doing that for them.

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Memo to Trump Opponents for the Next Four Years

by Alex Knepper

As the dawn of the Trump era tiptoes ever-closer, many Democrats and skeptical Republicans have still not figured out what makes the president-elect ‘tick.’ It is fair to say that we have never known so little about the motives and core beliefs of an incoming president. Nonetheless, we know enough about him to cut through the noise and sketch an outline of what the opposition must note as it prepares for battle. If Trump’s opponents want to effectively combat him, we will need to re-learn a lot of what we thought we already knew:

1. Remember: Trump Is Not an Ideologue, and He Has No Master Plan

Many vain attempts have been made to make sense of Trump by gathering the president-elect’s various statements and attempting to discern a systemized ideology from them. But Trump has no ideology: he is more like former Chinese autocrat Deng Xiaoping, who declared that ‘it does not matter what color a cat is, as long as it catches mice’ — which is not to say that there are not discernible patterns in Trump’s thought, but rather that they are informed more by ‘gut,’ instinct, or prejudice than by a coherent system of abstract principles.

This is a major part of his appeal. He boldly declared earlier in the year that, while he is a conservative, ‘it’s called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party.’ He does not attempt to justify his beliefs by appealing to time-honored principles: he defines what is politically good by its immediate practical effect — which is always hand-in-hand with increasing his power — and if existing theories conflict with Trump getting his way, then Trump insists on a new theory, rather than on accommodating his desires to pre-existing principles.

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