Numerous commentators, mostly on the Right, believe the Republican Party is dying because it has betrayed long-standing conservative principles. J. Bradford DeLong, a neoliberal economist, lays the blame on Donald Trump, whom he describes as “an unhinged, unqualified kleptocrat.”1 Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, points to the role of White grievance, observing that the Republican Party “has become the caricature the left always said it was—the party of old white men.”2 Steve Schmidt, who ran the late Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, cites craven leadership: “[The GOP] is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders.”3 Collectively, these views attribute the party’s woes either to President Trump, depicted as a hostile interloper, or Republican officials too fearful to challenge him.
Though Trump has certainly shaken up Republican politics, the narrative that he hijacked the party ignores shifts in the wider conservative movement that made his election possible. Trump’s election was less an aberration than a reflection of changes in the New Right coalition, which brought business elites, evangelicals, and neoconservatives together under the Republican umbrella in the late 1970s and has underpinned the party’s electoral successes ever since.4
The balance of power within these three main constituencies has shifted over the last 15 years. For their part, business leaders have increasingly shown a willingness to embrace selective protectionism,5 including supporting President Trump’s decision to place tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. In evangelical quarters, leaders have shifted their focus from religious liberty to Christian “survival”6 and cheered on authoritarians they see as protectors of the faith. In foreign policy circles, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq upended the neoconservative consensus7 that U.S. hegemony required a muscular, interventionist approach. The difficulties faced in the Afghan and Iraqi theaters opened up space for paleoconservatives* to reject not only preemptive war but also security alliances like NATO.
The rhetorical glue that bound the New Right together has also changed. Opposition to Communism, and an embrace of a meritocratic moral order used to hold the New Right together. Today it is connected by chauvinistic nationalism and support for authoritarian tactics to guarantee its objectives.
Donald Trump’s election surprised many, including a good number of dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. But an on-the-ground look at the broader New Right coalition helps make more sense of his victory. The main question for progressives will be how to counter not just Trump, but the wider array of Republicans whose views have aligned with his.
Building the 1970s New Right Coalition
In the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, the U.S. Right was on the back foot. Ideologically, the Depression had called into question Republican claims that the economy worked best when left to its own devices, just as the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor made conservative isolationism look misguided. By the mid-1950s, the horrors of the Holocaust also discredited right-wing conspiracists who had called World War II a British/Jewish conspiracy.8
The Right would begin to rebuild itself in the post-war years, eventually morphing into the New Right. Sociologist Sara Diamond argues that the consolidation of the New Right represented a “state-movement convergence.”9 Central to this view is the idea that the Republican Party did not dictate positions for its base. Instead, these positions were clarified through an ongoing give and take between conservative social movements and Republican leaders. The New Right coalition would bring business leaders, White evangelicals, and foreign policy intellectuals into conversation with one another and eventually lead them to jointly back Republican Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential bid.
In the early 20th Century, White evangelicals were not a coherent political block. After the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, they became even less so.10 The defendant in the case, John Thomas Scopes, had been charged with violating the Butler Act, a Tennessee law that prohibited teaching evolution in public schools. The trial was heard in tiny Dayton, Tennessee, but attracted national attention because the opposing sides were argued by William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate, and Clarence Darrow, a famous defense attorney. Although the evangelical view prevailed in court (Scopes was found in violation of the Butler Act and fined), the victory was pyrrhic. The national media portrayed evangelicals as backwards and ignorant, and many retreated from politics in response.
By the mid-1950s, however, evangelicals were primed to re-enter politics, thanks in part to a long-standing practice of airing sermons on local radio. In 1960 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) helped evangelicals expand their audience by ruling that television networks could start selling airtime to religious organizations. The networks were happy to comply, since demand was low on Sunday mornings, when most religious organizations wanted to broadcast weekly sermons. The television broadcasts also allowed evangelicals to manage their image in ways they’d been unable to do in 1925, and along the way, to build a national identity that would later help leaders trying to politicize evangelicals.
Evangelical leaders’ foray into politics began in the 1950s in response to the Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education, which opened the door to school desegregation. At first, evangelical activism faced inward, with individual congregations creating so-called segregation academies11 to educate their children in Whites-only schools.
Evangelical activism scaled up in the ‘70s in response to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. Evangelicals began to voice their opposition in televised sermons and to protest newly opened clinics. They also mobilized in opposition to the then burgeoning LGBTQ rights movement, arguing that same-sex relations were unnatural and that “flaunting” homosexuality was an affront to common decency.12 These issues proved a potent mobilizing tool. As Sara Diamond argues:
It was in the realm of reproductive and family policy where issues could resonate both at the most personal, even visceral, level of gender relations, and, on questions of state power and constitutionality, at the level of Congress and the Supreme Court.13
Over time, evangelical leaders framed their activism around these issues as a defense of evangelical beliefs and practices in secular society.† Indeed, the rhetoric of religious liberty became part of a feedback loop between evangelicals and their Republican benefactors.14
Although evangelicals were becoming political in the ‘70s, their connection to the Republican Party was only formalized in the year before the 1980 presidential election. Several scholars point to a 1979 meeting between four Republican operatives—Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Richard Viguerie, and Ed McAteer—and then-budding televangelist Jerry Falwell.15 The operatives encouraged Falwell to use his Sunday TV show, The Old Time Gospel Hour, to endorse Ronald Reagan, since his positions on abortion were more in line with evangelical views than those of his contender, President Jimmy Carter.16 They also told Falwell that the focus on abortion would help move some Catholics into the Republic fold. The group agreed to help Falwell establish a non-profit, tax-exempt organization called the Moral Majority so he could reach a larger audience. The meeting served its purpose. Fifty-six percent of White Baptists supported Carter in 1976; only 34 percent did in 1980.17
Neoliberalism and the Fight to End the New Deal
Reagan’s approach to the economy was captured early in his Presidency when he fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers on August 5, 1981. The move signaled Reagan’s definitive break with the Keynesian development model that had dominated both parties since the 1930s. Historians sometimes refer to this period as an industrial golden age between labor and management.18 Workers agreed to demands to increase their productivity in exchange for a share of profits (e.g. by getting regular raises, better pensions, etc.). The state played the role of arbiter, settling disputes through federal entities such as the National Labor Relations Board, to ensure balance between them.
When Reagan was elected, the Keynesian development model was foundering.19 The OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s, along with stagflation in the late ‘70s, had softened adherence to the model in business quarters. Although U.S. industry was still profitable, U.S. manufacturers argued that their profit margins were declining because of union demands and burdensome regulations. Reagan firing the air traffic controllers instead of negotiating with their union sent manufacturers a signal: the state would no longer balance the interests of labor and management. Instead, owners would be given preference. Manufacturers felt liberated to shutter factories and move production to right-to-work states in the U.S. South or out of the country. Reagan took a similar approach to banking and finance. Deregulation encouraged and rewarded speculation on Wall Street, giving rise to avenues of capital accumulation divorced from production.
Ideologically, Reagan’s opposition to the model rested on two mainstays of right-wing thinking. Like advocates of laissez-faire capitalism before him, Reagan thought the economy worked best with limited state involvement, and rejected the bipartisan consensus that the state had a role to play in avoiding another Great Depression. His opposition was also rooted in a moral economy of individualism. Reagan believed it was ultimately individuals’ responsibility, not the state’s, to meet their own economic needs. Government aid, and those who relied upon it, were depicted in negative, often racially-charged and gendered terms in both Reagan’s campaigns for governor of California and later President.20 Linda Taylor, an African American woman accused of welfare fraud in Chicago, was a favorite target of Reagan’s. Though he never mentioned her by name, the press identified her and covered her case extensively. She became a stand in for all welfare recipients—a Black “welfare queen” bilking the government.
By the time Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, deindustrialization was well apace, and both parties had embraced the neoliberal path charted by Reagan.21 What set them apart, however marginally, were their views on the social safety net. Unlike earlier periods when the two parties debated whether to cut or expand social services, deliberations in the ‘90s focused on how much to cut them. Republicans advocated for eliminating programs wholesale, while Democrats countered weakly by supporting limits on the amount and duration of aid.
Although manufacturers had traditionally voted Republican, Reagan’s actions expanded his backing among business elites. Freed from obligations to their workers (and the communities where they lived), big business could now cater to stockholders, who made money when companies laid off workers or moved production overseas. The practice of corporate raiding solidified the shift.22 These in turn, spurred investment on Wall Street, bringing the world of finance more firmly into the Republican fold.
Fighting the Evil Empire
The rise of neoconservatism was central to the consolidation of the New Right Coalition. Unlike evangelicals and business elites, however, neoconservatives were less a social movement than an intellectual community. In the 1960s, most neoconservatives lived in New York and traveled in the same literary circles. Many were Jewish and had lost family in the Holocaust.23 And unlike evangelicals, then largely apolitical, or business leaders who already leaned Republican, neoconservatives were former Democrats.
Initially, their conversion had little to do with foreign policy. Rather, neoconservatives moved to the Right because of growing disillusionment with the welfare state.24 They questioned whether it was the state’s job to guarantee social equality and worried that welfare undermined individualism by creating opportunities for citizens to demand group rights (e.g. for women or African Americans). They were also troubled by the New Left’s opposition to the state of Israel—a stance many saw as rooted in antisemitism.25
Communism only became a central political concern after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Although the war prompted fears for Jewish security, especially among those touched by the Holocaust, they also saw Israel’s struggle with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its presumptive Soviet Communist backers as a microcosm of the battle between freedom and totalitarianism. As Diamond explains, “within that framework, the geopolitical circumstances of Israel and other allies could be elevated to an importance on a par with U.S. ‘national security.’”26 The OPEC oil embargo, which in part gave rise to the war, also put the threat into everyday relief. Long lines at the gas pumps along with rising fuel costs could be recast as a bigger civilizational struggle.
Although many neoconservatives didn’t publicly back Reagan, they would become an important part of the New Right coalition during his presidency. They supported both his effort to pare down the welfare state and his willingness to finance so-called freedom fighters in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
The end of the Cold War exposed the fault lines within the foreign policy establishment, especially between neoconservatives and their paleoconservative predecessors, who never abandoned isolationism but begrudgingly remained in the New Right for their shared opposition to Communism. Neoconservatives were able to maintain their dominance in foreign policy, however, because of their prominence in the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a Reagan-era creation that emphasized the centrality of U.S. involvement to the spread of democracy.27 From their perch at NED, neoconservatives were able to advocate for interventions in Panama, Bosnia, and Somalia through both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies. Under George W. Bush, many neoconservatives held executive appointments and were thus well positioned to advocate for the U.S. invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq following the 9/11 attacks in 2001.28
Aspiration as Glue
To bind these heretofore disparate groups together, the New Right needed a shared rhetoric. From the beginning, two issues threatened to undermine the budding coalition. The first was race. Though all three elements of the New Right opposed the Civil Rights Movement, they did so on varied grounds. White Citizens’ Councils, which relied on White evangelical support, opened Whites-only private (often religious) schools in the 1960s and ‘70s because they believed court-ordered desegregation would dilute the purity of the White race.29 By contrast, business elites were more divided on the issue, with greater opposition in the South than in the North. For their part, early neoconservatives supported the Civil Rights movement, but opposed government intervention to undo the inequalities that prompted it.30
But the rhetoric of meritocracy papered over these divides. As a discourse, meritocracy was broadly aspirational. Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr., made frequent overtures to a meritocratic social order, arguing that African Americans only wanted the same rights and freedoms White people were afforded.31 However, unlike King, the New Right divorced discussions of merit from debates about structural inequality. Flattened of social context, meritocracy was attractive to White people precisely because they could use it to justify their place at the top of the racial hierarchy without resorting to openly racist language, which was becoming socially unacceptable.32
Class also threatened the coalition. Although business elites and neoconservative intellectuals tended to come from the upper- and upper-middle classes, many evangelicals were working class. Fighting a common enemy—Communists—provided a shared purpose: not only keeping tyranny at bay, but carrying the implicit promise of prosperity. Indeed, although Reagan presided over the country’s first period of sustained deindustrialization, and called for cuts to the very programs newly unemployed workers needed, he framed these changes in positive terms as an economic step forward.
Reagan’s aspirational rhetoric was especially appealing to evangelicals aligned with the emerging Prosperity Gospel movement, which holds that God rewards the faithful with material wealth. However, even conservative Christians who shunned “prosperity” teachings found something to like in Reagan’s message: his insistence on individuals’ personal responsibility for their lives and financial circumstances that echoed their judgment-oriented worldview.33 The clustering of evangelicals in the South and Southwest also meant they were more likely to feel the benefits of neoliberalism than its pain. The decline in auto manufacturing in the Midwest, for example, was matched by its rise in the Southern states. The post-war boom in the defense industry in Southern California provided similar protections to evangelicals in the southwest. As Lisa McGirr, a historian of the New Right explains, “conservatives in Orange County enjoyed the fruits of worldly success…their mobilization, then, was not a rural ‘remnant’ of the displaced and maladapted but a gathering around principles that were found to be relevant in the most modern of communities.”34 Those who doubted the new alignment would have found it difficult to challenge in any case. Within the deeply hierarchical world of evangelicalism, once national leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Oral Roberts endorsed Reagan’s approach, local leaders tended to follow their lead.
Communism was also an attractive enemy for White people who cared little for foreign policy but saw the Civil Rights movement as the defining problem of the day. Indeed, the Communist Party played a prominent role in the Civil Rights struggle in the South, so invoking Communism as a shared enemy allowed segregationists to continue their specific battle under different terminology.
The New Right Coalition that allowed Ronald Reagan to win the White House in 1980 is still intact. But the centers of gravity within each constituency have changed radically. These changes are ongoing and pre-date the 2016 election. But Trump’s election has likely accelerated them.
Not Our Problem—A Paleoconservative Pushback
After the Cold War ended, paleoconservatives began to push back against the neoconservative paradigm. Prominent paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly, who had remained under the New Right umbrella because of their opposition to Communism, began to openly question their Republican peers for supporting U.S. interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.35 Although they were more public than they’d been during the Cold War, paleoconservatives would remain on the margins until the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began to falter.
These wars would upend the neoconservative consensus that foreign intervention was the best use of U.S. hegemony. Opposition came from realist and paleoconservative quarters. For their part, realists supported the campaign in Afghanistan, but believed the decision to invade Iraq was foolhardy. With U.S. forces split across two war zones, realists argued that the U.S. had allowed the Taliban to regroup.36 They also believed containment was the best way to handle Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein because the country’s ethnic divides would make nation-building exceedingly difficult.37 Paleoconservatives were equally opposed to the U.S.’s misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, with well-known leaders like Buchanan, Robert Novak, and Justin Raimondo denouncing the wars.38
What differentiated the two camps was how they framed their opposition. While realists talked in terms of national interests, paleoconservatives often resorted to conspiracism to explain their opposition. Some, like Raimondo, a devotee of Buchanan’s, argued that Israel had foreknowledge of 9/11 and hadn’t alerted the U.S. in hopes that the attacks would encourage U.S. assistance.39
While paleoconservative conspiracies were on the margins 10 years ago, their views are increasingly dominating the Republican Party. Today, it is paleoconservatives and not realists who are ascendant. Although Trump’s approach to foreign intervention can be described as a work in progress, he has found common cause with paleoconservatives, who have openly embraced his isolationist and nativist instincts and hope it will guide how he approaches allies and enemies alike. As Rutgers historian David Greenberg40 explained in 2016:
The hidden history of Trumpism suggests that the president-elect may be not simply an opportunistic showman but the leader of an at least semi-coherent ideology—a new iteration of the populist and nationalist paleoconservatism that has long lurked in the shadows of American politics. Now, for the first time since the isolationist 1930s, this ideology commands real influence, and for the first time in our history, it will enjoy favor from a sitting president.
To be sure, John Bolton’s appointment as Trump’s third National Security advisor provides evidence that neoconservatives41 have not entirely disappeared from Trump’s orbit. However, they have been unable to sway Trump’s decision to scale back the U.S. footprint in Syria or as yet to ramp up involvement in Venezuela.
Evangelicals Under Siege
On most issues evangelicals have been remarkably consistent. Abortion has remained a central cause, and arguably their most important voting issue, since the early 1970s.42 Moreover, when evangelicals added issues to their repertoire, as they did with same-sex marriage in the early 2000s, they framed their opposition using familiar rhetoric.
After 9/11, however, evangelicals turned their attention to Islam. Although their focus was ostensibly about terrorism, religion scholar Richard Cimino argues that Islam is evangelicals’ root concern.43 Fear of Islam is particularly resonant for evangelicals who subscribe to premillennial eschatology, which holds the Antichrist will begin a war in Israel to thwart the Messiah’s return to earth. Today, many evangelicals believe the Antichrist will be Muslim.44 Though premillennial eschatology is unique to certain evangelical quarters, they have found common cause with Islamophobic nationalist regimes across the globe.
The War on Terror also exacerbated evangelicals’ tendency to see themselves as under threat from the outside world. Indeed, after 9/11, evangelicals saw themselves as fighting a two-pronged war: the first, their longstanding battle against secularism, now joined by a fight against Islam. Today, evangelicals are increasingly pessimistic about their place in U.S. society, with recent polling suggesting that many evangelicals believe they face greater discrimination than Muslims.45
In response, many evangelical leaders shifted their approach. Although evangelicals still invoke religious liberty to frame their activism, its meaning has shifted. Historically, evangelicals defined religious liberty with reference to evangelicals’ interactions with secular society. They supported doctors who refused to do abortions, for example, and business owners who refused to offer contraceptives in their employees’ healthcare plans. Increasingly, however, religious liberty is also cast in existential terms, as something other religions are gaining at the expense of Christianity. The survival of Christians, then, depends on taking religious liberty away from (or preventing its provision to) other religions, especially Islam.46 For example, many White evangelicals expressed support for President Trump’s decision to ban refugees from Muslim countries,47 arguing that the U.S. is first and foremost a Christian nation.48
As survival has become more central to evangelical definitions of religious liberty, some evangelicals have made common cause with authoritarian leaders who claim to defend Christianity against both secularism and Islam. Evangelicals’ embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his war in Chechnya is a case in point. Many scholars believe that Chechnya’s war for independence was not, at least initially, driven by religion,49 but rebels increasingly invoked Islam as a unifying and rationalizing factor over time. By the second Chechen war, Muslim identity had become central to the rebels’ cause. Putin, who took power shortly after the start of the second Chechen war, responded with a scorched earth policy and framed the conflict as an Islamic assault on Russia’s Christian civilization.50 The narrative of Christians under siege from Muslims resonated with U.S. evangelicals, many of whom came to see Putin as a defender of the faith.51 Putin’s subsequent attacks on LGBTQ people in Russia only added to his appeal.
Evangelical support for Trump follows a similar pattern. Though Trump—a twice divorced, self-described playboy—hardly exemplifies Christian values, evangelical leaders have embraced his presidency on the grounds that they need a strong leader to protect them. Jerry Falwell, Jr., son of the Moral Majority’s founder and the president of evangelical Liberty University, explained his support for Trump this way:
Conservatives & Christians need to stop electing “nice guys”. They might make great Christian leaders but the US needs street fighters like @realDonaldTrump at every level of government b/c the liberal fascists Dems are playing for keeps & many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!52
From Neoliberalism to Selective Protectionism
The neoliberal consensus began to crack after the investment firm Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008, setting off the Great Recession.53 On the Right, opposition materialized quickly against then-President George W. Bush’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which created the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). TARP allowed the U.S. government to purchase companies’ so-called toxic assets to prevent them from collapsing. Through TARP, the government took over mortgage-backed securities held by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, AIG, and others. After Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, Bush and Obama agreed to use TARP funds to bail out iconic American automobile manufacturers Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors, then near bankruptcy.
Although TARP was supported by two presidents from different parties, the bailouts were widely unpopular across the political spectrum. On the Right, many Republicans opposed them on ideological grounds, arguing that it wasn’t the job of government, or the taxpayers who fund it, to pick and choose economic winners. To many neoliberals, the government’s response to the crisis represented a return to protectionism.
The Tea Party movement emerged as the Right’s first organized response to the bailouts. Chip Berlet, a scholar of the U.S. Right, argues that the Tea Party was initially an “astroturfing” operation54—elite propaganda disguised as a grassroots movement. By 2010, however, the Tea Party had morphed into an actual social movement, with chapters across the country. As it grew in size, it shifted Hard Right. While the Tea Party’s earliest supporters had been libertarian followers of Ron Paul, newer members hailed from Christian Dominionist circles, militia/Patriot groups, and ethno-nationalist organizations.55
Over time, the Tea Party became a counter-subversion movement56—that is, one that defends an unequal status quo and dabbles in conspiracism. Tea Party rhetoric divided the country between “makers” and “takers.” To them, the recession happened because people took out loans they couldn’t afford, not because big banks had given them unsustainable loans under false premises or because investment firms repackaged those loans into junk products with little concern for their viability. After Obama was elected, Tea Party groups turned their attention to the Affordable Care Act (ACA),57 which they decried as an abuse of Big Government, evidence of creeping socialism, and a threat to the Constitution.58 During the ACA fights, which continued throughout Obama’s presidency, the movement also turned its sights on Republican Congress members who supported Medicaid expansion under the ACA and fielded primary challengers against Republican candidates deemed insufficiently conservative.
In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the movement’s unity began to fracture. Though the Koch Brothers had bankrolled much of the Tea Party opposition to the ACA, the industrialist brothers were leery of Trump’s protectionism. The movement’s rank and file responded differently, vigorously backing Trump’s plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and place tariffs on Chinese exports. By January 2017 the Tea Party’s base was increasingly out of step with its elite backers. They looked to Trump for a new economic consensus that would protect their jobs and their communities against elites, at home and abroad.
Rhetorical Glue: Nationalism and Racism
While aspirational discourses helped bind the New Right’s constituencies together in the early 1980s, shared grievances and defensive posturing are more common today. Rhetorically, these sentiments are held together with invocations to a chauvinistic nationalism and support for authoritarian tactics.
Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” resonated on the Right because it captured the dour outlook that many in the New Right’s constituencies have held since the Great Recession. Evangelicals feel under siege. Abortion remains legal, same-sex marriage is now the law of the land and widely accepted, and Muslims have been elected to Congress. Although many businesses remain supportive of free trade, some believe the rules of the game are stacked in favor of foreign manufacturers and countries like China.59 And after more than 15 years of war, neoconservatives find themselves at a disadvantage, defending two unpopular wars while paleoconservatives make a play for control of the party’s intellectual foreign policy apparatus.
Trump’s catchphrase was also popular because he identified clear culprits. It wasn’t an outside force that undermined U.S. hegemony, he declared, but internal enemies within both parties who betrayed the citizenry by letting immigrants into the country, signing free trade agreements that shipped good-paying jobs overseas, and spilling blood and treasure in faraway places. In this context, nationalism is a way to reassert strength. However, like most forms of nationalism, chauvinism (in the form of antisemitism, sexism, and racism) is fully embedded within it.
In many quarters of the Right, the status of the country is measured vis-à-vis the status of White men. And right-wing men, overwhelmingly White, are angry. Their understanding of meritocracy—that it would guarantee the “natural” order in which White men sit atop the social and economic hierarchy—appeared false. Indeed, even though the gains of women and people of color have been limited and halting, White men see their successes as a zero-sum game. Minority gain is White men’s loss. And, because they view White male hegemony, at home and abroad, as natural and right, they are now willing to more openly defend it, even if they have to use proto-authoritarian tactics to do so.
This rhetoric is on full display across the New Right’s three main constituencies. Evangelicals are willing to embrace dictators like Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban because they believe only strongmen can protect them. Likewise, the Tea Party’s base took the movement’s astroturfing founders at their populist word, and demanded the very thing its wealthy backers hate—protectionism. And while neoconservatives rethink Afghanistan and Iraq, paleoconservatives are actively trying to undo the liberal world order neoconservatives’ preemptive wars were meant to guarantee.
Death or War?
Although many right-of-center commentators believe the Republican Party is dying, a better explanation is that the party’s turmoil reflects an ongoing civil war on the Right. This war is occurring within the movement’s three main constituencies as well as between the Washington Republican establishment and the ascendant forces within each New Right constituency. [KJ5]At the moment, the establishment voices are losing. And even if Trump loses the 2020 election, the revival of a 1980s-era coalition is unlikely.
The question that remains is whether these new centers of gravity will consolidate and if so, how stable they will be. If we use Sara Diamond’s idea of a state-movement convergence to frame our analysis, consolidation would mean these new actors will become embedded in the Republican Party’s apparatus, and within government more broadly. The likelihood of this happening is uncertain. Though Trump won the presidency, the Republican Party lost more than 30 House seats in the 2018 midterm elections. However, it’s also true that within the GOP, views once considered marginal or even traitorous have moved into the mainstream. The Soviet Union, for example, used to serve as a discursive boogeyman on the Right. To discredit an idea, all one had to do was link it to Communism and warn of coming tyranny. Evangelical support for Vladimir Putin and strongmen in other countries once behind the Iron Curtain60 provides a clear example of how radically and quickly the Right’s discourse has changed.
The answer to the stability question is uncertain as well. Though U.S. support for the ongoing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are unpopular, it remains to be seen how popular isolationism will remain if Russia or China begin to assume the roles of hegemonic world powers. Likewise, though business elites have largely remained in the Republican fold despite defections in certain industries (or parts of the country) for neoliberal Democrats, the disparate effects of tariffs may engender battles between winners and losers of this new order, as well as between the losers and the party. Lastly, it’s also unclear whether the evangelical sense of besiegement will hold among millennial evangelicals, who have proven more open and tolerant of same-sex marriage and other religions than their elders.61
The chaos of the current moment will be difficult no matter how these questions are answered. Progressives must be ready for the worst-case scenario: That in our two-party system, one of those parties has become defined by intolerance—not a bug, but its central feature.
* The term paleoconservative is often used to define conservative ideology that held sway before the Depression in the 1930s. Paleoconservatives tend to support isolationist foreign policy.
† White evangelicals’ focus on abortion and other social issues also provided avenues for political cooperation with Catholics, who despite their social conservatism, had typically voted Democratic.
- J. Bradford DeLong, “I Hope Very Much the Republican Party Is Destroying Itself. If It Isn’t, We Are in Big Trouble…” Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality Blog, May 7, 2018, https://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/05/i-hope-very-much-the-republican….
- Edward-Isaac Dovere, “The GOP ‘Has Become the Caricature the Left Always Said It Was,’” Politico Magazine, April 17, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/04/17/jennifer-rubin-conse….
- Steve Schmidt (@SteveSchmidtSES), Twitter post, June 19, 2018, 11:41pm, https://twitter.com/SteveSchmidtSES/status/1009325231004004352.
- Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York: Guilford Press, 1995). See also: Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001).
- Marco Annunziata, “Tech Vs Tariffs: How Companies Adapt To A Protectionist World,” Forbes, March 22, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/marcoannunziata/2018/03/22/tech-vs-tariffs….
- Michael Gerson, “The Last Temptation,” The Atlantic, April 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptatio….
- Paul Pillar, “The False Neoconservative Claim of Consensus,” The National Interest, March 18, 2016.
- Matthew Lyons, CTRL-ALT-DELETE: The Origins and Ideology of the Alternative Right, Political Research Associates, January 20, 2017, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/01/20/ctrl-alt-delete-report-on-….
- Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion, 205.
- M. Edwards, “Rethinking the Failure of Fundamentalist Political antievolutionism after 1925,” Fides et Historia 32(2), 2000: 89-106.
- Sarah Carr, “In Southern Towns, ‘Segregation Academies’ are still going strong,” The Atlantic, December 13, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/in-southern-towns-….
- In the 1990s and early 2000s, evangelicals would also oppose same-sex marriage and the right of LGBTQ people to serve in the military, and adopt children.
- Diamond, 165.
- Kevin Coe and David Domke, “Petitioners or Prophets? Presidential Discourse, God, and the Ascendancy of Religious Conservatives,” Journal of Communication, Volume 56, Issue 2, June 2006: 309-330.
- Diamond, 136. See also: Deal Hudson, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008).
- Chip Berlet and Margaret Quiqley, “Theocracy and White Supremacy: Behind the Culture War to Restore Traditional Values,” Political Research Associates, December 1, 1992, https://www.politicalresearch.org/1992/12/01/theocracy-and-white-suprem….
- Diamond, 173.
- Alain Lipietz, Towards a New Economic Order: Postfordism, Ecology, and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
- David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
- Josh Levin, “The Welfare Queen,” Slate, December 19, 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2013/12/linda_t….
- David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
- Steve Pearlstein, “When Shareholder Capitalism Came to Town,” The American Prospect, April 19, 2014, https://prospect.org/article/when-shareholder-capitalism-came-town.
- Jacob Heilbrunn, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 10.
- David Stoesz, “A Wake for the Welfare State: Social Welfare and the Neoconservative Challenge,” Social Service Review 55(3), 1981: 398–410.
- Diamond, 189
- Diamond, 195.
- Diamond, 226.
- Joshua Micah Marshall, “Remaking the World: Bush and the Neoconservatives,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2003, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/2003-11-01/remaking….
- J. Todd Moye, Let the People Decide: Black Freedom and White Resistance Movements in Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1945-1986 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2004).
- Antony Alumkal, “American Evangelicalism in the Post-Civil Rights Era: A Racial Formation Theory Analysis,” Sociology of Religion, 65(3), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 195-213. See page 201 for details.
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a Dream,” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, 1963, https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf.
- For how meritocracy has played out in relation to affirmative action see: Martha Augoustinos, Keith Tuffin, and Danielle Every, “New Racism, Meritocracy and Individualism: Constraining Affirmative Action in Education,” Discourse and Society 16(3), 2005, 315-340.
- Brennan Hill, Paul F. Knitter, William Madges, Faith, Religion & Theology: A Contemporary Introduction, 13th edition (Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty-Third Publications, 2004).
- Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: the Origins of the New American Right (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 8.
- David Greenberg, “An Intellectual History of Trumpism,” Politico Magazine, December 11, 2016, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/trumpism-intellectual-h….
- David Greenberg, “An Intellectual History of Trumpism.” See also Stephen M. Walt, What Would a Realist World Have Looked Like? Foreign Policy, January 8 2016, https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/01/08/what-would-a-realist-world-have-lo….
- John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, “An Unnecessary War,” Foreign Policy, November 3, 2009, https://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/03/an-unnecessary-war-2/.
- Pat Buchanan, Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed are Tearing American Apart (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007).
- David Frum, “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” National Review, March 25, 2003, https://www.nationalreview.com/2003/03/unpatriotic-conservatives-david-….
- David Greenberg, “An Intellectual History of Trumpism.”
- Prominent neocon Max Boot argues that John Bolton is not a neoconservative, but most commentators place him in that category. See: Max Boot, “It’s Time to Retire the ‘Neocon’ Label,” The Washington Post, March 13, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/its-time-to-retire-the-neocon-l…. See also: Natasha Ezrow, “In John Bolton, Donald Trump has an adviser who’s radical even by neocon standards,” The Conversation, March 26, 2018, https://theconversation.com/in-john-bolton-donald-trump-has-an-adviser-….
- According to a Pew Public Opinion Poll on abortion in 2018, 61 percent of White evangelical Protestants believe abortion should be illegal in all/most cases. See: http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/.
- Richard Cimino, “‘No God in Common’: American Evangelical Discourse on Islam after 9/11,” Review of Religious Research 47(2), 2005: 162-174.
- Daniel Burke, “How the ‘Islamic Antichrist’ Reflects our Era’s Anxieties,” Religion News Service, February 6, 2013, https://religionnews.com/2013/02/06/how-the-antichrist-reflects-an-eras….
- Emma Green, “White Evangelicals Believe They Face more Discrimination than Muslims,” The Atlantic, March 10, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/03/perceptions-discri….
- Jonathan Merritt, “How Conservatives Have Changed the Meaning of ‘Religious Liberty,’” The Washington Post, August 2, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/08/02/how-con….
- Emily McFarlan Miller, “Support for Muslim ban up among white evangelicals,” Religion News Service, February 24, 2017, https://religionnews.com/2017/02/24/support-for-muslim-ban-up-among-whi….
- Christopher Stroop, “White Evangelicals Have Turned on Refugees,” Foreign Policy, October 29, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/29/white-evangelicals-have-turned-on-….
- Valery Tishkov, Chechnya: Life in a War-torn Society. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
- Anna Borshcevskaya, “Is Chechnya Putin’s blueprint for Syria?” The Hill, January 17, 2019, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/425863-is-chechnya-putins-blu….
- Melani McAlister, “Why Putin is an Ally for American Evangelicals,” The Conversation, September 4, 2018, https://theconversation.com/why-putin-is-an-ally-for-american-evangelic….
- Jerry Falwell, Jr. (@JerryFalwellJr), Twitter post, September 28, 2018, 6:50pm, https://twitter.com/JerryFalwellJr/status/1045853333007798272.
- Emily Ekins, “Today’s Bailout Anniversary Reminds us that the Tea Party is More than Anti-Obama,” Reason, October 3, 2014, https://reason.com/archives/2014/10/03/the-birth-of-the-tea-party-movem….
- Chip Berlet, “What is the Tea Part Movement?” Research for Progress, https://www.researchforprogress.us/topic/558/faq-collection/what-is-the….
- Chip Berlet, “Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right-wing Populist Counter-subversion Panic,” Critical Sociology 38(4), April 19, 2012, 565-587.
- Berlet, 2012
- Berlet, 2012.
- Lawrence Rosenthal, The Tea Party, the Government Shutdown, and Obamacare, The Foundation for Law, Justice, and Society, 2013.
- David Lawder, Philip Blenkinsop, Michael Martina, “Trump push for China trade reform draws wide support at home, abroad,” Reuters, March 25, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-trump-analysis/trump….
- Eric Lendrum, “Billy Graham’s Legacy: Christianity Making a Global Comeback,” American Greatness, February 22, 2018, https://amgreatness.com/2018/02/22/billy-grahams-legacy-christianity-ma….
- Eliza Griswold, “Millennial Evangelicals Diverge from their Parents’ Beliefs,” The New Yorker, August 27, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/news/on-religion/millennial-evangelicals-dive….