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To say that I’m not a big fan of Sen. John McCain (R-NYTimes Editorial Board) would be an under-statement.
I’m a huge fan of his military service, but as a senator he has only two speeds: Irrelevant and Obnoxious. When he’s not voting like a pretty traditional Republican and going along with the party, he’s out declaring how much better he is than the party he regularly carries water for.
You think Steve Bannon likes beating the crap out of the GOP? He’s a piker compared to John McCain who, since 2000, has made a fetish of it. During the 2008 presidential primaries, I created the website “MyDearJohnLetter.com” where conservatives could post their break-up messages with the Republican candidate who clearly had such a low opinion of GOP voters.
So yet another speech from Sen. McCain about how much he doesn’t like Republicans is nothing new. However, I was struck by his comments rejecting “half-baked” nationalism. And they reveal yet again how much McCain–and many longtime Republicans–can’t seem to learn the lesson of the Trump moment.
On my podcast today I quoted Ross Douthat who pointed out that virtually every conservative/Right movement in the West has a populist or nationalist branch. As we just saw in Austria, populist/nationalist movements can even win elections in the plurality-politics world of European parliamentary elections. Douthat also suggested, and I agree, that it’s virtually impossible to see a center-Right governing coalition that doesn’t include the (for lack of a more facile phrase) Trump voters.
Yes, McCain and Charles Murray, and my good friend Bill Kristol can (theoretically, anyway) banish populism from the Republican Party. But the party that remains will never get 50% +1 of the votes. It will be a rump party, alongside a rump “populist/nationalist” party.
On an earlier episode of the podcast, Charles Murray explicitly called for the conservative/libertarian/traditional Republicans to follow McCain’s lead and kick the populists out. We should join with the small-l liberals left in the Democratic party for a new, third way. But then he agreed with my point that there aren’t any small-l Democrats left and the result would be a permanent minority. Is that really what McCain and others want?
I wish America was a nation of small-government, self-reliant, Constitution-loving individualists. But it’s not. A majority coalition on the Right is going to have a significant number of populists–“half-baked’ or otherwise. So why not pursue the “half-baked” strategy? Instead of attacking the nationalist/populist voters, insulting them and driving them out, find some issues where traditional conservatism and populism overlap. Or at least don’t directly contradict?
The obvious example is immigration. There is nothing anti-conservative about “everyone has to obey the law and play by the same rules.” Instead of joining McCain’s “anyone who cares about the borders is probably a closet racist” approach, why not stand for fairness, justice and rule of law–and do so without apology?
The fight against jihad-inspired terrorism is another. There’s probably some dealing that could be done on trade, too.
Personally, I like my populism “half-baked.” Because if the Right doesn’t figure out how to accommodate these voters, the likely result is a populist full loaf.