Commentary: Reagan Reed
As of late, I find myself in a very strange position politically. A lifelong Republican and conservative and a veteran of the Tea Party vs. Establishment wars of the past decade, I have always considered myself to be very conservative, with some libertarian leanings. My political ideology has always been classical liberalism: limited government, free markets, liberty, and strict adherence to the Constitution and its system of checks and balances.
Entering politics in 2014, I found in the Tea Party a movement I believed championed all the principles above. I viewed the GOP establishment as being insufficiently supportive of those ideals, and was therefore an enthusiastic supporter of the more insurgent wing of the Republican Party. Most would have considered me to be on the more right-wing side of the GOP.
Years have passed, but my principles have remained the same, and I largely hold to the same policy positions on almost every issue. However, instead of getting attacked for being a “right-wing extremest”, I am accused of being a RINO or even a leftist! What on earth changed?
The battle lines have shifted.
The main battle within the Republican Party is no longer Tea Party vs. Establishment as it was when I first got involved over seven years ago. We are now in a completely different political era. The greatest intra-party struggle now pits the old consensus fusionism that has been conservative orthodoxy since the Reagan era (libertarian economics, social conservatism, and strong national defense) against the so-called “New Right”: a motley cocktail of populist, nationalist, nativist, protectionist, big-government “conservatives”. I use the word “conservative” loosely, as the nationalist right is not conservative at all by the standards of historical American conservatism. It’s certainly not anything close to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and William F. Buckley.
As a libertarian-leaning conservative, I don’t have much love for the GOP establishment. However, I absolutely loath and detest the big-government, populist/nationalist right. My primary political objective is to make government smaller, however, the nationalist right has no problem with big government- as long as they are the ones running it.
I believe in free market capitalism and want less government interference in the economy. The nationalist right wants direct government intervention in the economy, along with trade protectionism, industrial policy, and a redistribution of wealth from private corporations to the white working class.
I believe that power ultimately corrupts those who wield it. The nationalist right seeks to weaponize the power of the state against their political opponents and use the heavy hand of government to order society according to their ideals. This illiberalism flies in the face of the Constitution and is fundamentally anti-conservative, and ultimately anti-American.
Marry the illiberal authoritarian tendencies of the populist/nationalist right to their quasi-religious fervor, penchant for conspiracy theories, and an outright detachment from reality and you get a truly toxic stew.
There is ultimately very little difference between the big-government populist/nationalist right and the socialist left. They both want to expand the power of the state- they just disagree over who should run it.
Given the threat to liberty and free market capitalism posed by these illiberal, wannabe authoritarians on the right, the old GOP establishment suddenly doesn’t seem as bad now. At least they gave lip service to conservative ideology, even if they were often feckless when it came to actually fighting for it. The “New Right” has given up on liberty and limited government altogether.
It feels very strange to write this, but despite my disagreements with my old foes in the GOP old guard, I have to consider them the lesser evil compared to the authoritarian nationalist right. Although ideally I prefer statesmen like Ben Sasse and Justin Amash, if backed into a corner, I’d take a Paul Ryan or even a George W. Bush over a J.D. Vance or a Josh Hawley any day.
As someone who has always hailed from the the libertarian wing of the GOP, I am used to being a minority within my own party. Very few (viable) candidates have ever been solidly in line with my views, so I’ve always had to choose the option that is at least closest to my ideology. During the great Tea Party vs. Establishment battles, that was usually the Tea Party candidate. However, in 2022 and perhaps 2024, I worry that I’ll be in the unenviable position of having to choose between the Establishment and the Nationalists. And I certainly will not be choosing the populist/nationalists, regardless of my antipathy towards the GOP establishment.
The GOP has historically been a classically liberal party and should remain so. It’s bad enough having fight the statists on the left; the last thing we need is to have to deal with the same big-government, authoritarian garbage on the right as well. I believe in a big tent for all who believe in conservative principles, liberty, and the constitution, which by definition excludes the nationalist right. The illiberal right needs to be purged from the GOP, defenestrated, and utterly defeated.
The battle lines within the Republican Party may have been redrawn, but I am just as ready to do battle for the cause of liberty as ever. I believe that the Constitution and the political philosophy of classical liberalism which birthed it are worth fighting for.
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