Back in September of 2015, I wrote a piece at the Independent Journal-Review which suggested Donald Trump and his supporters could redefine what it means to be a conservative in the United States, much in the way that U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater and his supporters did in the 1964 Presidential election and the years that followed. My argument was that Trump could redefine the Goldwater-Reagan conservative consensus with a version that is populist, nativist and protectionist, and that is similar to European right-wing parties like the UK Independence Party.
Needless to say, Trump won both the GOP Presidential nomination and the Presidency. I think that's a bad thing for many reasons, but that's not the point of this piece. During the next year or so, we will see where he goes from a policy standpoint. Based on everything I've seen thus far, it looks like that Trump is going in a right-wing populist direction and the Republican Party is following along. Trump was able to keep the vast majority of Republicans in line with him during the campaign ("Never Trump" turned out to be little more than a Twitter hashtag campaign) and the inclusion of people like Breitbart News Network editor Steve Bannon in Trump's inner circle shows the move towards economic nationalism (and perhaps towards far less-savory forms of nationalism) in the GOP.
But to me, the big tell emerged in a story published in The Hill several days ago. Jonathan Swan wrote that Stephen Moore, founder of the Club for Growth and erstwhile enforcer of supply-side economics orthodoxy in the GOP, told a group of Republican Congressmen that "they should no longer think of themselves as belonging to the conservative party of Ronald Reagan". That article went on to say the following:
Asked about his comments to the GOP lawmakers, Moore told The Hill he was giving them a dose of reality. “Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party,” Moore said in an interview Wednesday. “In some ways this will be good for conservatives and in other ways possibly frustrating.”
We can all draw our own conclusions regarding whether this is a sincere change of viewpoint on the part of Stephen Moore or something else. For example, David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic, tweeted "To paraphrase [Ross Douthat] *I* didn’t believe in Steve Moore’s principles. But I always assumed Steve Moore did. Wrong again." Regardless of whether this sudden embrace of populist nationalism is a heartfelt one or not, it appears that the Republican Party is transforming itself in a Trumpist direction. It would be inconceivable only a year age for someone like Stephen Moore to say what he did about leaving Reaganism behind. But here we are.
Barring some major change of course in the next few years, Donald Trump and his supporters have reoriented the GOP, just as the Goldwater movement did previously. When professional Republican Party apparatchiks like Stephen Moore feel the need to say things like what I quoted above (and Moore doubled down on his comments in this column), it's clear the political center of gravity has shifted. I hate to be the one to say I told you so, but I told you so. Donald Trump did become the next Barry Goldwater - except Trump won.