John’s Post-Election Journal (Part 2): A Tale of Two Factions

As the country processes the rise of Donald Trump to the Executive Office, it would seem to many that this event marks an unparalleled new chapter for the Republican Party. Yet Stephen Mihm insists otherwise in his recent piece in Bloomberg. He observes that the “Old Right,” much resembling the Trump supporters of today, was a vibrant part of the GOP at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their insistence on nationalism, isolationism and anti-immigration was to them essential in making America great. It was not until the start of the Cold War that the Old Right lost prominence as outward-looking conservatives took center stage. But now, for causes I observed in my first article, the Old Right has returned to prominence within the party.

Seeing now that the Republican Party must be shared between traditional conservatives and non-conservatives, I have suggestions for both groups going forward.

For the non-conservatives I give one strong suggestion: Draw a line. In most conversations that I have had with members of this group, I have noticed a consistent suspension of objectivity in how they judge Trump’s actions. I am continually redirected to how either Hillary Clinton was a far worse candidate or how the mainstream media has put him in a negative light.

No candidate, or human being for that matter, is without shortcomings. So let’s assess him with clear eyes. President Elect Trump has been alleged of having strong ties with a Russia that has consistently gone against America’s interests abroad, created repeated uproar through his Twitter use and has been caught speaking disgracefully of women.

If you sincerely think that Mr. Trump is our best choice to lead this nation, excellent. Everyone has a right to their convictions. But, the election is now over, and if you continue to think that the above actions and allegations(and those are only a few of many) do not hinder his ability to lead our country well, then what standards will you set for him in determining if he is fit for his position or not going forward? We must all draw a line for how we expect our Executive to act, and I recommend that you draw yours now.

To the conservatives of the Republican Party, I stress the lost art of building coalitions. Yuval Levin states that conservatives within the GOP were so “trapped in nostalgia for 1981 and the Reagan revolution of American self-confidence and liberalizing economy,” that they forgot they were not the only ideological faction within the party. Consequently, they treated non-conservatives as irrelevant.

As a conservative myself, I am utterly convinced that conservatism offers the best solutions for America’s problems. But solutions are not enough. It is imperative that conservatives give the non-conservatives a seat at the table going forward. In order to work properly, our government depends on the give-and-take between ideological opponents, be it between Democrats and Republicans or conservatives and non-conservatives. As Nathan Thompson notes, this “nuance” is now hard to come by. But for conservatives to succeed, they must learn to be inclusive of the voices within the party that are not their own.

To prescribe how to best initiate this nuance for conservatives, I would point to how one of our greatest leaders applied it in the past. As Abraham Lincoln was finalizing his cabinet in 1861, our country was on the verge of entering one of the most tumultuous periods of its existence. While the Southern states threatened succession with the election of President Lincoln, the Union was left with a brand new Republican party that was still finding its identity with the old Whigs and Democrats that comprised it.

Lincoln recognized that in order to lead a government with diverse factions he would need a diversified cabinet. Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the situation in her book, Team of Rivals. After a leading Republican voiced concern for his appointed cabinet that was made up of four Democrats and three Whigs, Lincoln replied, “ you seem to forget that I expect to be there; and counting me as one [a Whig], you see how nicely the cabinet would be balanced and ballasted.” (374)

Now it can be said that President Trump is taking such an effort with his cabinet selections, many of whom coming from diverse backgrounds and holding divergent views from the President-Elect. I am skeptical for two reasons. First, I question how intentional Trump was with the differing views his selections bring to the cabinet. Was Trump more concerned with the appearance of having a military and business heavy cabinet at the expense of ideological conformity? Furthermore, Lincoln’s purpose of having an ideologically diverse cabinet was because he already maintained his own passionate views on policy that he held consistently for his entire political career. Mr. Trump’s policy views have been at best vague, nor has his commitments been consistent. It appears that he could be appointing a cabinet to fight to fill in his blank spaces with concrete policy, instead of providing differing views to an already set ideological perspective. Second, as The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta notes, there is much more than just appointing a cabinet with different policy views. It takes a strong executive to both keep the agencies of his cabinet members in check and bring his cabinet to a consensus on important issues. Throughout both of his terms Lincoln knew when to let his cabinet debate, when he needed to give their views preference over his own, and when he had to stop them short and take a stance that they disagreed with. Even if Donald Trump were completely intentional in bringing nuance to his cabinet, only time can tell if he is a strong enough President to make this nuance effective.

Although it seems to be asking the impossible for conservatives and non-conservatives to coexist successfully in the future, let’s not forget Lincoln’s “balanced and ballasted” cabinet that saw our country through the Civil War. It may take much effort and the right leader, but it is crucial. If this sort of nuance worked for him, we should probably give it a try as well.


John McDonough

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