On the 26th of December, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and an ideological coalition within American conservatism began to crumble with it. For decades prior, civil and economic libertarians had unified with religious traditionalists to build a new establishment within the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
While not entirely unprecedented, with some characteristics of it being visible in the Republican administrations of the 1920s, a fusion of free enterprise and social conservatism came to the forefront of the movement in the mid-1950s as a result of the founding of National Review and the efforts of famed conservatives such as Frank Meyer and William Buckley. Allied by a collective fear of authoritarianism at home and of communism abroad, an ideological evolution occurred within the GOP.
Bit by bit, national representatives for the party included the likes of Senator Barry Goldwater. Following the failures of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations, “fusionism,” as it became known, reached new heights. In pursuit of the presidency, Ronald Reagan built an alliance of free-market fundamentalists and religious zealots alike. Presiding over an era of tax slashes and general social order, Reagan ensured the White House would stay red for 12 years until the Democratic Party relented and were forced to run a centrist Southern Democrat by the name of Bill Clinton on a “Third-Way” platform to win again.
After nearly 50 years of a Democratic death grip on the White House, in which New Deal and Great Society programs were crammed through the halls of power to the long-term detriment of the American people, and Republican administrations were rife with scandal and failure, this fusionism saved the party and may have even saved the country, bringing both to new heights.
In a modern context, the Republican party is in the midst of an identity crisis. Bush 43’s “compassionate conservatism,” which all but abandoned ideals of limited government, yielded a legacy of a 34 percent approval rating when he left office, costly wars, and blowout losses for the GOP in the 2008 and 2012 elections. In reaction to this failure, a fanatic alliance of disaffected populists pushed Donald Trump to seize the Republican nomination and, shortly thereafter, the highest office in the land.
Following four years of scandal, divisiveness, and groupthink which culminated in violent riots upon the nation’s capital, the Republican Party finds itself lost. There are multiple factions within the party fighting tooth and nail for complete control. Despite potential disagreement in some areas, young conservatives simply cannot accept a disunified future for the GOP. Just as Theodore Roosevelt’s third-party stunt in the 1912 election led to eight years of the historically awful Wilson administration, there is reason to fear a similar outcome for the party in the near future if it cannot experience a fusionist rebirth.
The pursuit of this new establishment is undeniably the most politically pragmatic path for the GOP to follow. Fusionist influence has historically correlated with the power of the party, as well as with the success of the nation.
As Paul Ryan put it in a 2009 speech, “A ‘libertarian’ who wants limited government should embrace the means to his freedom: thriving mediating institutions that create the moral preconditions for economic markets and choice. A ‘social issues’ conservative with a zeal for righteousness should insist on a free market economy to supply the material needs for families, schools, and churches that inspire moral and spiritual life.”
In succinct terms, a system of free enterprise and moral society cannot and should not be separated, and it is imperative that the next generation of conservative thinkers and activists understand this. If America’s Grand Old Party is to experience renewal, it will be under the auspices of the principles outlined in the nation’s founding, the economic ideas essential to a prosperous society, and the undying social values that have come to define conservatism.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.