Report on a Seventh Establishment in the GOP

Report on a Seventh Establishment in the GOP

Luke Phillips

 Note: This piece is based largely on a conversation the author had with Henry Olsen at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in January 2016.


The Six Extant Establishments and the Two Extinct Establishments

It’s become trite to say that the GOP of 2016 is divided between two or more factions- usually “the base” and “the establishment,” or some combination of them. To my eye, it appears that “the base” has an establishment of its own, and that “the establishment” has a base of its own. In fact, I would contend that there are no fewer than six of these “establishments” with bases of their own, each based more upon an ideological conception of conservatism than on traditional factors like economic interests or ethnic solidarity.

The Reagan-Gingrich Establishment

This is the group people always mean when they speak of “The Establishment.” It’s the generation of politicians who came to power under Reagan and Gingrich. They have the backing of financiers and big industries, and policy-wise they are solidly neoliberal tax-cutting supply-siders. The establishment is probably the most socially open of all the groups save the Libertarians, trying as it is to bring blacks, gays, and Latinos into the GOP’s big tent. On foreign policy, establishmentarians are solid neoconservatives. Their ranks in 2016 include Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell, as well as intellectuals like Bill Kristol.

The Rightist Counter-Establishment

The Rightists are the ones who coined the term “Republican in Name Only” and the ones who control the right-wing media establishment. They don’t have much in the way of a policy agenda beyond opposition to anything the Democrats or the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment propose, and their constituent base is more ideological than economic or social. Rightists include Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Sarah Palin. They are in no way a constructive force in the GOP- they are better understood as obstructionaries and channelers of ideological dissent. But their power in the GOP should not at all be dismissed- they maintain huge amounts of influence.

The White Working Class

The White Working Class- variously known, also, as Middle American Radicals, Reagan Democrats, and Jacksonian America- has always formed the core base of American political coalitions in the post-Civil War era, from Lincoln’s Republican Party to the New Deal Democrats to the conservative coalition of Reagan and Nixon. It is the closest thing to a cultural and non-ideological constituency in the GOP today, and its economic and cultural interests diverge sharply from those of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment. This constituency has an ill-organized establishment, and is mostly fueled by anger at influxes of foreigners, economic stagnation, and American weakness- anger being exploited by members of several establishments, but most effectively by Donald Trump. However, they are not ideological libertarians or supply-siders like the Rightists and Reformocons (though the Reformocons are trying to win them back.) They are perfectly happy with big government when it works in their interests.

The Reformocons

The Reformocons are temperamentally moderate, but still ideologically conservative. They are more or less an outgrowth of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment who, noticing the decadence of neoliberalism, sought to maintain neoliberalism while making it work for the working class. They are still very socially conservative. They have a group of intellectuals by the same name, which includes Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, and Henry Olsen, and their statesmen include Marco Rubio, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. Reformocons will not challenge the Reagan orthodoxy, but will reinterpret it and adjust it in the interests of working class Americans.

The Libertarians

Libertarians have never been as weak in the GOP as they are in 2016. They are foreign policy isolationists, socially liberal, and extremely economically free-market and supply-sider. Ron Paul was their champion in 2012, and his son Rand champions them in 2016. Without a significant cultural base of support and with their economic and foreign policy ideas being discredited, it is unlikely that the Paulites will have much policy influence for quite some time.

The Evangelicals

Evangelical Christians made up an important part of the Reagan coalition, but their numbers are decreasing as their votes flee to the White Working Class and Rightist Establishments. The Evangelical Establishment focuses like a laser on social issues and not much else. Its champions have included Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

Other Establishments

I might add that these establishments change over time; some are born, some die, and some evolve. It’s my contention that the extinction of two establishments, and one in particular, has led to the imbalanced rightward shift in the party of recent decades. Those two establishments have occasional holdouts, but as a whole, neither has anything like the infrastructure necessary to retain electoral relevance among any of the voting blocs in the GOP (or indeed, even among independents and Democrats.)

The Rockefeller Liberals

These are Republicans who are not too distinguishable rhetorically or policy-wise from New Deal Democrats- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lincoln Chaffee, etc. There is little distinguishing them as conservative in any sense of the word. They used to make up a significant portion of big-spending social liberals in the party, including in their number John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller. But as Geoffrey Kabaservice notes in the magisterial “Rule and Ruin,” they no longer hold any sway in the GOP, and have almost entirely become Democrats.

The Neo-Hamiltonians

These are Republicans who truly fall into the nationalist tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jacob Javits. Neo-Hamiltonians are nationalists, and socially moderate, fiscally prudent, and strategically internationalist. They favor strategic industrial policy, regulated central finance, and generally Hamiltonian economic policies. Mitt Romney and John McCain would have been here had they not run for President and been dragged to the Right. Jon Huntsman, George Pataki, and perhaps John Kasich are the main representatives today; none of them are open about it, and they have no political establishment.

What a Resurgent Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment Would Advocate Today

I have argued elsewhere that a new faction of Republicans displaying the characteristics of the Neo-Hamiltonians would be useful for both the party and the nation. There are three main arenas where this sort of Republicanism would be helpful and distinct from the policy agenda of both the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment and the Rightist Counter-Establishment: Economic growth, institutional reform, and grand strategy.

Henceforth, I will refer to this group as the “Neo-Hamiltonians.” I have termed them other names in the past, including Whigs, Progressive Republicans, and National Conservatives. Neo-Hamiltonian, however, best captures the tradition I seek to tie this Establishment in with.

Economic Growth

Neo-Hamiltonians combine a respect for free markets with a heavy government role in strategic investments and industrial policy for strategic industries. They are generally more willing to use state power for national economic ends than other Republicans, while having more faith in the power and goodness of markets than Democrats.

In an economy that desperately needs infrastructure and innovation investments, a simplified tax code, a return to financial regulation, and a reformed social contract, experimenting Neo-Hamiltonians would be more inclined to make conservatively-tempered fundamental economic reforms than their counterparts.

Institutional Reform

Our federal government is sclerotic and dysfunctional in many, many ways. Four of the most dysfunctional institutions, though, are the federal-state relationship, the entitlement system, the bureaucratic system, and the federal debt.

On the federal debt, Neo-Hamiltonians would support a growth investment strategy to raise revenues coupled with entitlement reform to cut spending. They would reform and even re-imagine entitlements as early-life investments in human capital rather than end-of-life rewards, transforming entitlements without having to cut them drastically.

Just as debt and entitlements are interlinked, so are federalism and bureaucratic reform. In the interests of the federal government working more efficiently and effectively, Neo-Hamiltonians would seek to modernize the federal government through management strategy and the influx of information technology; at the same time, they would restore a federal-state balance by embarking on a plan to decentralize key powers to the state level, particularly in the regulatory arena.

Internationalist Strategy

On grand strategic issues, Neo-Hamiltonians would be more concerned with preserving than with expanding the liberal world order and the American alliance systems in East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. Emphasis would be laid on preserving the might of the American empire rather than demonstrating that might. A renewed Nixonian balance of power would be in the offing.

Additionally, pre-eminence would be given to industrial and technological investments aimed at making the homefront strong. Military strategy would be geared towards two forms- traditional great-power guns-and-ships competition, and counterinsurgency for the world’s frontier wars. Strategy requires an American intensely active and involved in foreign affairs, but one which uses that strength prudently.

The Balance of it All

Ultimately, Neo-Hamiltonians have the potential to be seen as a more responsible and pragmatic “governing wing” of the GOP than either the populists or the establishment. They can simultaneously be more responsibly reformist than the decadent plutocrats of the establishment or the axe-wielding populists. The penchant for sanity might not be something that can win them a majority; but it certainly is worth rebuilding the tradition, at least, in the GOP. The people are hungry for something new.

Money, Men, and Message

There are three crucial elements to any political establishment- financial, political, and intellectual infrastructure. The more money and manpower a movement has, and the more well-suited its ideas are to the situation and demands of the time, the more likely the establishment is to succeed in attaining and holding power and influence over the narrative and the policy-making process.

Financial Infrastructure

The most efficacious way for the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment to finance itself and its activities would be not simply to court donors and ask for donations, but to identify a cultural or economic constituency capable of forming its base and its donor class.

It’s unclear that any of the major American regional cultures (expertly depicted by David Hackett Fischer, Michael Barone, and Colin Woodard) align very well with the Neo-Hamiltonians’ values system and political priorities, but blue-state Republicans- “conservative Yankees,” we might call them- are probably the most aligned, and best fit as intellectuals and spokesmen for Neo-Hamiltonianism. Unfortunately they make up a very small minority in both the Yankee states and the Republic as a whole; most Americans of the Yankee culture subscribe to a sort of devolved Puritan progressivism rather than a Rooseveltian or Adamsian sense of civic duty.

Temperamentally moderate “midlanders” in the Pennsylvania-Ohio-Illinois strip align about halfway, but tend to be both more isolationist and more socially conservative than Neo-Hamiltonians. The Scots-Irish tradition is too individualistic and fiery to fit the bill, though the interests of the Scots-Irish White Working Class, interestingly, tend to align with those of the industries Neo-Hamiltonians support. And old-line Cavalier libertarians already dominate the GOP Establishments. They’re not particularly helpful. Smaller regional cultures and later immigrant groups, too, hit the Neo-Hamiltonian middle ground here and there, but never enough to become core constituencies.

Lacking a significant cultural base, it would be wiser for the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment to appeal to economic interests and class interests as its primary support. The Democratic and Republican Establishments are dominated by the neoliberal globalist class of financiers and international traders, while other wings of the parties are representatives of unions and small business. But the mass-employment “productivity industries” of manufacturing, energy, construction, and shipping are not particularly well-represented by any national faction. They also tend to have interests more national than international; public-private partnership with them, then, makes sense for the Hamiltonians. In terms of values and national orientation, the military-industrial complex industries and the intelligence community would make worthwhile allies. Therefore, Neo-Hamiltonians ought to craft policies with productivity industries and the defense industry in mind, seeing as they would be their primary clients and constituents and their best allies in terms of crafting national economic strategy. They would be the constituency of fairly-regulated and innovative big industry in partnership with the federal government. Incidentally, given the high rates of employment of the White Working Class in productivity industries, this partnership might tie Jacksonian America to Hamiltonian industry.

Having this economic base and cultural elite constituency would likely distinguish the Neo-Hamiltonians as a powerful counter-establishment in their own right. It would take wooing and outreach, but bringing productivity industries, the military-industrial complex, working people of all races, and conservative Yankee leaders into the fold would present a formidable coalition.

Political Infrastructure

There are two main manpower requisites for the Neo-Hamiltonians’ endurance as a political force- a significant grassroots network capable of organizing and mobilizing for political action, and one or more charismatic and effective national leaders to provide the face of the movement. Lacking grassroots, the movement will be as impotent as the Bloomberg presidential campaign’s prospects; lacking charismatic leadership, it will go the path of any number of moderate Republican organizations in recent years.

On the grassroots side, the Neo-Hamiltonians would have to do what all successful political movements do and establish a network of organizations capable of carrying out tasks like voter registration, fundraising, candidate training, and others. Given, though, that a Neo-Hamiltonian would only be a faction, it would probably be more fruitful for it to focus resources on social clubs, candidate-support committees and fundraising organizations, simply because candidate training and voter registration would likely be better handled by official GOP organizations directly.

Neo-Hamiltonian social clubs and candidate support/fundraising committees would preferably be peppered across the nation, but realistically they are more likely to sprout up in areas where the Neo-Hamiltonian constituencies reside- centers of industrial activity, and suburban rings around major metropoles in blue states. Neo-Hamiltonians would be wise to dispatch emissaries to these regions and have them build up social groups and political associations, to lay the framework for national support in the areas where Neo-Hamiltonian candidates are most likely to see electoral victory.

There are a couple of candidates for the “champion” position, and though all are well-known, none are particularly charismatic. Governor Jon Huntsman, Governor George Pataki, and Governor John Kasich all stand out. Another candidate might be a self-described Rockefeller Republican war hero, like General David Petraeus or General Colin Powell. The main task of such a champion would be to articulate a message on the national stage and serve as the face of the movement, just as Sarah Palin, Elizabeth Warren, and Donald Trump have done with their respective movements. One would hope, however, that the Neo-Hamiltonian champion would be far more Washington-esque and dignified.

Intellectual Infrastructure

Movements are nothing without defining ideas around which they can coalesce. It would be important for Neo-Hamiltonians to develop a coherent policy agenda and temperamentally conservative governing philosophy to distinguish themselves from Democrats and, more importantly, from the GOP’s other establishments.

To this end, the establishment of some sort of Neo-Hamiltonian policy shop is crucial, bringing together political leaders, intellectuals, and representatives from constituent groups with expertise in relevant policy issues. A think-tank would be ideal, but absent that, a journal or magazine and an informal association of thinkers not unlike the Conservative Reform Network would suffice.

There are a few thinkers out there who are temperamentally conservative, economically and strategically nationalist, and generally in line with the TR-Ike-Javits tradition. David Brooks is perhaps the most famous, though others, like Jim Manzi, Robert Atkinson, and Geoffrey Kabaservice, are equally insightful. And others outside both the GOP and the Neo-Hamiltonian tradition can provide much wisdom, including Walter Russell Mead, Michael Lind, Joel Kotkin, Yuval Levin, Henry Olsen, Michael Shellenberger, and Ted Nordhaus. Borrowing good ideas from other traditions is perfectly acceptable.

The Goal: Reclaim the GOP from the Right, and Reclaim the Word “Conservative”

The overriding purpose of the work of the Neo-Hamiltonian Establishment is to build up a center-right counter-establishment in the GOP that can oppose both the globalism and neoconservatism of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, and the pseudo-conservatism and ideological populism of the Rightist Counter-Establishment. It is a task not unlike that the Reformocons have embarked upon, but it approaches the way forward from a very different set of premises than those the Reformocons hold.

Ultimately, the Neo-Hamiltonians would either infiltrate, assimilate, and convert the majority of the Reagan-Gingrich Establishment, or defeat it decisively for leadership of the party. It would hopefully fully marginalize the Rightist Counter-Establishment, as well as the Libertarian and Evangelical wings. It would ally with the Reformocons on policy reform, in the interests of bringing the White Working Class into the fold.

But beyond playing intraparty power politics, the Neo-Hamiltonians would seek to craft an agenda that builds a stronger, more prosperous America, replete with opportunity for all and a tolerance of differences. The task is, in the end, service and homage to the greatness of the American nation.

But that requires playing politics first.

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