One of my American conservative heroes, William F. Buckley, attempted over the decades to deliver the great right wing project, “fusionism”. This was the building of a right of centre coalition of the willing. Libertarians and conservatives together. His early political project was Barry Goldwater. His later project was Ronald Reagan. Bill was indefatigable, and lieutenants, such as Frank Meyer, set out to herd the cats of the right into something of a competitive political and philosophical force that would stand athwart history and yell “stop”. They would attain power and deliver broad conservative policy outcomes. And they would build this on the back of a philosophical synthesis.
Listening to Mark Steyn speaking recently at the Restoration Weekend organised by the great and courageous David Horowitz – that rare lefty who realised before it was too late he had been an idiot – and hearing the repeated boos at Mark’s every mention of Bill “Never Trump” Kristol, one was shaken to realise that the American right is now hopelessly fractured. The fracture is the result of Trump’s ascendancy and the growing, sullen realisation by his critics that he can actually run a productive, can-do government that is delivering real benefits to great swathes of the American people.
You won’t read that in the Guardian, the mentally enfeebled Fairfax Press or that endless spigot for inner-city received opinion, the ABC, but the fact that such agents of New Establishment orthodoxy all share that view demonstrates its truth. Is there one issue – wind turbines, the benefits of industry-killing electricity costs, the literary worth of all who get invitations to their mates’ writers festivals – on which the Left gets it right? Trump hatred is but more of the same.
The Clinton kleptocracy and its fellow travellers predictably are aghast at what they see in Trump. But this Clintonian regret is driven by self-interest, essentially. The Clintons are toast now; no longer useful, as Hillary will never be president, they have no influence to peddle and must now slouch towards their grim, shared sunset. The left-of-centre political class which they exemplify is being consumed by its own corruption, and, as we have seen recently, its lust.
But the Republican establishment is equally aghast at Trump. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell simply look like yesterday’s men, struggling to know each day what their actual job is, what they are here for. For they, equally, represent a political class that has absolutely no connect with the real lives of what they sanctimoniously regard as their “subjects”.
It took a crass blow-in from outside the system to shake things up. And Trump is crass, no doubt about it. But his crassness is a weapon, strategically aimed at the chancers and has-beens who have run the show these past decades. He is strategically crass. And it works. And counts. That was the point of Mark Steyn’s speech. Trump has absolutely nailed the problem and has crafted an emerging, coherent solution.
Steyn’s sharpest arrow at the Restoration Weekend was aimed at the “never Trumpers”. These are (sadly) the gurus of National Review and the Weekly Standard (and elsewhere) who simply cannot swallow their contemporary irrelevance. They bet big against Trump, lost, and are now fumbling.
Disrupted in their conception of how the world should work, the “Never Trumpers” don’t have a clue how to respond. Disruption, as Harvard guru of innovation Clayton Christensen explained back in the 1990s, provides new products and services that people actually want to buy, at reasonable cost. It took an outlaw Republican to show Republicans how to connect with those who all along should have been their natural constituency: the seriously annoyed and hitherto unheeded. Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson get this. Paul Ryan doesn’t. And the Disruptor in Chief also has the requisite communication skills to connect with “the folks”. It’s a powerful combination — political smarts wrapped up in the ability to talk to, and resonate with, ordinary people beyond the Beltway.
Trump’s twenty-first century version of fusionism is the unifying of the excluded — not, traditionally, a Republican task. Trump’s people, some of them, understand that there is what amounts to a war. They also understand who is fighting whom. The excluded have been screwed. The excluded know how they have been screwed. They know who is to blame. They have taken action to remedy their plight. Cranky people have power.
Great business people (like Trump) identify markets and meet their needs. They are customer focused, indeed customer obsessed. They do not just think narrowly about the wonderfulness of their product and wonder why no one wants to buy it. They find real problems afflicting their customers have, and try to solve them. All modern business-model thinking gets this. The mainstream Republicans and the Never Trumpers do not. The latter, in particular, have grown so accustomed to the way things work – the left announces its latest agenda, the Right objects … until it capitulates — they have forgotten that this isn’t the natural order of things.
Trump has found a constituency. The politically and economically excluded have found a voice. They have had enough. It isn’t rocket science. Reagan had his “Reagan Democrats”. John Howard had his battlers. Trump has his Deplorables. They are the folks who don’t give a rats about transgendered bathrooms and wouldn’t see it as much of a problem if they did. The Deplorable have found they have political power that they didn’t know they had.
Where does all this leave the Buckley coalition?
The Buckley coalition is adrift, and fractured, perhaps beyond imminent repair. Maybe the Buckley project itself is flawed. The current Australian Liberal Party’s inability to form a unified, while still-broad church is instructive. When Yassmin Abdel-Mageid slags the Anzacs, appalling anyone with a streak of decency, and is allowed by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to keep her nice little sinecure as the token tame Muslim at Foreign Affairs, you know your father’s Liberal Party is dead, buried and cremated.
The Pynes, the Brandises, the Turnbulls, and so on, stick their elitist noses in the air and avoid even contemplating those of us who simply want jobs, decent organisations to work for, family, shared values, stable virtues. At a risk of offending Quadrant Online’s policy against salty language, the yen is for no-bullshit normalcy – a life in a community, in other words, that somewhat resembles the happy times we grew up in and still remember fondly.
You know, back when you could do your Christmas shopping in Melbourne’s CBD without risk of being run down by an Afghan import aggrieved at “the treatment of Muslims“. You know, being able to attend the Boxing Day cricket at the MCG without undergoing a bag and body search. You know, being able to asleep in your bed and not worry that gangs of imported African youths will kick in your door and beat your bloody at 2am.
Trump is laughing all the way to the voting bank. And Mark Steyn, Anne Coulter, David Horowitz, Victor Davis Hanson and their fellow Restoration Weekend folks seem to get it. The Republican tennis club set do not. There are lessons in all this for Australia.