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Thursday, August 11, 2016
Many elections redefine political parties.
By Victor Davis Hanson
The rise of George McGovern's hard-left agenda in 1972,
followed later in the decade by Jimmy Carter's evangelical liberalism, drove
centrist Democrats into the arms of Richard Nixon and later Ronald Reagan.
These so-called neoconservatives ("new conservatives")
grew tired of liberals' perceived laxity about fighting the Cold War. In
foreign policy, the neoconservatives were best known for supporting idealistic
nation-building abroad. They distrusted the rise of what would become political
correctness and ever more government. They worried about violent crime and
higher taxes. So decades ago, these Democrats joined the Republican Party.
Since the 1980s, the neoconservatives have made up the
elite of their newly adopted party -- despite their unease with the conservative
orthodoxy of border enforcement, fierce resistance to gun control and
opposition to abortion.
Now, a few neoconservatives are reinventing themselves
again and returning to the Democrats to support Hillary Clinton. We could call
They believe that socialist Bernie Sanders made the
hard-left Clinton seem like an acceptable centrist. As neoliberals, they hope
that beneath her opportunistic embrace of Obamism, Clinton still could
recalibrate herself as more of a Democrat of the 1990s, a period when her
husband, President Bill Clinton, championed balancing the budget while
Neoliberals -- along with some members of the
conservative establishment -- consider Republican Party nominee Donald Trump to
be toxic. Many of them are supporting Clinton because they do not like Trump's
idea of building a wall on the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration. Nor
do they appreciate Trump's slogans about "putting America first" when
negotiating trade deals, conducting alliances and avoiding optional foreign
interventions. They hate Trump's crude, take-no-prisoners invective more than
Hillary's polished and refined lying.
The 2016 neoliberals were never very culturally
conservative. So they are certainly not bothered by Clinton's pro-choice
advocacy. They do not mind her promotion of gun control, and they are open to
global warming agendas and soft multiculturalism. They see Clinton as
preferable to Trump and his unapologetic nationalism. Many of the neoliberal
converts supported the Obama-Clinton intervention in Libya and oppose Trump's
get-tough trade stance on China.
Neoliberals also find themselves more in the same class
-- defined by income, education and cultural tastes -- with Clinton's elite
Democrats than with Trump's new army of lower-middle-class cultural and
Neoliberals get along well with the small elite class
that fuels the Clinton machine -- similarly wealthy, well-educated grandees on
Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, along with those in big media, academia, the
arts and the top echelons of state and federal bureaucracies.
Democrats no longer win over the middle classes, who lack
the culture of the elite and the romance of the distant and subsidized poor.
NASCAR and the NRA are anathemas to Democrats and were never popular with
Will the old neoconservatives/new neoliberals who support
Clinton instead of Trump ever come back to the Republican Party after the
It depends on three unknowns.
If Trump loses big, the neoliberals will remind
Republican Trumpers that they had warned them about their populist folly. The
neolibs will seek to expunge populists and to rebuild a defeated Republican
Party in their own image as an improved version of the conservative establishment
represented by the likes of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.
They may re-emerge as old Republican neoconservatives who
will promote unfettered free trade, democracy-building abroad and
"comprehensive immigration reform" while downplaying social issues.
If Trump squeaks by, then the neoliberals certainly will
be orphaned for good. As apostates, they will not be welcomed back as
neoconservatives by the Republican winners, nor will they be seen by Democrats
as converts having any further political value.
But if Trump loses by a point or two, the neoliberals
will likely stay with the winning Clinton team. They will claim some credit for
helping her just get over the top -- even as they are blamed by irate Trumpers
as traitors for sabotaging what otherwise could have been a winning new
Apart from opportunistic careerism, the subtext to this
realignment is a larger issue of culture, education and class. A mostly urban,
highly educated and high-income globalized elite often shares more cultural and
political affinities with their counterparts on the other side of the aisle
than they do with the lower-middle and working classes of their own parties.
Just as Hillary Clinton may feel more comfortable with
the old neoconservatives, Trump supporters have little in common with either
Clintonites or neocons.
Clinton versus Trump is a war of NPR, CBS and the New
York Times against the National Enquirer, conservative talk radio and the
Drudge Report. Clinton supporters such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg,
onetime Bush officials Hank Paulson and Brent Scowcroft, and billionaire Meg
Whitman certainly have nothing in common with Republican Trump supporters such
as Mike Huckabee and Rush Limbaugh.
Culture, not just politics, is rapidly destroying -- but
also rebuilding -- traditional political parties.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the
Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The Savior Generals
from BloomsburyBooks. You can reach him by e-mailing email@example.com