John O’Sullivan fleshes out a notion that many of us on the political right have been considering:
Less dramatic versions of that story occurred right across the advanced world. How did this happen? The short answer is that these fringe parties occupied the large empty spaces on the political Right that the mainstream conservative parties had abandoned. British Tories, French Gaullists, Swedish Moderates, and other parties elsewhere increasingly narrowed their appeal to that of superior economic management in a capitalist economy than their countries’ respective Leftist parties. They adopted what Marx called “economism.” They were embarrassed by the patriotism and traditional moral values that had been part of their original identity. They wanted the approval of the metropolitan liberal opinion-formers in which their leaders moved socially. They tailored their electoral messages accordingly….
In short, mainstream conservative parties were tailoring their policies to please a small national constituency while seeming oblivious to the fact that they were alienating or even dissing the moral traditionalists, the patriots, the national-defense conservatives, and the “social fabric” conservatives who together make up the great bulk of their national constituency. Moreover, the longer this continued, the more these constituencies became outraged not only at particular policies but also at the general failure of the center-right parties they usually supported to respond to their concerns.
Here in Rhode Island, we’re arguably at the nadir of this process, and it remains a somewhat mysterious thing. With the political power of insiders, special interests, and labor unions it seems to have become common wisdom that full conservatism simply can’t win and leads to one’s being unacceptable among mainstream liberals. Politicians’ bending to such perceived breezes leaves people who are conservative uninspired by their electoral choices, thus self-fulfilling the prophecy and eliminating a broad network of support, such that the few relatively conservative hopes become pinned to individuals with I’ll-win-or-I’m-done attitudes.
As the liberal-progressive-insider policies have done what liberal-progressive-insider policies do (i.e., destroy the society implementing them), those in opposition graduated from apathy to emigration. The difference at the national level may be that it isn’t such a simple matter (psychologically, if not practically) to up and leave, so apathy turns instead to support for more-extreme candidates.
That makes the national-level puzzle easier to solve. The mainstream center-right party (in other words, the Republicans) simply have to prove their credibility on a moderated version of the conservative platform. In Rhode Island, I’m not sure. It might take a miracle confluence of a charismatic leader with unusual integrity and a willingness to forego reward for a while who finds some way to prove the principle and give people hope on narrow issues or at a local level.