The Conservative Movement

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There’s been a lot of chatter, including in this space, about the relationship between social and economic and foreign policy conservatives and how their relationships with each other create problems for the Republican Party as it seeks to recover control of the federal government. The unstated assumption is that such a diversity of policy concern weakens a political movement.

But maybe not so much. Yesterday, in his inaugural lecture as the John R. Reitemeyer Professor of Political Science here at Trinity, Tony Messina discussed the various anti-immigrant parties currently bedeviling the progress of European integration. What his analysis shows is that it’s the parties with a variety of concerns that have shown the greatest staying power. The premier example is France’s National Front, led by the Le Pens father and now daughter, which since the 1980s has been able to combine anti-immigration agitation with economic and cultural concerns.

Now think about the American equivalent. Since the 1980s it’s been referred to variously as the New Christian Right, the Christian Right, and the Religious Right. But it’s always had an anti-tax, anti-big government dimension, and a certain military adventurist (Onward Christian Soldiers!) streak as well. Now it’s become clear that the Tea Party, in its various manifestations, is just as socially conservative as the Religious Right–that, in fact, they are two faces of the same movement. Which would, on the Messina view, explain its staying power.