What Does “Conservative” Mean Now?

This is a test. Who said this?

We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost … And that’s why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door. It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others. They give more than they receive. They labor and succeed, and often they are entrepreneurs. But their greatest contribution is more than economic, because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American. They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world. The last, best hope of man on Earth.

The answer, it may surprise you to learn, is Ronald Reagan. It was from his final speech as President.

I didn’t know that, but it was only one revelation among many in a paper delivered at a conference I attended on American Political History–a paper by Marcus Witcher that traced the “conservatism” of Donald Trump back to that of Pat Buchanan, and drew a strong distinction between what he dubbed Buchanan’s “paleoconservatism” and the more optimistic and libertarian approach of Reagan.

Trump, it appears, did not come out of nowhere, much as we might wish to believe that. There has long been a “Trumpian” faction in the GOP.

As I read the paper, which the author was kind enough to share, I was struck by the numerous parallels between Buchanan and Trump:  the culture war rhetoric; the need to “save” America from “barbarians”–feminists, homosexuals, immigrants and foreigners; opposition to free trade and NAFTA; opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal.

And of course, the appeal to bigotry.

Some of us remember the very different speeches made by Buchanan and Reagan at the 1992 GOP convention. Buchanan’s speech (which Molly Ivins memorably quipped “sounded better in the original German”) was all about culture war and protecting the “Judeo-Christian heritage” of America; Reagan’s was about “working together for a brighter tomorrow.” Reagan concluded his speech by saying that, whatever history ultimately concluded about him and his Presidency, “I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

Not a Trumpian sentiment.

We can agree or disagree with Reagan’s policies, but there is no disputing the vast difference between his version of conservatism and the much darker version peddled by Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan eventually left the GOP for the Reform Party, and he defeated Donald Trump for that party’s nomination in 2000. (If I ever knew that, I’d forgotten it.)  Trump left the Reform party after that defeat, but as the paper pointed out, the 2016 messaging that won Trump  the GOP nomination is an eerie, virtually identical replica of Buchanan’s Reform Party message in 2000. Even the slogan “America First” was Buchanan’s. Politico later concluded that Buchanan’s legacy “was being Trump before Trump was Trump.”

For good or ill, the GOP is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. (Nor is it the party of Barry Goldwater, or Nelson Rockerfeller, or Dwight Eisenhower, or ….) Reagan’s children have been vocal about the differences between the Gipper and Trump; they insist their father would be horrified by Trump and by what the current GOP has become.

Unfortunately, with its full-throated endorsement of Trump and Trumpism, the GOP is now   the party of Pat Buchanan–bitter, hateful and backward.


  1. The WEAKNESS in Trumpism is Donald Trump himself. He’s a fraud and a copycat. Pat Buchanan isn’t a fraud, neither was Adolph Hitler.

    See “The Behavioral Persuasion in Politics” by Heinz Eulau (Random House, New York, 1963).

  2. It is rather fashionable to look at the “Old Gop”, pre Agent Orange-Pastor Pence and Mitch McConnell, with some nostalgia.

    From an article by Robert Reich, he writes the following:
    The Same Old Scare Tactic About Socialism
    I keep hearing a lot about “socialism” these days, mainly from Donald Trump and Fox News, trying to scare Americans about initiatives like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, universal child care, free public higher education, and higher taxes on the super-wealthy to pay for these.

    In 1952, President Harry Truman noted that “Socialism is the epithet they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years….”

    Truman went on to say,“Socialism is what they called public power…social security… bank deposit insurance. ..free and independent labor organizations., anything that helps all the people. Truman concluded by noting “When the Republican candidate inscribes the slogan ‘Down With Socialism’ … what he really means is, ‘Down with Progress.’”

    Truman also said:
    In our time, the Republican Party has opposed most of the great programs by which our Government has undertaken to help the economic life of the country. The Republican Party has blindly turned its back on this great, old American tradition of public action for public good.

    The reason, I think, lies in the fact that the Republican Party has become a collection of special interest groups. A special interest group, by definition, can never see beyond the limits of its own greediness.

    30 million Americans still lack health insurance,nearly 51 million households can’t afford basic monthly expenses including housing, food, child care, and transportation. And we’re the only industrialized nation without paid family leave.

    The Corporate Wing of the Democratic Party has as it’s candidate Joe Biden, who fears Democratic Socialism. Other than – He is not President Agent Orange – Biden does not have a Progressive thought in his head. The Corporate Wing of the Democratic Party is a long way in time and philosophy from Harry Truman.

  3. During previous decades Republican spokespersons turned the word “liberal” into a derogatory term. Apparently not satisfied with that, they have now managed to do the same with the word “conservative”.
    What goes around…comes around.

  4. I was still politically naive back in 1992. Young, working two jobs, raising a family, helping my father take care of my invalid mother, etc, etc. There was no time to even think about politics or the news.

    Thanks for sharing this info about Pat Buchanan this morning. I will now do some research on him to find out more about the history of the evil side of the GOP that has taken over control of our government and our country.

  5. As an actor, Reagan was comfortable giving wonderful, uplifting speeches. He was just as comfortable talking about “welfare queens” and we all knew who “they” were. His brand of bigotry was far less translucent than 45’s, but it was still bigotry.

  6. The quote below is copied and pasted from an article in Business Insider; an example where using the basic meaning of the word “conservative” in our current situation offers food for thought. “Look before you leap.” “Be careful what you wish for.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi is looking ahead to a possible loss of impeachment of Trump, and his version of conservatism, before all evidence is in their hands. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has made a splash in the political arena but is quickly becoming “a legend in her own mind” which will rival Trump’s if she doesn’t dial it back a little. A little “conservatism” on the left isn’t a bad thing in this case.

    “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused her fellow Democrats on Tuesday of “sitting on their hands” on the question of whether to begin an impeachment inquiry into the president.
    The 29-year-old lawmaker, who’s repeatedly pushed Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings, said she isn’t satisfied with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s approach to the issue.
    “If now isn’t the time … what is the bar, what is the line that we’re waiting to be crossed for an impeachment inquiry, and so far it doesn’t seem like there is one,” she said.”

    Monotonous; “Biden does not have a Progressive thought in his head.” The fact that Joe Biden is in the Corporate world is only evidence that the Corporate world is now part and parcel of this government. Bernie’s claims of no corporate donations needs to point to those grassroots “Bernie Bots” who are still swearing not to vote for anyone but Bernie in 2020. Their action or lack of action in 2016 will be repeated in 2020; they are a negative example of “conservatism” in the left-leaning Democratic party. The distaff side of the Tea Party rearing its ugly head, evidencing its Trumpian “bitter, hateful and backward” refusal to face the reality of the Democratic political situation today. A little conservatism on their ego-trips can go a long way to ousting Trump in 2020. Let the games begin with the 2019 November elections to replace Republican Senators and Representatives and governors and lower level state officials in all red states.

    “Unfortunately, with its full-throated endorsement of Trump and Trumpism, the GOP is now the party of Pat Buchanan–bitter, hateful and backward.”

    We are no longer “The last, best hope of man (or woman) on Earth.”

  7. Forty-five cannot lie passionately like most of our politicians. He doesn’t have that gift or curse of lying with a straight face. He tries hard, but you have to be a sociopath to deliver those kinds of speeches.

    The Koch brothers have departed from the national GOP and have now opened their coffers to the DNC. What does that mean for democratic socialism? I think Charles has a crush on Nancy Pelosi. Seriously, who will be the first Democrat to take Koch money?? Whoever does will deliver the best speech of 2019.

    This sentence from above, “A special interest group, by definition, can never see beyond the limits of its own greediness.”

    We suffer from a moral crisis in this country from top to bottom. Even the pious folk have missed that sermon. Maybe it was removed from the Sunday sermon list.

    Bigotry is a fear based emotion. Did Jesus preach about fear? He was all about LOVE. Any preacher or politician preaching about fear is not promoting Love or the Gospel. It’s right there in black and white.

    Money, greed, and lots of propaganda…

  8. “Even the slogan “America First” was Buchanan’s.” True and…

    “My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”

    “It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan “America First,” the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler.” Susan Dunn Williams College

  9. It seems like the primary difference between the vast majority of GOP Classic and GOP Trump is a willingness to say what they think out loud.

  10. In my own way of seeing it ‘Conservative’ holds the same meaning it always did, it just doesn’t apply to the present group that call themselves ‘conservatives’ is all. I am appalled at the outright treason to our Country and Constitution I am witnessing.

  11. In reading Jon Meacham’s book, “The Soul of America”, I’m discovering speeches by politicians of all stripes from the 1920’s – 30’sthat sound virtually like those being given today. Even Calvin Coolidge called for an appreciation of immigrants. This was a time when the KKK was clutching for power in the Democratic Party and Republicans were, more or less, defending the Constitution. The rhetoric from both parties and the KKK was so similar to the stuff that’s clogging the airwaves like a jammed-up toilet today.

    The point, I guess, is that there is a cycle where the mindless rage, fear and bigotry that lies within all of us to varying degrees, gets voiced in our political discourse. The trick, of course, is to decide whether we will succumb to the cynicism of fascism and tyranny, as Wall Street was suggesting in the 20’s, or recover our senses and allow the democratic republic to work as a blend of capitalism and socialistic actions that benefit the majority of our citizens.

  12. there was a story,or rumor,but i did myself hear this, trump had a copy of hitlers speeches by his bed… prior campaign. hes really trying, but he hasnt the stash. yet..
    as far a the republicans, that Amash from mich,finally has some backbone to call it out,to the freedom bitches. thanks, now run against trump….

  13. “It seems like the primary difference between the vast majority of GOP Classic and GOP Trump is a willingness to say what they think out loud.”

    They may be willing, but they are not able.

    Neither GOP Classic nor GOP Trump know how to say what they think. Or what they mean. That utter awkwardness with the English language accounts for most of the public’s wrong takes on Trump quotes…followed by wrong takes on Trump revisions and reverses of whatever jibberish was formerly so incoherent.

    It would be more accurate to say: It seems like the primary difference between the vast majority of GOP Classic and GOP Trump is an unwillingness to filter the jibberish that comes from their (Trump’s and the trumpers’) mouths.

    But incoherence is fine with about 60 million fellow jibberish-spouters, which is sad but expected. Those who are handicapped with inarticulateness and incoherence are much like other types of severely challenged people — they tend to flock together.

    Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack Quack

  14. Let’s do some political philosophy and prognostication today > With the trillions of dollars lavished on the superrich by Trump and Ryan via tax cuts and other policy devices, there exist no “conservatives” in the Republican Party. All have joined in the destruction of the Republican Party and have enlisted with the libertarian Kochs and Mercers in indebting our progeny and their progeny with borrowed money extracted from the rest of us to pay off Wall Street and its component parts to get “theirs” before the political dam breaks and their “party” is swept back to the Whigdom from which the Republican Party arose in 1854 as the Democratic Party becomes the ruling party for the next twenty years irrespective of the efforts of Putin, Trump and other voter suppression efforts at the state level.

    The demographics will not be denied in time; change, rather radical change, is in the offing. Our task now is to keep some semblance of government afloat in this era of Trump and wannabe dictatorship so that there is something to save in rebuilding our democracy and (I hope) faith in government – a daunting task in its own right – but one we must pursue with terminally greedy libertarian hordes on the loose who are selling our future and that of our progeny and theirs with payoffs to their rich friends today and penury for the rest of us and ours.

  15. Gerald,

    One can only hope your are correct in your vision. My concerns, and those of many others on this blog and elsewhere, are more concerned about the lunatic with the nuclear codes. We realize that sense and logic don’t apply to the 60+ million Trump-ites. They are willing to underwrite the destruction of life on Earth just because Trump says so.

  16. Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: “What does it matter if we beat Donald Trump if we end up with someone who will perpetuate the very same crony capitalist policies, corporate policies and waging more of these costly wars?”

    Candidates like Joe Biden come to mind.
    The Democrats need to be as strong and tough as the Republicans. If AOC wants to push impeachment, Ok with me. Before Impeachment can happen there will need to be hearings. The Sam Ervin Watergate Hearings were not about Impeachment. The Ervin hearings brought out the true dimensions of Watergate and all it’s participants.

  17. Not surprisingly there are those Democrats who have adapted counter extremism as the answer to Republican extremism. Unfortunately the world did not actually get simpler as extremists were being taught to be extreme by fake news peddlers on entertainment media. The world just keeps getting more complicated. There are simply no simple solutions.

    With one exception: Dumping Trump as beyond the pale in doing the job that Putin gave him.

    So the Democrat campaign leading up to the Primary promises to be long and hard and complex and challenging to understand everyone’s positions on all of the issues. That being said any one of the Democrat candidates can race circles around Trump’s abilities, given his corruption and incompetence, in leading this country.

  18. Trump may say he wants to put America first, but just to be clear, his wallet and ego (enjoyment) will ALWAYS come first before anyone or anything else.

    Both Trump and his namesake son have said they would accept DIRT on an opponent from a foreign country and PERHAPS they’d call in the FBI too. Trump doesn’t seem to understand that he is now blackmailable by that foreign source because Trump has broken the law. That’s the way foreigners weasel their way into our government and they see Trump and his cabinet as vulnerable to such tactics. They’re an incredibily
    easy mark.

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