‘Vandalism With a Purpose’ and the Future of the G.O.P.

jane coaston Today on The Argument, populism won Trump the presidency, but will it destroy the Republican Party? 2021 c.p.a.c. (ted cruz) And the Republican Party is not the party just of the country clubs. The Republican Party is the party of steel workers and construction workers and pipeline workers and taxi-cab drivers and cops and firefighters and waiters and waitresses and the men and women with calluses on their hands who are working for this country. That is our party! jane coaston If you thought G.O.P.-style populist rhetoric tied with Trump’s electoral defeat, look no further than this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference senators. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and former President Donald Trump himself used all the right buzzwords to signal a populist platform for the G.O.P. But populism is an idea that’s so vague and so easily manipulated, it’s more of a style of politicking than a coherent political philosophy. I’m Jane Coaston, and for years I’ve been reporting and thinking about where conservatism and the American right has been and where it’s going. I watched the rise of Trump and wondered if our last president was a bug or a feature of today’s Republican Party. Has Trumpism taken the GOP hostage, or is this what movement conservatism was like the whole time and I just didn’t see it? It seems like the party itself is still trying to figure that out, and so are my guests. Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. Ross Douthat is your favorite conservative columnist in The New York Times Opinion section. To get us started, Michael, what brand of conservatism would you say that you adhere to? michael brendan dougherty My background has been in what used to be called in the fine gradations of the right, paleoconservatism, which was skeptical of foreign intervention, skeptical of free trade. I don’t know if the term paleoconservative is used much anymore, but that phenomenon was pointed to a lot during the rise of Donald Trump to kind of locate and explain where he was coming from. jane coaston Right. And, Ross, what kind of conservatism do you adhere to, or what kind of conservative would you consider yourself? ross douthat I consider myself a social conservative and economic populist, which means that in certain ways I actually identify not so much with paleoconservatism but with the original neoconservatism, not the Iraq-war-invading, American-empire sort that Michael wrote against vehemently 10 or 15 years ago but the mix of Catholic and Jewish intellectuals who moved from being liberals to being some kind of conservative in the 1970s and had the idea that the task of conservatives was to accept and reform the welfare state rather than abolishing the New Deal. jane coaston Well, my brand is extremely suspicious libertarian who does not trust either of you. ross douthat Especially when we’re on together. jane coaston It is. It’s very warm here now. But I’m suspicious precisely of the ideas we’re going to talk about today, because we’re going to be talking about what effect Trumpism and populism is going to have on the G.O.P. So President Trump was impeached twice, the second time with seven Senate Republicans voting guilty. The Republican Party seemingly has a lot of options for what direction it could go in. Does it shun Trump and return to the party of George W. Bush? I doubt it. Does it pick Trump again in 2024? Does it support a purported populist like Josh Hawley? Now, you’ve both written a lot about populism, both before Trump and as a potential legacy of Trump and as a way that the G.O.P. can write policy and attract voters. I am not just suspicious, as I’ve written, of the conceit that Trumpism is a real thing, but I am suspicious of the idea of populism itself. I think it’s helpful to define populism before we say it 800 times and it ceases to sound like a real word. So can we come up with an agreed-upon definition of populism? michael brendan dougherty I think we can. I would say populism is a political style that locates the legitimacy of political action and reform in ordinary people directed primarily against what it sees as elite groups or corrupted elite institutions. ross douthat I think that’s good. Let me try and refine it a little more and say I think that populism represents a political tendency that tries to rally voters around issues and ideas that have broad mass appeal but are excluded from or sort of minimized in elite circles and debates. This is why you can have populisms of the left and of the right. You can even have, although maybe you disagree, Jane, a libertarian populism in situations where libertarian ideas are excluded from elite debates. And it’s why you can have figures as different as a Ross Perot, who was a huge deficit hawk, and a Donald Trump pushing easy money both be reasonably described as populists, depending on the co

‘Vandalism With a Purpose’ and the Future of the G.O.P.
jane coaston Today on The Argument, populism won Trump the presidency, but will it destroy the Republican Party? 2021 c.p.a.c. (ted cruz) And the Republican Party is not the party just of the country clubs. The Republican Party is the party of steel workers and construction workers and pipeline workers and taxi-cab drivers and cops and firefighters and waiters and waitresses and the men and women with calluses on their hands who are working for this country. That is our party! jane coaston If you thought G.O.P.-style populist rhetoric tied with Trump’s electoral defeat, look no further than this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference senators. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and former President Donald Trump himself used all the right buzzwords to signal a populist platform for the G.O.P. But populism is an idea that’s so vague and so easily manipulated, it’s more of a style of politicking than a coherent political philosophy. I’m Jane Coaston, and for years I’ve been reporting and thinking about where conservatism and the American right has been and where it’s going. I watched the rise of Trump and wondered if our last president was a bug or a feature of today’s Republican Party. Has Trumpism taken the GOP hostage, or is this what movement conservatism was like the whole time and I just didn’t see it? It seems like the party itself is still trying to figure that out, and so are my guests. Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. Ross Douthat is your favorite conservative columnist in The New York Times Opinion section. To get us started, Michael, what brand of conservatism would you say that you adhere to? michael brendan dougherty My background has been in what used to be called in the fine gradations of the right, paleoconservatism, which was skeptical of foreign intervention, skeptical of free trade. I don’t know if the term paleoconservative is used much anymore, but that phenomenon was pointed to a lot during the rise of Donald Trump to kind of locate and explain where he was coming from. jane coaston Right. And, Ross, what kind of conservatism do you adhere to, or what kind of conservative would you consider yourself? ross douthat I consider myself a social conservative and economic populist, which means that in certain ways I actually identify not so much with paleoconservatism but with the original neoconservatism, not the Iraq-war-invading, American-empire sort that Michael wrote against vehemently 10 or 15 years ago but the mix of Catholic and Jewish intellectuals who moved from being liberals to being some kind of conservative in the 1970s and had the idea that the task of conservatives was to accept and reform the welfare state rather than abolishing the New Deal. jane coaston Well, my brand is extremely suspicious libertarian who does not trust either of you. ross douthat Especially when we’re on together. jane coaston It is. It’s very warm here now. But I’m suspicious precisely of the ideas we’re going to talk about today, because we’re going to be talking about what effect Trumpism and populism is going to have on the G.O.P. So President Trump was impeached twice, the second time with seven Senate Republicans voting guilty. The Republican Party seemingly has a lot of options for what direction it could go in. Does it shun Trump and return to the party of George W. Bush? I doubt it. Does it pick Trump again in 2024? Does it support a purported populist like Josh Hawley? Now, you’ve both written a lot about populism, both before Trump and as a potential legacy of Trump and as a way that the G.O.P. can write policy and attract voters. I am not just suspicious, as I’ve written, of the conceit that Trumpism is a real thing, but I am suspicious of the idea of populism itself. I think it’s helpful to define populism before we say it 800 times and it ceases to sound like a real word. So can we come up with an agreed-upon definition of populism? michael brendan dougherty I think we can. I would say populism is a political style that locates the legitimacy of political action and reform in ordinary people directed primarily against what it sees as elite groups or corrupted elite institutions. ross douthat I think that’s good. Let me try and refine it a little more and say I think that populism represents a political tendency that tries to rally voters around issues and ideas that have broad mass appeal but are excluded from or sort of minimized in elite circles and debates. This is why you can have populisms of the left and of the right. You can even have, although maybe you disagree, Jane, a libertarian populism in situations where libertarian ideas are excluded from elite debates. And it’s why you can have figures as different as a Ross Perot, who was a huge deficit hawk, and a Donald Trump pushing easy money both be reasonably described as populists, depending on the context. So it’s a pretty big definition, but I think when you think about third parties in American history or third-party candidacies, which until recently was the way that populism usually manifested itself, that tended to be the pattern. Some set of issues or causes that the two major parties were not handling became the animating cause of the third party, the populist party. jane coaston Ross, you’ve argued that populism is the natural basis for an American center-right majority. ross douthat Well, populism right now would mean a skepticism and sort of reaction against the economic and social consensus that defined American politics in the 1990s and early 2000s where you had this confidence and optimism that globalization was a sort of inevitable and beneficent process, that individualism in American life was a sort of emancipating force that was mostly delivering benefits to people, and that sort of economic policy had kind of been figured out by the negotiations between Bill Clinton-style Democrats and Newt Gingrich or George W. Bush-style conservatives. And so a conservative populism would basically say something like what various conservative populist intellectuals have tried to say but also sort of what Donald Trump said in 2016, which is that this consensus has failed a big swath of the American working class and that government policy needs to be made with an eye towards rebuilding opportunities for work and family formation, which is maybe the more conservative part of this populism in the American middle writ large. jane coaston But the liberals think that they’re doing things for families all the time. It’s liberals who are coming up with ideas for stimulus checks. What makes those conceits uniquely conservative? ross douthat Not all of them are uniquely conservative at all. And in fact, I think clearly a conservative populism would move the Republican Party to the left to a significant degree as, again, the Trump campaign in 2016 already sort of did. The ideas that Trump ran on, some of them were ideas familiar from the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. Some of them were just sort of moves to the political center by not running on massive reforms to Medicare and Social Security. But I think there are sort of distinctive features of policy around work and family that are more conservative, that conservatives are more likely to privilege those two things over and above just measures of inequality and redistribution. But no, I think it’s fair to say that conservative populism is to the left of where conservatism was under Paul Ryan, and that’s why it’s actually more likely to be the basis — again, in a totally hypothetical world — for a political majority because it’s closer to the political center and therefore presumably more popular. michael brendan dougherty Can I say the scary part out loud of that? jane coaston Yes. michael brendan dougherty So the scary part I think for liberal and progressive listeners would be they would see a lot of conservative worry about family formation and fertility as a kind of nationalistic and assertive and maybe dangerous set of ideas, and they would probably point to some of these conservative populist governments in Central Europe who frame their family policy in baldly demographic concerns about their native population versus potential immigrant populations and so on like that. I think it would be dishonest not to just put that on the table, that that’s one of the features in conservative populism about the family is a concern about declining fertility rates, declining kin networks for families, and what that means for society. ross douthat Yeah, absolutely. I think you can see that discomfort just in the different rhetoric that right and left use when something like, say, Mitt Romney’s family policy is suddenly on the table. Liberals are right now more likely to support that policy, but they would be much less likely to frame it as subsidies for families to have more kids because the American birthrate is too low, because that cuts against a lot of different liberal perspectives. Whereas at least the style of conservatism that Michael and I belong to would say that explicitly, that the birthrate is too low and policy should do something about it. jane coaston To Michael’s point, I think perhaps one of the concerns here is not necessarily about the facets of conservative populism but its antagonists, the perceived antagonists, as Tucker Carlson puts it, of, quote, “normal people” or ordinary people. So who is the antagonist of conservative populism? Who are the people who are not the normal people or the ordinary people? Because I think for many liberals the clear interpretation is that it’s not them. michael brendan dougherty Right. I mean, I would say that a lot of that is rooted in what Ross described as this consensus politics out of the 1990s. There was this amazingly politically successful move by traditional labor or center-left parties to move further to the center and move towards what we call in America wine-track voters and kind of college graduates, upwardly mobile whites that are moving back into the major metropolitan areas. And that that group that was kind of added to the Democratic Party in the United States is overserved by our current politics and our current political consensus. And so normal people might be someone who goes to state university and returns home and ends up starting a small business, working just as a wage earner in a nonglobalized city. There is this kind of image that the other is this elite liberal maybe living single, childless in the city and with no immediate plans for family and expecting to pass on their class privilege to their kids. jane coaston So that’s the antagonists, the people who are overserved. They are the them. ross douthat Well, that’s the best case. michael brendan dougherty That’s the best case. But, of course, there’s— ross douthat But then the worst case is, yeah, that you just get into scapegoating sort of the weaker parties in this new landscape, which means that you just scapegoat immigrants who are obviously part of the new economy, but you scapegoat them rather than addressing or attacking the actual big winners of this new environment. That would be one way this just turns into and does and has in the Trump era into just a kind of scapegoating that doesn’t actually, as the kids say, speak truth to power. michael brendan dougherty Well, and you see this in the rhetoric of even Josh Hawley, the senator from Missouri, talks about the great middle. And in a sense, he’s identifying in the great American middle maybe this idea of a middle-class life that is more self-sufficient where people watch their own kids, clean their own house, probably have less food delivery and go to restaurants less maybe. And that’s pitched both against those up and against those down from the middle. jane coaston Right, and especially because by any metric that anyone would use largely outside of this conversation, Josh Hawley is an economic elite. Josh Hawley would be the them. ross douthat But this is the nature of populism is that in order to be politically effective, it needs to recruit class traitors. There are lots of critiques of Hawley, reasonable critiques especially since the events of January 6 in D.C. But the fact that he is an Ivy League-trained elite who is presenting himself as a champion of the forgotten American middle strikes me as not just a cheap shot but just not understanding what populism has to do in order to be successul. It needs people from within the elite to act on behalf of people outside of the elite. And the fact that they have fancy Ivy League degrees or whatever, it’s a feature, not a bug. So I’m all for fancy lawyers from the big city being populists. And, I mean, obviously there’s some self-interest here in that I am an Ivy League educated would-be populist too. jane coaston But clearly there is that coming with a policy understanding that is rooted in this middle because we often talk about the idealization of that middle, but what about the people under that? michael brendan dougherty I mean, in some cases, what you’re seeing as a matter of socioeconomic reality is the American middle class shrinking and, in fact, losing members in both directions. Historically when people use middle-class populism in political rhetoric, what you find is a far greater number of people than are actually in the middle class claim a middle-class identity. A lot of people who would technically fall outside it, either because they make a lot more money than the middle class or make less money, they still identify with the American middle class. So I think that’s probably the most important reason why Hawley embraces that rhetoric because it has this deep-rooted history and power in American politics, and it frames its debates in those who work hard and play by the rules. And yeah, that phrase itself does imply that there are others who don’t work hard or don’t play by the rules. There’s definitely a scapegoating part of that politics that has always been there. jane coaston But is that necessary for populist politics? Does it require a them to rage and rally against? If we’re talking about the 99 percent at Occupy Wall Street or we’re talking about this idea of the missing middle or the maligned middle, does there have to be a them? Does there have to be something to rage against for populism to thrive? ross douthat Yes. If you’re trying to make populism be good as opposed to bad, to be really crude about it, you want it to rage upward more than it rages downward. But it’s true that I don’t think you escape with this kind of conservative, middle-class-oriented populism a certain kind of anger directed downward, which can be racialized— isn’t always racialized. Alec MacGillis who writes for The Times, among other places, wrote a piece about conservatism in red states a few years ago focused on areas that were essentially all white — West Virginia, rural Kentucky. It focused on the way you get those narratives in white communities, that like so and so down the road is always on the draw, is just taking welfare and not working. And the sort of community is in decline because people are just being subsidized from above and aren’t doing their fair share. I don’t think that disappears in any form of conservative populism. I think the question is, is it the major or the minor theme? jane coaston I think this is a good opportunity actually to start talking about Trump and more specifically talking about Trumpism because I want to talk about what the G.O.P. can and should and likely will take away from the last four years, which I think are three separate responses. Michael, you wrote in January that Trumpism is a populist nationalist politics. And, Ross, you’ve said that Trump opened the way to a possible populist majority. Is Trumpism populism? michael brendan dougherty So Trumpism is a lot of things. Trumpism is also just a giant celebrity personality. Trumpism is also just unleashed anti-political-correctness. Trumpism is breaking the rules and smiling while you do it. Trumpism has a lot of aspects to it. What I was identifying as the populist-nationalist core has always kind of interested me, one, because my politics are interested in some of the policy opportunities in that kind of politics. jane coaston Do you think that you wanted to see populism in Trumpism? michael brendan dougherty Oh yeah. I’ve wanted to see this kind of politics emerge and actually was doubtful that it ever would come around in America. But I started to notice it overseas in Europe, that the Tory Party in the U.K. was starting to draw more and find more opportunity in traditional Labour heartlands. There were hints of it in the G.O.P. Mitt Romney in 2012 took a slightly more confrontational stance against China. He kind of defendant himself against Rick Perry from the left on some social spending issues but then from the right on immigration. Rick Santorum was questioning some trade policies and their effect on the American middle class and family. So I thought this politics was possible, and I thought it was a reaction to that broad Western center-left consensus of the ‘90s, and finally the reaction to that politics was happening. And this reaction was, in some way, inevitable and that this populist nationalist suite of issues was going to be a feature of our politics in some way after Trump and that it was what distinguished him so much from the field. It wasn’t just his celebrity. It was also this suite of issues and attitudes, not all of which he took into governance, to be sure. jane coaston Just want to be super clear because we’re using both words together. What do you define as the difference between populism and nationalism? michael brendan dougherty So populism is that rhetorical style and technique of the common man versus the elites. Nationalism is — I try to define national sentiment as this very normal, peaceful part of our politics that has a kind of volcanic quality that can erupt when the nation is aroused by some project or circumstance. That could be war, or it could be a territorial dispute or claim, or it could be a defect of the constitutional system. But nationalism tends to arise in this kind of project context of defeating an enemy, reclaiming territory, claiming independence, or massive reform of the nation’s institutions. And it almost always has this aroused, angry character to it that offends conservatives who are afraid of political passion like that getting out of control. And it offends liberals too because those kinds of passions can be very dangerous, and they can be directed to do harm. ross douthat I would say Trumpism was populism, and now it’s a little more unclear. I think that what you saw in 2016 was Trump ran a campaign along multiple dimensions, but a core theme of his campaign was the idea that there was this two-party consensus on a bunch of issues — trade, immigration, globalization — that was bad for the American middle, the American worker, and he was going to fix that. And that meant everything from trade wars with China to building the wall on the Mexican border to spending lots more money on infrastructure. In practice, there was nobody in the Trump White House once Steve Bannon was defenestrated to be a champion of that kind of populism, and so it went into abeyance and emerged in his rhetorical flourishes. Even then you could say that Trump did have at least one piece of populism that was important in that he was a Republican who was for easy money, not just for easy money but would literally attack the chairman of the Fed if he didn’t keep the easy money coming. And that was helpful to his political prospects and his support with, I think, middle and working-class Americans because the Trump economy got closer to full employment. So that’s all the reasons to look at 2020 and its aftermath and say, OK Trump campaigned on populist themes, didn’t really govern as a populist but showed it had appeal and set the Republican Party up for some post-Trump populism. However, the other thing is that Trumpism is a cult of personality, right? And I think there’s a reasonable case that where Trumpism and the Republican Party have ended up is this narrative that Trump is the truly elected president of the United States and that owning the libs is the height of conservatism, and it’s totally possible that that’s just what’s going to define the right for at least the next four years. michael brendan dougherty There was another sense in which he did govern as a populist, which was that he consistently pushed against or just demeaned, tossed away inherited rules about what you could do as president or what you should do. You could see that sometimes in his foreign policy where he’s treating members of the G-7 terribly, which is something no one at the State Department would advise you to do. On the negative side of that populist tendency, though, of course was his complete dismissal of the best scientific knowledge that we have at the time during a pandemic. So I do think he took the kind of vandal spirit of populism into the White House. It’s just he often took it into the worst directions he could. jane coaston It seems to me, though, that even calling it a vandal spirit, that sounds bad. [LAUGHTER] michael brendan dougherty It is bad, but hold on. I want to defend it, though, on some level too though, which is that when elites perform terribly, like when expert opinion discredits itself, that gives populism this opportunity. And I think that was what happened in foreign policy, which was the Iraq war — in a sense, there was a huge consensus for it and a huge consensus for transformational policy in the Middle East. That led to a disaster in the Middle East and a political disaster for anyone who touched it. I mean, it ruined Hillary Clinton’s nomination in 2008. So it wasn’t even just it ruined the Republican majority in 2006 and 2008. And that created an open space where suddenly Ron Paul or Donald Trump walks in with an alternative. So populism isn’t just vandalism mindlessly. ross douthat It’s vandalism with a purpose. jane coaston You seem to have both pointed out that the populist energy such as it existed in 2016 did not result in much populist policy. I’m aware that foreign policy is a slightly distinct issue, and obviously Donald Trump has been in favor of deficit spending and using debt as a cudgel for decades. But I’ve argued before, in the pages of National Review even, that Trumpism doesn’t exist, that when you say the things that people want to hear, that is not a political practice. That is just saying what people want to hear. People have told me the same thing about Barack Obama, that people looked at Donald Trump and saw what they wanted to see. The alt-right saw their future all-white God emperor, and evangelicals saw the bulwark against evil progressives, which seems to be that populism is not a policy. It’s a style. [MUSIC PLAYING] voicemail This is Chris from Arlington, Virginia. What I’ve been arguing about with a friend of mine is what’s ailing the Republican Party. So we both used to vote Republican. And in my mind, what really sets the Republican Party off is they don’t really seem to believe in democracy, and they dove into finding other ways to retain power without having a majority, be that gerrymandering, voter restrictions, or, as we see recently, outright trying to overturn election results. jane coaston My concern here about populism writ large, especially how populism is generally practiced today, is that it treats the populace as an unamalgamated mass, as if the people or this giant entity exists when that’s not true. That’s not how America works. It’s inherently, to me, very divisive because there are real people and there are elites, and the divisions that determine who real people are seem to be ephemeral. Michael, you tweeted a piece from The New Republic recently that was written by Christopher Caldwell that was talking about, can the Republican Party ever become the working-class party? And one of the parts that he notes is that — I’ll quote here — that “Biden’s most loyal followers by occupation included professors, librarians, therapists and lawyers.” And I noted this because my father was a librarian. He’s a retired research librarian. I can tell you that librarians are many things, but they are not elites, that being a librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati in Hamilton County was not an elite institution. And yet this populist rhetoric appears to place my father against the real people. And this seems to be more manipulative of the people who were voting then to generate actual policies. It seems to focus on an externalized threat, whether it’s big tech, or you have an externalized threat that really does exist like China. But when you have the opportunity for what lefty people would view as populist policy, like Medicare expansion, you see conservative politicians shying away from that particular issue. So I think my concern here is that populism is bad because it is inherently divisive but also because right-leaning populism seems to promise a lot but never show up. We see this in the populist movements of the Tea Party or in the Gingrich Republican revolution of 1994, which leads to that same consensus politics that, Michael, you pointed out as people objecting to. ross douthat That is the problem with conservative populism. It doesn’t deliver enough things to enough people, and it makes enemies out of too large a share of the American public to govern the country effectively. And therefore it doesn’t govern the country effectively, and it remains a, at most, 46 percent, 47 percent movement. That’s all true. I mean, all politics is divisive. The point is to divide the country and get 60 percent of the vote, and that’s something that nobody in our politics has done for a long time. But we remember our most successful presidents because they were able to do that. That’s the actual goal here, right? It’s to build a populism that doesn’t make people who are not, in fact, elites feel like they’re being scapegoated all the time but that does, in fact, punish the people in charge by removing them from power, at the very least, when they preside over a bunch of disasters. michael brendan dougherty There’s a reason why conservative populism has been so slow. Now most people like — I think of writers like Eric Levitz over at New York magazine — would identify and say, oh, it’s the donor base of the Republican Party that is the obstacle, and that’s partly true. What you will find, I think, in periods of realignment on economic lines is that the working-class voter is going to get shafted the most because both parties and their apparatus — their fundraising, their get out the vote operations — they all prefer upwardly-mobile suburban voters because those people come out and vote. They donate regularly. They’re self-organizing in a way huge sections of the country aren’t self-organizing. Trump drove in voters in rural areas that just haven’t voted for 20 years. No Republican knows how to reach those voters again right now. They’re not on any lists. They’re not organized, and they’re no longer part of labor unions. So it will take a while. And you see this in the fights that Republicans are having over Mitt Romney’s family policy or whether to expand the child tax credit, or Mitt Romney’s former advisor Oren Cass is picking apart Mitt Romney’s proposal on families. There is huge hesitation to write those first Republican handouts, partly because it will set the tone going forward, and no one’s sure where it will lead. So there’s a huge reticence to do that. But what we will find is— and what that Christopher Caldwell piece mentions is if you have almost all elite corporate boards and the tip top of the economy moving behind the Democrats, you’ll start to see a shift happen. I thought we’d be in sawing it under Obama when Obama couldn’t reform the 529 college savings program, which is a handout to families whose kids are going to go to college. It’s a very small tax advantage, and he couldn’t get off the blocks with it. And I think you will see that Democrats have a harder time doing anything besides writing checks or U.I.-style welfare. And Republicans will have to get off the blocks, and as Chris Caldwell writes, in a sense, they don’t have to come up with new policies or reinvent themselves as a working-class policy. They’ll just begin adopting old Democratic policies and policy aims like tight labor markets or some kind of unionization drive. Like we should expect that in the future. ross douthat Maybe. jane coaston We’re going to expect conservatives to get behind unionization drives? ross douthat See, that seems to me to be a more distant future. I think we have a lot of evidence from the Trump era that there’s just a lot of basic contentment within the Republican Party with a style of populism that has all the failings that Jane is identifying but none of the sort of majority-building virtues. And maybe that changes if Trump is the nominee again and the party splits and there’s a third-party candidate and the party really falls apart in some way and has to be rebuilt. But at the moment, the things that people dislike about liberalism are powerful enough to get 47 percent of the country to vote for a Republican Party that just doesn’t have a clear agenda at all. And as long as that’s the case, 47 percent of the country always gives you a chance at a share of power, and Republicans just seem reasonably content with that. Not every Republican, but it’s telling that it’s Mitt Romney, a man who has nothing to lose and presumably is not going to be president someday, who’s the one actually coming out with this kind of plan while people like Hawley and Marco Rubio and others who imagine themselves the leader of the working-class Republican Party are more likely to sort of play culture debate games that aren’t even really about social issues. Simultaneously, I disagree with Jane about the theoretical prospects for populism and its possible virtues, but I don’t see its practical prospects as being very strong at the moment. jane coaston Well, I think that that gets us to the perfect place because Michael just said something about how Trump was able to reach voters, independent voters, working-class voters who had never voted for Republicans before. But my question is will they vote for Republicans, or will they only vote for Trump? Ross, you wrote a piece saying that Trumpism ate populism, saying that any effort towards a conservative populism has been cannibalized by Trump. But Michael wrote a piece earlier this month, as he’s been making this argument, that populism is just getting started. So which is it? michael brendan dougherty Listen, I think populism is just getting started in the sense that the global trade arrangements and the center-left expert consensus is still with us, and it still creates anger and resentment in its wake, and that will be exploitable by conservative populists until there are changes made. I’m a cyclical thinker. I think every kind of paradigm of politics, if practiced for long enough, will become so corrupt and generate so much anger that it will be replaced again. So at some point, yes, if conservative populists win enough elections and achieve enough power, their politics will also create losers and resentments and pile up failures that discredit it. I just don’t think we’re there yet. I think still people feel that the center left, as it’s formed since the 1990s the kind of Clinton-Blairite project is still ascendant in our governing institutions. So I think until that day is forgotten and all our memories are of the horrible things conservative populists did, we still have plenty of running room. jane coaston Ross, what should Republicans take from Trumpism or populism, and what do you think Republicans will take from Trumpism and populism? ross douthat What they should take is that if you present yourself as moderate on economic policy, you will win more votes. If you present as more economically moderate than the party’s austerity-oriented, entitlement-cutting factions, you will be more politically successful. And also in so doing, you will be able to contest elections even in a more diverse and changing electorate. One of the striking things about 2020 was that Democrats got all of — not all but much of the sort of extra voting options that they wanted and drove voter turnout much higher, and lots of extra people came out and voted for Democrats, and also lots of extra people came out and voted for Donald Trump and for Republicans. So that’s evidence, I think, that Republican should not actually fear a sort of high turnout, more small-d democratic era, that they could compete as well in that era as they would have in a lower-turnout era. I think the thing that they are taking is a fear of their base and a commitment to politics as entertainment where the point is to sort of posture on virtual platforms and build up a kind of celebrity brand that will never quite match Trump’s celebrity brand but will enable you to be returned to office and enrich yourself if you’re not. michael brendan dougherty I think the first thing the G.O.P. will try to take from Trump is just pure crudity and cussedness. I think a lot of Republican officeholders are complete foreigners to a substantial portion of the Trump voters. They don’t understand them, don’t know them. They encounter them when a black S.U.V. ferries them from their gated communities into a land of strip malls that they don’t know and don’t understand. So I think they will just try to appeal to them in the least costly way possible, which is through populist rhetoric that is empty. I think this will lead to electoral disasters until there’s more substance, but we’ll see. I mean, of course Joe Biden and Kamala Harris may make the Republicans more competitive somehow. But I think at first it’s going to be more of Trumpism as just pure rhetorical red meat but a strangely low-calorie red meat. ross douthat Well, and the other thing Republicans may take from the Trump era is that they may decide they want to nominate Donald Trump for president again, which I think fits with Michael’s theory of the case and I think would probably lead to a more devastating defeat and something somewhat novel on the other side. But it’s certainly a very plausible scenario for 2024. jane coaston OK, I think we’ve done populism and Trumpism and Trumpist populism to death and given the Republican Party a good prescription that maybe they will follow. So on that note, I want to thank you both. ross douthat You’re welcome. michael brendan dougherty Thank you. jane coaston Michael Brendan Dougherty writes for National Review magazine, and I’m sure by now you know who Ross Douthat is, but you can find his writing at newyorktimes.com/opinion. If you want to read even more about populism and the Republican Party, I recommend two articles by Michael Brendan Dougherty in National Review. One from February 1 called “The End of Populism? Don’t Bet on It” and one from January 18 entitled “Trumpism After Trump.” And, of course, Ross Douthat’s 2008 book “Grand New Party.” If you’re a history nerd like me, I’ll also recommend Ken Burns’s documentary series “The West,” a nine-part series on the westward expansion of the United States and the successes and horrors and trials and very bad things it took to do it. Please watch it. I need someone to talk about James K. Polk with. You can find links to all of these in our episode notes. Finally, our episode last week on the filibuster really struck a chord with a lot of you. We got emails and voicemails about how much you disagreed with our guests and also some suggestions for how to fix the filibuster. david zuckerman Hi, Jane. My name is David Zuckerman, former lieutenant governor of Vermont. What if the majority party were to continue the filibuster but would only grant the minority party a limited number of users per biennium? sean Hi. This is Sean from New Jersey. I used to work in the Senate, and the Senate’s not a majoritarian institution, and it won’t be even if we get rid of the filibuster. And I don’t understand why some other folks want to make the majority of the United States get rid of its only veto over a minoritarian institution. susan This is Susan from Washington, D.C. If we were living in a true open, bipartisan democracy, I am totally in favor of a filibuster, but that’s not what the reality is now. speaker It was foolish for the Democrats to even contemplate not getting rid of it because it’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when. scott My name is Scott, and I live in Spirit Lake, Iowa. This morning I was in favor of abolishing the filibuster until I heard your argument, and I am convinced that the real value of the filibuster is keeping a minority from mischief. But thank you. Your episode actually changed my mind. [MUSIC PLAYING] jane coaston You can tell me what you thought of today’s episode or what you’ve been arguing about lately by leaving a voicemail by calling 347-915-4324. You might hear yourself on a future episode. The Argument is the production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez, and Vishakha Darbha; edited by Alison Bruzek and Paula Szuchman; with original music and sound design by Isaac Jones; and fact checking by Kate Sinclair. Special thanks to Shannon Busta and Viki Merrick. [MUSIC PLAYING] I need someone with whom to discuss James K. Polk! [LAUGHS]