Grand New Party

It’s generally those with a somewhat unconventional perspective who offer the best criticism of institutions and interest groups.  For that reason, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam have been among the most interesting and incisive critics of modern conservatism for over a decade, and particularly so since the release in 2008 of their book Grand New Party.

When Salam, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, and Douthat, a solemn Harvard-educated conservative catholic, wrote their collaborative criticism of the Republican Party, they were perhaps already outside the mainstream of their party.  Young, amenable to criticism and self-correction, and averse to pure supply-side economics, Salam and Douthat stood out in a Party that was increasingly old, white, rigidly ideological, and dependent on a radically conservative protestant evangelical base.  Ten years later they may as well be in exile.

In the last two years (going on three – how time flies when you’re having fun), I’ve spent a great deal of time attempting to identify conservative voices that might represent some measure of hope for normalcy in the wreckage left by Donald Trump’s four (or perhaps eight) years at the helm of the Republican Party and the country.  I’m not in the habit of turning help away, but many of Trump’s vocal conservative critics seem to have a problem only with the breakneck, drunken, hands-free, recklessness of his candidacy and presidency while they were perfectly happy with the mere pedal-to-the-metal irresponsibility of status quo Republican politics up to that point.  The Erik Ericksons and Megyn Kellys of conservative media.

There are moderates and libertarians who have been perfectly willing to criticize the excesses of Republican politics for years, but of the true conservatives, Salam and Douthat often seem to be among only a handful that might qualify.  Written before Barack Obama and before the Tea Party and birtherism and long before it was fashionable to identify reckless politics within the Republican Party, Grand New Party serves as evidence of Salam and Douthat’s thoughtfulness.  Just as the largely pre-Trump Fractured Republic did for Yuval Levin, a decade of conservative heresy did for David Frum, and years of non-partisan free-speech activism did for David French, their records of criticism establish them as the sort of government in exile of the modern Republican Party.

I only started reading Grand New Party today because I was sick, read a hundred pages, and finished a new book yesterday, but the first day of 2018 seems all too appropriate a day to crack the spine.  A decade after the book was released.  A decade after the election year that established the Party’s sharp turn away from the solutions Salam and Douthat suggest.  The first day of Trump’s second calendar year and the first day of a year that will be charged anew with electoral politics; that will represent the fusion of activism and backlash with electioneering and vote collecting.  Today is the first day of an election year that will determine if the Republican Party is even remotely willing to chart the course the authors lay out, if they’re capable of doing so even if they are willing, and what the electoral consequences will be if they find that they aren’t.

Sounds right.  Happy New Year.