The weekend’s calling of the U.S. presidential election for Joe Biden produced jubilation from his supporters across this city. Many American conservatives, on the other hand, are feeling a sense of despair. They shouldn’t. There are strong arguments that the mix of last week’s election results is actually good news for conservatives. Let me outline five such arguments here.
The first is the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court in the lead up to the election. Although President Donald Trump’s judicial appointments were generally good, Barrett’s elevation to the top court is particularly outstanding. Her combination of character, intellect and relative youthfulness (she’s only 48 years old) has the potential to make her a transformational figure in the coming decades. Not only will Justice Barrett have a major effect on American jurisprudence, her legal thinking and writing are bound to inspire a new generation of conservative lawyers, scholars and ultimately judges.
The second is that the Republicans seem poised to hold the Senate, notwithstanding expectations that the Democrats would take both the White House and the Senate. A renewed Republican majority can serve as a check on the left-wing excesses of the Biden administration. But, more importantly, it can also play a crucial role in the renewal of conservative politics and the Republican party in the post-Trump era.
Although the House Republicans are a bit Trumpy, the Senate Republicans are generally more serious and thoughtful. Young, dynamic and policy-oriented legislators like Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Ben Sasse and Josh Hawley, in particular, will be key figures in a fundamental debate about the future of conservatism including what, if any, adjustments ought to be made to its policy orthodoxy in the aftermath of the Trump presidency. Retaining the Senate will help to facilitate these important discussions.
The third is the repudiation of socialism. That the Republicans were able to pick up seats in the House of Representatives from Democrats who were inspired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s left-ward lurch is good news. It’s a powerful proof-point about the political limitations of her uncompromising progressivism. It may appeal to a small yet passionate audience on social media. But it’s not a path to a political majority.
Reports out of the first, post-election Democratic caucus meeting show that a lot of centrist Democrats resent the extent to which Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called “squad” are trying to pull the party in a socialist direction and in so doing making it less palatable in large swaths of the country. One has to assume that the Biden administration will learn from this lesson and stay clear of these political excesses.
PHOTO BY OLIVIER DOULIERY/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Which brings me to the fourth argument which is Biden himself. Although the president-elect is a liberal Democrat, he has a moderate temperament and a sincere interest in trying to find common ground. Throughout the Democratic primary, for instance, he distinguished himself by resisting the most radical aspects of the party’s progressive base including calls to “defund the police.” The truth is, notwithstanding allowances for campaign rhetoric, it’s hard to argue that the Democrats could have put forward another presidential candidate in the current political milieu who would have been more moderate and prepared to co-operate with Republicans.
The fifth is that conservatives have lost Trump who, because of his polarizing nature and obvious disinterest in matters of policy and governance, impeded the kind of progress that conservatives need to make in order to reorient their policy thinking to reflect the lessons of the past four years. Trump’s best features — including, for instance, his willingness to call out Republicans for failing to grapple with China’s geopolitical and technological ambitions or the social costs of de-industrialization — will now become part of mainstream conservatism. So, in this sense, his defeat permits American conservatives to retain the useful parts of Trumpism while discarding the toxic characteristics of Trump himself.
It’s worth spending a moment on what it means for Canadian Conservatives (and conservatives). One can argue that Trump’s defeat is good news for them as well. We don’t know when the next federal election will be in Canada but we’ll have one soon enough. There’s no doubt that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would have been thrilled at the prospect of running a campaign that implicitly and explicitly drew links between Erin O’Toole and Donald Trump and so the president’s defeat will now make such comparisons less relevant and effective.
The Republican party’s gains with non-white voters are also germane for Canadian Conservatives as O’Toole and his team seek to build a multi-ethnic, working-class coalition in the lead up to the next election. At minimum, it ought to signal that they’re on the right track.
Overall, then, the sense of despair that some conservatives are expressing may be understandable at some level but it’s ultimately misguided. There are several arguments that they actually won last week’s elections.
Source: National Post