Many traditional conservatives are dumbstruck when they see Republicans like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley or venture capitalist/potential candidate J.D. Vance espousing what they regard as liberal economics. To these conservatives, it is a betrayal of principle. To which Vance might respond, “I just don’t care.” The fact is the nature of what it means to be conservative is changing rapidly, and it is leaving economic conservatives without a political home.
A political realignment is taking place. This doesn’t just mean a shift in which political party holds the center ground. It means that the fundamental questions around which people align themselves politically are changing. What used to define right, left, and center will cease to have as much political meaning.
For most of the past century, American politics—indeed, much of global politics—was aligned around a central economic question: Which economic system provides the most benefit, free markets or central planning? People on the right believed in free markets, people on the left believed in government planning. This helped to dictate a class component to the politics; working people, for instance, who believed they were at the mercy of capitalists and profit tended to side with the left, while highly educated people who controlled their own careers tended to side with the right.
There was a secondary question that was not economic, however—the question of social attitudes, which pitted those who believed in a traditional way of life against those who felt that way of life was harmful or restrictive. These two attitudes mapped reasonably well on to the economic split, although there were some working-class people who had leftist economic beliefs but right-wing social attitudes, and there were some on the economic right who had more liberal social attitudes. Think Reagan Democrats and libertarians.