While most of the attention in the 2024 GOP primary right now is on Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis, the battle worth watching is the shadow primary between Trumpism and Reaganism. A key to understanding this comes from Nikki Haley’s top consultant and former deputy at the United Nations, Jon Lerner, who argues, “the fundamentals of campaigns are more the same than they are different over the years.”
It’s no coincidence that at Haley’s campaign launch, South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman introduced her as “America’s version of Margaret Thatcher.” If Lerner is correct, it’s plausible that a “Reaganesque” candidate can catch fire.
Let’s be clear: Reaganism is not misty-eyed nostalgia about a bygone era or mere reflections about the man and his unique attributes. Instead, it’s more of a shorthand expression for a strategy. Reaganism asserts that balancing factions, channeling populist impulses toward productive ends, and maintaining the three-legged stool of fiscal, foreign policy, and social or cultural conservatism gives conservatives the best chance of success. It’s a formula that has been consistently successful for four decades and resolves tensions on the right that existed long before Reagan and will exist long after 2024.
In a sense, Reaganism is code for “normal” but normal does not mean moderate. Instead of the dark nihilism some in the Trump camp seem to espouse, Reaganism embraces the optimistic belief that America is an idea that is still being born, an imperfect country in pursuit of a perfect ideal in which constitutional conservatives view democratic institutions simultaneously in need of constant protection and renovation.