In case you haven’t noticed (and if you’re reading this you probably have), Donald Trump’s meteoric rise and persistent influence on U.S. politics has created an identity crisis on much of the American right. In particular, there is tension between more traditional “Reaganite” conservatives and a “new right” group of “national conservatives” more in Trump’s mold. In recent years, the energy—more in rhetoric and attention than concrete policy wins and major electoral victories—has been squarely with the latter group, which released last year a 10-point “Statement of Principles” signed by various natcon wonks and pundits. For more than a year, the Natcon Manifesto had the stage to itself, discussed and debated, sure, but not directly challenged by an alternative vision for the future of the American right. That vacuum was filled two weeks ago when a new group, the “freedom conservatives,” published their own mission statement, which—although expressly not intended to be an “anti-Natcon” document (see also this accompanying op-ed by John Hood)—nevertheless offers a conservative alternative what the natcons are selling.
I didn’t sign the freecon document and can quibble with certain elements and omissions, but I know and respect many of the signatories—including The Dispatch’s own Jonah Goldberg and Kevin Williamson—and prefer it greatly over the natcon alternative, as frequent Capitolism readers could surely guess. Were this a world of binary choices, your humble, free-market, lowercase-L libertarian correspondent would choose the freecons in a heartbeat (and twice on Sundays).
But today’s column is less about my choice and more about whether the dueling statements offer much of a choice at all, or whether they are—as some more thoughtful internet commentators have since asserted—simply different points along the same conservative spectrum, separated by modest and marginal policy differences instead of a gaping philosophical chasm. In this reading, the two statements, and the groups they represent, share the same objectives and political adversaries—the woke left, a captured administrative state, compromised corporatists, and so on—and, save a few major policy breaks (mainly trade and immigration) or imprecise/emotional words here and there—really just disagree about where wonky policy lines should be drawn. In short, it’s all shades of the same conservatism—shades that only the dorkiest of politico will care about.