For most of the last six years, the classically liberal, Reaganite wing of the American right has been fighting a defensive battle against a nationalist, more authoritarian movement that tied itself to the person of Donald Trump. Where Reaganite conservatives emphasize individual liberty and economic freedom, the nationalist conservatives embrace state power. Where Reaganite conservatives emphasize a robust international military presence and support defensive alliances such as NATO, nationalist conservatives question American military commitments abroad, including even our most longstanding relationships.
This attempt at a dramatic, wrenching change of the entire conservative movement into something unrecognizable was justified by a sense of profound emergency—American classical liberalism, the nationalists argued, was an exhausted, spent force. The culture war was lost. Conservatism had “conserved” nothing, and emergency measures were required to rescue the country we love. This movement accordingly admired authoritarian rulers abroad, including even Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Putin seemed strong while we were weak. He was decisive while we dithered. He wasn’t afraid of his nation’s Christian heritage. He refused to bend the knee to the “woke” West. If you spent any time in online intellectual spaces, you’re familiar with the arguments.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re in retreat. On multiple fronts. Let’s count the ways: