Trump’s Tea Party

Scott Greer Contributor
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Donald Trump received his biggest endorsement yet Tuesday when Sarah Palin flew all the way from Alaska to Iowa to deliver one of the most unusual political speeches in recent memory.

While her delivery might’ve been incoherent, Palin’s endorsement of Trump was understood loud and clear and has turned into one of the hottest news stories of the week. For the woman who embodied the tea party, her support for The Donald is a symbolic moment.

The tea party movement, since its inception shortly after Barack Obama assumed the office, was thought to advocate something that was described as libertarianism-lite. Free markets, small government and fiscal responsibility were common refrains from the spokesman and spokeswoman of this national phenomenon, including Sarah Palin herself.

Now the woman who served as one of the primary voices for the movement is endorsing a presidential candidate who’s almost the complete opposite of a libertarian. Trump’s message doesn’t talk about how evil the capital gains tax is or how awesome privatized social security will be. It’s one that emphasizes restoring national greatness through trade protectionism, entitlement safeguarding and immigration restriction.

Moreover, appeals to limited government and “freedom” never figure into Trump’s rhetoric, with the Republican front-runner more inclined to talk about crushing America’s opponents in a fierce struggle for dominance than enumerating on his favorite parts of the Constitution.

All of these traits are anathema to the groups like FreedomWorks which sought to define the tea party as a political happening concerned primarily with fiscal issues. The Beltway folks who adopted the mantle of the tea party assumed all the anger was over Obama’s expansion of government spending and lack of adherence to strict constitutionalism.

The 2016 primary may be proving that theory all wrong.

Though there shouldn’t be so much hock over the figurehead of the tea party insurgency going for Trump’s candidacy. The tea party never really had a coherent ideology outside of opposition to Obama’s policies, contrary to the wishes of the professional conservatives. Polling showed that those who described themselves as sympathetic to the movement weren’t so thrilled by entitlement reform or open borders, and they were not about to subscribe to Reason magazine.

The day after Palin endorsed Trump, Rush Limbaugh made a rather stunning admission on his radio show: “Nationalism and populism have overtaken conservatism in terms of appeal.” For a man who’s built his career on conservatism, that’s a pretty big statement to make.

Yet looking at the outraged support-base Trump is assembling for his campaign and the meltdown of the conservative movement over Donaldmania, populist-nationalism does seem to be overtaking the libertarian-leaning conservatism favored by the Beltway types.

There’s no better representation of this ideological submerging than tea party icon Palin supporting the populist-nationalist presidential candidate.

That symbolic political passing seriously rankled prominent figures in conservative media who long hoped a new, friendlier conservatism would emerge in 2016. Suddenly, Palin went from a figure they liked (or at least tolerated) having as a figurehead to a dumb, money-grubbing hick from Alaska.

National Review’s Charles Cooke, who wrote an entire book outlining the principles of “conservatarianism,” effectively illustrated this dismay in a write-up of the Palin endorsement.

Cooke declares that the moment Sarah Palin got on stage to deliver her Trumpian address was the exact time she had completed her “decline” into a con artist. But what upset the writer the most was the failed promise of a mass libertarian-leaning movement of the Right.

“The prospect of a mass movement that was earnestly committed to libertarianism was always a little too good to be true, but even I didn’t imagine it ending like this. All that talk of the Constitution and the Declaration; all that energy expended against the cronies and the rent-seekers; all those purifying voter drives — and for what?” Cooke lamented.

While the National Review writer believes the endorsement represented when “P. T. Barnum beat out Hayek for the soul of the insurgent Right,” the reality is closer to Limbaugh’s comments on the rise of nationalism rather than the triumph of crass entertainment over reasonable politics.

Quite naturally, this development puts conservatives and libertarians in a predicament. If their ideology is not actually at the pulse of the nation’s “insurgent Right,” where does that leave them in terms of political prospects?

Many anti-Trumpians on the Right have already warmed up to the pose of the super brave dissident standing athwart the “fascist” and “unconservative” Trump wave.

National Review even made it their editorial position Thursday night with the release of a “manifesto” — signed by several conservative noteworthies — trumpeting the publication’s condemnation of The Donald’s bid for the White House. (RELATED: It’s On! National Review Goes After Trump, Trump Swings Back)

But it’s not exactly enviable to resign yourself to knowing your ideas will never come to fruition and your power and influence is non-existent.

Whatever happens in the Republican primary, the party and the conservative movement are going to have to deal with the new nationalist force they thought was in favor of libertarian policies.

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