Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, and Tom Cotton

When conservatism has succeeded in America, whether ideologically or politically, it has done so through the fusion of divergent philosophical viewpoints and diverse policy preferences. Ideologically, conservatism began to take off when William F. Buckley and the National Review crowd fused neo-liberalism — belief in free markets and individualism — with communitarian conservatism. Politically, conservatism prospered thanks to Ronald Reagan’s coalition of economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national security hawks (the three-legged stool).

Nicholas Gallagher argues that for conservatism to prosper in the future, a new coalition will be required — one that fuses “movement” conservatism with Jacksonian nationalism. It is the latter world view, Gallagher persuasively argues, that has fueled the rise of Donald Trump. Gallagher contends that “while conservatives are more than within their rights to write off Trump, they would be neither wise nor justified to write off the Jacksonians.”

What does Gallagher mean by Jacksonian nationalism?

Jacksonians characteristically emphasize anti-elitism and egalitarianism while drawing a sharp distinction between members of the folk group and those outside it. In domestic policy, this translates to tough-on-crime stances and stubborn adherence to traditional views on social issues (and, historically, opposition to civil rights), and to advocacy of government assistance for “deserving” members of the folk group.

Looking abroad, they are uninterested in Wilsonian nation-building projects or promoting global order, but if they feel the nation is threatened, they are willing to fight back by whatever means are necessary.

The tension between movement conservatism and Jacksonian nationalism is pretty obvious and becomes more so as Gallagher elaborates with insight on the latter ideology. As he concludes, “from trade to immigration, foreign policy to fiscal policy, Jacksonian instincts are often incompatible with conservative prescriptions.”

Yet, says Gallagher, “Jacksonianism lies closer to conservatism than it does to the identity-politics Left, and one may reasonably hope for a ‘best of both’ compromise between intellectual conservatism and Jacksonian impulses.” Jacksonians may find incentive to compromise if, as I expect, Trump goes down to defeat in November and the Hillary Clinton presidency commences. Movement conservatives already have an incentive to compromise — this primary season has demonstrated the perils of ignoring the Jacksonians.

If a fusion is possible, it probably will require a skilled politician with a powerful intellect to pull it off. This article by Eliana Johnson suggests that our friend Senator Tom Cotton might be the man for the job. According to Eliana, “Cotton believes the billionaire developer represents a populism the GOP should and must incorporate.”

In a way, Cotton embodies both movement conservatism and Jacksonian nationalism. He’s a Reaganite and an intellectual, but also a fighting man — to some degree in the same sense as Jackson was (no duels, though).

Read Tom’s angry 2006 letter to the New York Times, written while he was serving in Iraq (the one the Times wouldn’t publish, but Power Line did) and see the intellectual and the Jacksonian mingling. Read his open letter to the government of Iran, written nine years later, and see both still present.

Eliana reports that Sen. Cotton’s unwillingness to endorse one of Trump’s opponents during the primary season and his lack of hand-wringing about Trump’s upcoming nomination “has been a disappointment to many Never Trumpers.” The former disappointed me.

It may well be, though, that Tom is playing chess while most of the rest of us are playing checkers — and by that I don’t mean to say he’s being personally opportunistic. I mean that he seems to be thinking ahead to the next big conservative fusion.