The estimable Henry Olsen thinks so. He writes:
Many anti-Trump Republicans long for the day when they can retake their party and expel the populist deviations from orthodoxy that vex them so. Evidence from around the world shows this is a pipe dream.
The same fissures in the old conservative coalition that plague the GOP appear in virtually every other modern democracy. Nationalist and populist parties have grown dramatically in the past decade, often gaining near parity with incumbent center-right parties. Urban and suburban moderate voters, meanwhile, have often swung to classically liberal or green parties that are comfortable aligning with left-wing governments.
Olsen cites polls and election results from Europe. He discusses the situation in Scandinavia, Estonia, Belgium, Austria, Holland, and Germany.
He doesn’t mention France as an example, but arguably he could have. In the buildup to the last presidential election, France’s center-right party, Les Républicains (Republicans), was poised to take power. It failed to do so only because of a scandal involving its candidate, François Fillon. That opened the door for the relatively unknown Emanuel Macron, who ran to the left of Fillon.
Now, in the buildup to the upcoming presidential election, the Republicans seem considerably less formidable. They are squeezed by Macron, a bit to the left, and populist-rightists like Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.
Macron clearly leads in the polls. Behind him, Valérie Pécresse, candidate of the Republicans, is neck-and-neck with Le Pen and Zemmour. Thus, support for the two populist right candidates is almost double that of the main center-right candidate, and roughly equal to Macron’s.
There’s a big difference, of course, between the way we elect our president and the way most European countries do. Thus, Olsen’s comment that, in Europe, center-right parties that reject their populist counterparts “must invariably form governments with centrists or even their traditional center-left opponents” doesn’t apply here. We don’t have coalition governments.
But does a similar logic apply to America? Or could a center-right Republican party come to power without accommodating the populists to a major degree?
Almost anything is possible in a given American election. If the Democrats remain as unpopular as they are now, the GOP could elect a steadfast center-right president in 2024, assuming it somehow managed to nominate one.
But I think Olsen’s general point is valid. I agree, generally, that in the U.S., as elsewhere, “coalitions built on 1980s-era Reagan-Thatcher conservative politics — free markets, globally minded, strong on defense — no longer win majorities.” I also agree that “the new conservative winning formula is extremely hard to pull off, as one must simultaneously satisfy the still significant Reaganite element while winning over nationalist populists and moderate suburbanites.”
Yet, that’s what will be required for long-term Republican success — a synthesis (or fusion) of traditional Republican conservatism and Trumpist ideology.
I’ve said before that Trump himself actually pulled off something like that synthesis. But Trump can’t win moderate suburbanites. And as long as he’s around, he might well stand in the way of anyone not named Trump trying to fuse his populism with any other ideology.
So the task on the right and center right is daunting. Fortunately, so is the task on the left and what little remains of the center left.