Wall Street is pretty sure it knows a bad partnership when it sees one, and some in the Wall Street-GOP alliance are convinced it is time for the Republican Party to shed its association with social conservatives.
An emerging apostle of this new electoral gospel is Ed Conard, a former business partner of Mitt Romney’s who, according to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, is ready to shed the religious right in favor of a worker-banker alliance that focuses on tax cuts for Wall Street and immigration quotas and trade restrictions. As Smith explains it, “[Conard’s] plan requires replacing the religious right in the Republican coalition with the new populists, and mollifying them with new restrictions on trade and immigration — all in exchange for the holy grail of lower marginal tax rates.”
That’s hardly a new idea: tariffs and immigration quotas combined with an alliance with Wall Street were central to the GOP’s pre-Great Depression platform. It was a Republican president’s foolhardy insistence on raising the tariff on 900 separate items that helped spread the effects of the Depression.
Buzzfeed’s Smith got to hear Conard pitch his remarkable plan at a conservative confab in Utah, coincidentally the home state of Sen. Reed Smoot of infamous Smoot-Hawley fame. Unsurprisingly, the business wing of the GOP views social conservatives (which spans the Protestant-Catholic divide) as “provincial crackpots” and many are suspecting it is time for their association with the movement to end. Not that the alliance hasn’t provided some dividends for the business end of things.
“Huge cuts to marginal tax rates in exchange for lip service to a decades-long, failed effort to make abortion illegal,” has benefited business, Smith notes, but with the winds of social change blowing strong, there’s no real desire on the part of an increasingly influential and social-issue apathetic wing of the party to continue the marriage.
Certainly the last couple of years have featured an almost dizzying pace of development in the social arena. The Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriage must be accepted in all 50 states, transgender bathroom fights have been bungled by exceedingly poor messaging, and some influential social conservatives themselves have dealt their own credibility a serious blow by backing Donald Trump even before he secured the GOP nomination.
When the same social conservative leaders who were skeptical about Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, a decent and upstanding family man who happened to have a couple of bad policy marks in his gubernatorial past (positions he abandoned for conservative high ground in his two presidential bids) embraced the extraordinarily flawed Donald Trump, who has never really apologized for his financial support of Planned Parenthood, they proved they are part of a passing era. But a future without “Social Conservative, Inc.” doesn’t mean that social conservatism is no longer an important part of broader conservatism, or that the GOP should wholesale abandon its pro-life platform or the defense of religious liberty and conscience for all (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or any other faith).
Conservatives would be wise to remember that Wall Street isn’t synonymous with capitalism or free markets. That point has become painfully clear under President Barack Obama, who has benefited from Wall Street campaign cash and Wall Street support as big business learned that big government can be a great boon. Why not use the power of government to create barriers for competitors in the marketplace? Why not agree with sweeping healthcare mandates as long as your industry gets a piece of the pie?
Donald Trump is a businessman, but as he made clear in Monday night’s debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he’s no free market advocate. Clinton and Trump agree on a number of new government mandates on businesses large and small, and when Clinton challenged basic free market principles, Trump made no effort to defend capitalism. What he did defend was his own business practices.
A return to a GOP without social conservatism and with a penchant for tariffs and government mandates (so long as said mandates meet the favor of Big Business) would be a return to the Republican Party pre-William F. Buckley. It would mark a gigantic leap backward to the days before conservatism represented individual liberty, personal responsibility , free markets and a government strong enough for national defense and carefully enumerated Constitutional duties, but no more. In short, it would potentially mark the demise of the Republican Party.