Time for A New Conservative Party?

Yes, says conservative columnist David Brooks — at least he did the day before the election. The conservative values and practices he and other conservatives hold dear cannot accommodate the racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, contempt for fact and science and glorification of authoritarian rule that has taken over the Republican Party.

But this year Donald Trump has decimated the codes of basic decency without paying a price. With his constant, flagrant and unapologetic lying, he has shredded the standards of intellectual virtue — the normal respect for facts and truth that makes conversation possible. With his penchant for cruelty, bigotry, narcissism, selfishness and even his primitive primate dominance displays, he has shredded the accepted understandings of personal morality that prevent the strong from preying on the weak.

Most disturbing, all of this has been greeted with moral numbness. The truest thing Trump said all year is that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. We learned this year that millions of Americans are incapable of being morally offended, or of putting virtue above partisanship.


What Brooks is asking for, I think, is what we used to call a “Rockefeller Republican” alternative to the Democratic Party and to the populist angry white party of Donald Trump. That new party would be conservative on fiscal issues, more accommodating on social issues, and promote values like civic responsibility, decency, and respect for the truth.

American democracy has been resistant to third parties. We’ve had them, but they quickly fizzle out. This time may be different. I think we all knew the ugly currents that Trump has unleashed existed in our culture, but we thought they were fringe, a minority. Trump shows us they are not.

David Brooks will not be alone in considering a new conservative party option. There is the business wing of the current Republican Party, who must be aghast at Trump’s isolationist and anti-trade views. There are the young conservative intellectuals, like Luigi Zingales, Megan McArdle, W. Bradford Wilcox, Reihan Salam, Ramesh Ponnuru. There might be family values voters who would reconsider that “family values” can be stretched to include sexually predatory behavior toward women.

Right now our two-party system is anything but healthy. The Republican Party has put forward a man who is manifestly unfit for the presidency, and clearly bad for the basic values of democracy. That might create an opening for a new party. We’ll see what the post-election turmoil brings.

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