The election of President Trump was a shock to many on both the left and right. In addition to his inflammatory use of language, bombastic tone, and outsider mentality, many have argued over Trump's ideology—or lack thereof—has replaced traditional conservatism.
Traditional conservatives believe Trump is not a conservative at all. As Jane Coaston argues in MTV News, Trump "borrows from the language of liberals" with his populist rhetoric on issues like trade and infrastructure. Coaston argues that Trump's beliefs about government are at odds with traditional conservative values about economics that had been the backbone of the Republican Party before Trump.
Conservatives' belief in the power of business — and the ineptitude of government — has held firm through thick and thin. Even during the Great Depression, Coolidge's GOP successor, President Herbert Hoover, asserted that any attempt by the federal government to help millions of out-of-work Americans or failing businesses would be not only ineffectual but actively harmful to the moral character of the nation.
They believed that the way to make the American economy move again was to let businesses take the lead — and to force government to fall in line.
The election of Trump demonstrated that many Republican voters were not motivated by traditional conservative values, but by the candidate himself. Trump's brand of conservative is so far from recognizable, that some have given it its own term—Trumpism—which Coaston argues has replaced traditional conservatism. The values of traditional conservatism (free market capitalism, extremely limited government, "family values," etc,) are unpopular with the majority of the electorate.
Many members of the GOP these days think business success shouldn't be determined by the "invisible hand" of the free market, but by the smaller-than-average hand of one Donald J. Trump.
Despite the Republican Party's electoral successes in 2016, it's become clear that fiscal conservatism itself isn't very popular.
Editor for the conservative magazine Commentary, Noah Rothman echoes this mentality. "Progressivism of the kind Trump preaches (aggressive federal intervention)," Rothman argues, "is very much at home in the GOP."
"At a time when more and more voters want the government to take action to help them and their families, [traditional conservatism] is no longer working at the ballot box."
Another pillar within traditional conservatism, social conservatism based primarily on religious identity and the concept of "family values," also appears to have fallen to Trumpism. Trump has made very few strides on the religious conservative front and has even come out in support of more liberal positions in some cases. His support of gay marriage and other LGBT issues set him apart from many of his other Republican opponents during the GOP primary and was readily accepted by the conservative electorate. Jennifer Rubin writes in The Washington Post:
Trump mentioned no issue supposedly of interest to evangelicals — abortion, gay marriage, religious liberty, etc. There is a reason for that. The social conservative battles by and large have been lost (e.g., gay marriage is never going away). "Values" voters are now tribalists, fueled by resentment toward elites and hatred of Muslims rather than by any positive moral or religious view. If Trump has done one thing successfully, it is his unmasking of the charlatans who have held the GOP captive by denouncing deviations from their code of conduct and policy provision.
As Rubin states, the "values voters" are no longer relevant, and the willingness of Republican voters to follow along with Trump sealed the fate of traditional conservatism as a thing of the past.
Trump has indeed taken over the GOP, scrubbed it of principle, responsibility and decency and left its "leaders" nodding like bobbleheads...
But many within the traditional conservative movement deny that Trumpism has replaced them. Avi Woolf argues in the National Review that, while rebuilding the conservative movement "from the wreckage of Trumpmania" won't be easy, but it is certainly possible.
Social conservatives have greatly benefited from their fusion with other factions on the right... But that’s not to say that building a social conservative resurgence from the wreckage of Trumpmania will be easy. It won’t. In addition to the usual opposition from the left, there will be doubters on the right: We’re already hearing many Republicans talk about how this is “the end” for the Religious Right or social conservatism in general, and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether they mean that as a prophecy or a wish.
Woolf believes traditional conservatism can serve as a fundamental force for good and is far from disappearing.
But our movement can do more than prevent evil, of course: It can also do good. Many on the right have done an admirable job in explaining how free markets and technology are excellent tools to serve human ends, providing us with longer, materially better lives than those enjoyed by any other generation in history. Yet these are means rather than ends: They can make it easier for us to achieve our purpose, but they cannot tell us what that purpose is.
And others argue traditional conservatism can never die because it is so much more than any single person or party, it is a way of life. Radio talk show host Mike Levin believes it is the liberal media who are pushing the theory that traditional conservatism is dead in order cause further divides within the Republican Party.
"There seem to be efforts to redefine conservatism and conservative institutions by, among others, conservatives, who— It’s very strange. It just is. It’s very strange, at least, to me... Not by the lib media. The lib media wants it that way. They want conservatism dead, but conservatism can never be dead."
Levin goes as far as to argue leftist ideologies are weaker than traditional conservatism because they require "government to impose a will," while conservatism is a way of life.
“As I said, it’s a way of life. Progressivism, Marxism, nationalism, populism, they’re not ways of life; they’re ideologies that require government to impose a will, somebody else’s will, on you. That’s not conservatism.”