Thanks to Trump, Conservatism is Not What it Used to Be: Faculty Research Feature

Verlan Lewis, Assistant Professor of Political Science

Verlan Lewis is an assistant professor of Political Science at UCCS. Here we feature his research which was recently published: “The Problem of Donald Trump and the Static Spectrum Fallacy” (Party Politics, 2019)

Dr. Lewis grew up in Oregon and did graduate training in political science at Cambridge University, the University of Virginia, and Stanford University before coming to Colorado. He researches, teaches, and writes about American political thought, institutions, and development. He recently published a book, Ideas of Power, about the politics of American party ideology development. At UCCS, he teaches courses on American political thought, the American presidency, and political parties.

Research Summary:

Over the past four years, Donald Trump has upset the status quo of American politics and helped transform conservatism and the Republican Party. With his bombastic rhetoric, vulgar speech, and penchant for insults, Trump not only talks differently than previous Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George Bush—he has also staked out different issue positions than previous Republican politicians. Whether it is government spending, entitlement reform, deficits, trade policy, immigration policy, or foreign policy, Trump has taken very different positions on these issues than most conservatives and Republicans took during the Obama presidency. Since he has become president, many individuals who identify as conservative and Republican have followed Trump by adopting his new tone and issue positions.

In my recent article published in Party Politics I use survey data to document how those who have self-identified as Republican since 2016 have dramatically different views than those who self-identified as Republican before 2016. For example, with regard to economic policy, between 2015 and 2017, support for free trade fell among self-identified Republicans by nearly 50%. With regard to foreign policy, in 2016, for the first time in over sixty years, a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats indicated their belief that “this country would be better off if we just stayed home and did not concern ourselves with problems in other parts of the world.” Shockingly, nearly four times as many Republicans had a favorable view of Vladimir Putin in 2016 as they did in 2014. Following a similar theme, the percentage of “Republicans who say Russia is an ally or friendly toward the U.S.” doubled between 2014 and 2018.

The conventional way that political scientists, and political observers more generally, try to describe changes in party ideology is to claim that a party has moved to the “left” or “right” (become more “liberal” or “conservative”) over a certain time period. However, in this case (as in all cases of party ideology development), it does not make sense to describe Trump as moving the Republican Party to the “left” or the “right.” Rather than trying to describe the GOP as becoming more or less “conservative” by turning against entitlement reform, increasing government spending, embracing deficit spending, turning against free trade, turning against hawkish foreign policy, and becoming more pro-Russia, we should instead admit that Trump and his Republican Party are currently redefining the very meaning of “conservatism” and the “Right” in America. This is a more accurate, useful, and coherent way to describe the recent changes we have observed in the Republican Party.

Written by Verlan Lewis, [email protected]

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