If Donald Trump’s presidential campaign didn’t expose the disorder in American conservatism, the early days of his presidency have confirmed that the American conservative movement has been turned on its head. It began with the “Never Trumpers” — coming from different parts of the conservative coalition — who rejected the then-candidate’s call for restrictions on free trade and a diminished American role in foreign affairs. Some of those voices have gone quiet with Trump’s ascension to the presidency, but others have grown louder as campaign promises have been turned into executive orders.
To be clear, this fracturing of the conservative movement is mirrored by what is happening within American progressivism, which is being fed by populist forces of their own and equal energy. But that it is happening on the right under a newly elected Republican president is what makes this moment so unprecedented, though the signs of the tectonic plates shifting under the conservative movement have been evident for some time.
This will strike some as strange since to them one conservative is the same as another, but since the end of World War II, the American conservative movement has been a coalition of several different worldviews — from the neoconservatives who focused on stopping the communist menace to social conservatives who fought to save a certain moral order to libertarians who sought to “strangle” the growing government leviathan.