American Compass’s Oren Cass talks with the Times of London about the vein of pro-worker conservatism that is emerging out of Trumpism.
“Thin on detail though Trumpism may be, Mr Cass has launched a new think tank, American Compass, in the belief that it has opened the door to a radical reimagining of Republican orthodoxy.
He believes conservatives need to dramatically change their approach to benefit the lives of working-class Americans, who he defines simply as those without a degree. Before Mr Trump, he said, “there was a current within conservatism that wanted to bring these things to the fore, but the establishment view was that that was not what the American right of centre was interested in or should be about. I think Trump showed that a lot of the existing assumptions about the politics of it needed to be rethought.
‘The very fact of his success underscored that how things were going for Americans, economically in particular, was not as good as the standard free market narrative said.’
Mr Cass believes that Republicans need to be more sceptical of globalisation and free trade, to embrace trade unions, both to empower workers in local communities and workplaces and as a way of taking government out of the picture, and to find new ways of getting people into stable jobs without requiring them to go to university first. It is a policy prescription not dissimilar from the kind of post-liberal conservatism Theresa May and Nick Timothy, her former chief of staff, were developing before their 2017 election failure.
Mr Cass sees this as the agenda for improving the lives of the new voters Mr Trump brought into the Republican coalition. However, he is frustrated by a White House and Congressional leadership which he believes have retreated into comfortable conservatism.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, he said, it became clear that the administration ‘while in theory radical and disruptive, has in fact been captured by the Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore [both economic advisers] crowd, so all you hear from them are these bizarrely tone deaf and nonsensical tax cuts.’ In the Senate, Mitch McConnell’s proposals had ‘nothing there,’ he said. ‘All their playbook has is tax cuts and deregulation’.
Mr Cass identified three Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida — ready to challenge old Republican orthodoxy.
They are all on the up: Mr Cotton and Mr Hawley are both regularly talked of as 2024 presidential contenders, while Mr Rubio, who ran in 2016 against Mr Trump, may well try again.
They have all broken, in different ways, with the conventional pro-growth, free trading conservatism of Reagan and his successors: Mr Cotton believes China should be cut out of much of America’s supply chains, Mr Hawley wants the government to leave the World Trade Organisation and oversee capital inflows, and Mr Rubio has begun talking of a ‘common good capitalism’ which moves beyond prioritising economic growth above all else.
Whenever the president leaves office, Mr Cass foresees a fight between post-Trumpism — those who will say ‘we already needed to go in a different direction, that should now be more obvious than ever, let’s get going’ — and pre-Trumpism: those who will say ‘great that that’s over, let’s get back to what we were doing’.”