by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Republicans won heavily Republican districts, but they lost competitive districts. Their historical advantage among suburban voters flatlined. They lost ground in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Arizona; they nearly lost ground in Georgia and Florida, too. Down-ballot Republicans even felt the heat in Texas.
All of which suggests that many Republican pundits’ seeming optimism in the election’s aftermath is wishful thinking. …
… [C]onservatism’s fundamental challenge these days is extra-governmental: convincing Americans to re-engage with family and civic associations outside of government, which cannot effectuate such re-engagement itself.
By the same token, conservatives can focus on removing governmental disincentives toward family and community and work. This is where Douthat, Salam, and Cass are most valuable: They all discuss, at length, ways to remove government barriers to institution-building, from regulatory reform to rethinking the educational system. That’s something Republicans can talk about successfully all day long. Conservatives can also focus on removing cultural disincentives toward institution-building. This is where the culture war matters: fighting the Left’s constant focus on breaking down family structure, disdain for stay-at-home mothers, disparagement of religious Americans, and distaste for American cultural solidarity.
But the moment conservatives try to build Trumpism around a policy of government do-gooderism, they run into the problem they seek to alleviate. Americans value family and community because they have values, not because family and community must be made more economically valuable. If we rely on material incentives to prop up our most vital social institutions, those institutions are likely to continue disintegrating — and to take the economic freedom we hope to promote in the end with them.