In 1973 two leaders of American conservatism met. Paul Weyrich had just founded the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Businessman Richard Viguerie wrote the book New Right: We’re Ready to Lead. They were horrified by the social changes of the 1960s and even President Nixon was too left-wing for them. They wanted a movement that would reflect General Douglas MacArthur’s motto: “There is no alternative to victory.” The New Right was the designation for what they envisioned. “The New Right doesn’t want to maintain, we want change,” Weyrich explained to Viguerie. “We are the forces of change.”

    Fifty years later, the political heirs of Weyrich and Viguerie are putting MacArthur’s motto into practice in the House of Representatives. A handful of ultra-conservative lawmakers this week would rather paralyze American politics than accept compromise as an alternative to victory. For days they humiliated Republican leader Kevin McCarthy in front of the cameras. Fifteen rounds of voting were needed for McCarthy’s election as Speaker of the House, as they blocked fourteen. In the night from Friday to Saturday, McCarthy only managed to gather sufficient support.

    Read also: McCarthy was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives after fifteen rounds of voting

    The dissidents kept proposing new rival candidates, even ex-President Trump, with which they wanted to show: everyone rather than McCarthy. They cited several reasons for voting against him, but the bottom line is that they see him as an establishment figure on the worn-out furniture of the House. And they don’t want to keep, they want change. If necessary, change through the tactics of the scorched earth. Political columnist Dana Milbank mentioned his book last year The Destructionists to them, the destroyers.

    Republican failure

    “Wrestling for one Speaker of the House is the latest chapter in a long-running story of Republican failure in the House of Representatives,” Matthew Continetti emails. The journalist works at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute and published in 2022 The Right, about the struggles of conservatives in the US. “Without a strong leader—usually a president—with a concrete agenda, Republican majorities usually succumb to internal strife.”

    The New Right has been a ferocious offshoot of the Republican Party for decades: smaller, but noisier than the mainstream. It has taken on different guises over time – the Moral Majority in the 1970s, the Tea Party around 2010, Trumpism since 2016 – but at its core is always distrust of the central government alongside Christian fundamentalism and an associated idea about its role. of white Americans that sometimes transitions seamlessly into racism. Anti-Semites keep popping up in their ranks.

    Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza wrote in The End of Racism (1996): “If America as a nation owes black citizens collective reparations for slavery, what do blacks owe America for its abolition?”

    Ultraconservatives never regained power in the party after the ignominiously lost presidential campaign of the movement’s founding father, Barry Goldwater, in 1964. Speaking at the Republican convention that year, he said: “I want to remind you that extremism in defense of the freedom is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue.”

    With that in mind, the ultra-conservatives, small as they were, steadily pulled the party to the right. Their disproportionate influence comes from the ability to stir up a hard core of voters. For example, they often beat moderate party members in primary elections, only to lose to moderate Democrats in general elections. That is exactly what happened in election year 2022.

    They don’t have a concrete political agenda, as Continetti said. Their points of contention lie mainly in the cultural field. Before the November election, Senator Rick Scott wrote at the request of the party office a program of twelve points. Point one: “Our children will take the oath of allegiance, salute the flag, learn that America is a great country, and choose the school that best suits them.”

    Scott is running in the Senate campaign against moderate Republican leader Mitch McConnell because otherwise the party would be no more than a ‘speed bump on the way to woke socialism”. In their zeal to fight the heirs of the leftist revolution of the 1960s, the conservatives are especially fighting their fellow party members for the privilege of leading that culture war.

    God’s judgment

    Two years ago, a mob stormed at the instigation of then-President Trump (“fight like hell”) and his lawyers (“We must fight a judgment by God”) the Capitol to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president. They carried crosses and signs saying ‘Jesus is King’. Their political motivations were unsorted, populist rather than conservative. Their anger drove them forward more than conservative dogmas about tax cuts or small government. Their main banner was not the American one stars and stripes but a flag with on it ‘Fuck your feelings‘, aimed at the hypersensitive elite.

    The twenty dissidents in the Republican faction who supported the speakerssabotaged the election are the political kindred spirits of that mob. As politicians they have little meaning, but they feel they are the mouthpiece of the hard core of voters – the base they call it, as if it were one living being. They are convinced that the pale and unprincipled Kevin McCarthy – he was not quick to back down after initially blaming Trump for the attack on the Capitol – is not the right person to lead them in that culture war .

    Also read McCarthy’s profile that NRC made prior to the votes: Top Republican fluctuates between support for Trumpists and moderates

    Even though most of them have given up their opposition to McCarthy, the dissidents have strengthened their power base in the party. To persuade them to vote for him, McCarthy had to promise them positions on important committees. In this way he has armed his own opponents, who can then reduce national politics before his very eyes to a bastion from which to do what Robert Bork, an arch-conservative judge, dictated in 1996: “We must want nothing less than the lost battles of the years fight sixty again.”

    Correction (January 7, 2023): An earlier version of this article stated that Robert Bork was a Supreme Court Justice, but he was not. He was an ordinary judge. That has been corrected above.