During the final year of the Bush Administration, I began to attend a series of panels and conferences on what would come next––what’s next, a moderator would ask, for the Republican Party or the conservative movement or the American right? Another round of panels began after John McCain and Sarah Palin were defeated. “Whither Conservatism?” National Review asked at its post-election conference.
Looking back on perhaps a dozen panels as an audience member and half-a-dozen more as a participant, I recall deep disagreements about the less predictable half of U.S. politics. But I can’t recall anyone predicting what we’ve now seen: Donald Trump decisively defeating a field filled with movement conservatives; elected Republicans renouncing their party’s presumptive nominee; even a push among some to ignore primary results at the Republican convention.
So Tuesday, when I attended “Deep Dive: The Future of the Right” at The Aspen Ideas Festival, co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, I decided to deeply discount all predictions about the future, a posture that caused me to perk up when Kristen Soltis Andersen, a close observer of public opinion research, offered a bit of backward-looking analysis. This year’s Republican primaries showed “the notion that in order to win a primary you have to be the most conservative person possible got blown up a little bit,” she said with understatement.