And a self-limiting tendency, while understandable, points to a plausible future in which national conservatism allows itself to be effectively reabsorbed into the G.O.P. mainstream without having achieved its revolution.
As Park MacDougald observed recently for UnHerd, just in the several years they’ve held conferences, there’s already been a taming of the “natcons.” The first conference was “chaotic, controversial, and heterodox in good and bad ways.” But with prominence has come a smoother version, with few fringe provocations but also less heterodox policy substance and more “conventional Republican fare.”
Much of the movement seems ready to rally around Ron DeSantis, which is understandable and, relative to the alternative of Trump redux, prudent. But is DeSantis actually a “natcon,” or just a Republican capable of channeling a populist mood and taking advantage of liberal cultural overreach? And if he’s (probably) the latter, then how much does national conservatism ask of him — and what does the natcon persuasion become if, let’s say, he gets elected president by a narrow margin, some fiscal space opens up, and he uses most of it for the usual G.O.P. round of upper-income tax cuts?
One answer is that a few natcons will peel away into an honorable political irrelevance, while the rest will be content to be “cheap dates,” to quote a former G.O.P. staffer who criticized the natcons to MacDougald.
But that epithet isn’t quite fair: The natcons, like the reformocons and compassionate conservatives before them, have strong noneconomic reasons to remain in the G.O.P. coalition, and as long as the Republican Party is pro-life or ranged against cultural progressivism, they are getting something significant out of the relationship.
What they want, though, is to lead the coalition — to set the right’s priorities across the board and seek a Reaganesque or Rooseveltian majority, rather than just having some boxes checked on their behalf while the G.O.P. tries grind its way to a tenuous majority. And to get that, they’ll need to find the lever that the predecessors never quite discovered, and somehow move the party to a place where the factions that just want tax cuts are coming, hat in hand, to them.