cover image The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism

The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism

Matthew Continetti. Basic, $32 (496p) ISBN 978-1-5416-0050-8

Continetti (The Persecution of Sarah Palin), the founding editor of the Washington Free Beacon, traces the evolution of American conservativism from Warren Harding to Donald Trump in this informative if one-sided history. Identifying the driving force of conservatism as the “endless competition between populism and elitism,” Continetti contends that Trump’s politics draws on the “Americanism” of 1920s Republicans including Harding, who appealed to “our onward, normal way,” rejected internationalism, cut taxes, and championed traditional morality. Trump’s innovation was to add to these traditional conservative viewpoints the dark populist vision of Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan, according to Continetti. In doing so, he argues, Trump collapsed the creative tension between elitism and populism and tore down the safeguards that have historically excluded conspiracy mongers and other fringe elements. Emphasizing that populism has always been an essential element of American conservatism, Continetti recasts Ronald Reagan’s free market policies and aggressive foreign policy as the high-water mark of “Cold War conservatism” and delves into libertarianism, neoconservatism, and other strands of the movement. Though Continetti overstates Trump’s successes and dubiously claims that 1960s leftists “celebrated” the violence of the decade as “just, necessary, and beneficial,” this is a worthy analysis of how free market policies and nativist populism make for a potent political mix. (Apr.)