Conservatives confront an increasingly populist Republican Party

Donald Trump has reshaped the Republican Party more than some thought possible. In 2015, he was an outsider candidate without a conservative track record. Establishment Republicans reviled his candidacy up until he defied the polling at the time and claimed victory in November 2016.

In 2020, the Republican establishment—with few exceptions—is in lockstep behind Trump. In August, at the Republican National Convention, the party elected not to pass a platform, instead issuing a statement emphasizing its support for the president.

For lifelong conservatives like Dana Hall McCain, it’s been striking to see her party shift more toward populism than conservatism.

This week on the Reckon Interview, we’re discussing the cracks in the Southern establishment.

McCain joins us to share how she maintains her conservative values, even as the party establishment wavers. We also discuss the role faith plays in shaping her beliefs and how the Southern Baptist Convention has shifted in the last few years.

Also, Jaime Harrison sits down with the Reckon Interview to discuss his tight race for the U.S. Senate seat in South Carolina held by Lindsey Graham.

Here are a few excerpts from our conversation with Dana Hall McCain. You can find excerpts from our conversation with Jaime Harrison here, and you can listen to the whole episode here.

And go ahead and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Acast or wherever else you get your podcasts to stay informed about the South this election season.

Dana Hall McCain on the growing populism of the Republican Party

It has been interesting because the party that I’ve known all my life—and been involved with all my life—and certainly the slate of candidates that I have always supported with no reservation, have shifted a lot.

You know, I grew up in a Republican home. We were Republicans because of the core ideals of conservatism. We felt like that matched up with our faith worldview the best. It also just made the most sense in so many other ways with regard to how the U.S. Constitution reads and how economics work in the real world. I’ve always been very comfortable and felt like the party was faithful to its core ideals, but we did see a shift.

It probably happened quietly under the radar for a few years prior to Donald Trump coming down that escalator. But when he entered the scene and decided to run as a Republican, we really became a party that was driven as much by populism as by conservatism. And so that has been somewhat distressing to what is admittedly a minority of us in conservative circles, but a vocal minority, nonetheless. [It’s] one that I’m happy to be a part of because I value consistency and integrity. If I believed that runaway federal spending and rising debt was a problem in a Democratic administration, it’s still a problem today. Populism isn’t necessarily consistent with what I think conservatism should be.

Dana Hall McCain on Donald Trump and the courts

This is the one area where I can, without reservation, give Donald Trump a checkmark. I do like the end product of what has been accomplished in terms of shaping the federal judiciary.

Now we could have a philosophical debate about whether or not so much of our lives should be shaped by the federal judiciary, and by the Supreme Court. I’m one of those small government types who wish the courts were not as important as they are. But they are. And so, it is important, and it has, you know, it has long lasting effects in all sorts of ways from the federal government on down.

In terms of this Supreme Court seat and Amy Coney Barrett, I have been an admirer of hers for a long time. I think she’s an extraordinary jurist. As everyone knows, she started out as a clerk for Justice Scalia. [She] sees herself very much in terms of judicial philosophy in the same vein as he, as an originalist and a textualist. That to me is what a jurist should be on that level. I have no reservations about seeing her confirmed to the court. I think she would, she would be a marvelous addition to it.

Now, this debate about whether or not we should allow a president in the last weeks before an election to confirm a new justice. I guess that’s a debate worth having. But the law and the Senate rules allow it. It’s not illegal. You can make the argument, I guess, that it’s not cool or it doesn’t feel fair on the precipice of an election that might have real consequences and might really change the landscape in a matter of a few weeks. But we are where we are. And the rules are what they are. And it’s legal for them to proceed with the confirmation.

Given all of that and given how Amy Coney Barrett lines up with my own idea of what I would like to see on the court, I’m good with that. I think that’s a good thing.

Dana Hall McCain on conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics

There has been an evolution with regard to the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in the U.S .and the level of trust, or distrust as the case may be, that exists there. You’re absolutely correct in remembering the way many Protestants, especially evangelical Protestants, viewed John F. Kennedy was with no small amount of suspicion. There was this charge that if you put a Catholic in the White House, he’s beholden to the Pope. And suddenly we’re ruled by the Pope or whatever.

I think looking back on it, we realize that that was never really a legitimate concern. I think what we see now, in terms of how people see themselves and their personal faith and how that manifests itself in terms of a vision for what the United States should and could be, evangelicals and conservative Catholics have much more in common than they do in conflict. Their commitment to the sanctity of human life is probably the bedrock of that common ground. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that evangelicals have grown very comfortable with pro-life Catholics who identify with us on those issues, and religious liberty issues and a number of other key touchstone-type issues that are very important to Christians in both of those camps.

It’s a very interesting thing. I did not realize until probably a week ago when I was reading a lot of coverage of her nomination that [if she is confirmed] that really makes the court almost 80% Catholic.

[Biden is] sort of the other end of that Catholic spectrum. I think he considers himself a faithful Catholic but he has adopted policy positions that are clearly out of step with church doctrine. Within Protestant Christianity, you also have mainline Christians who are more politically progressive and more socially liberal. So, on both sides, the Catholic side and the Protestant side, you have a spectrum of belief there in theology and doctrine. The conservative end of the evangelical world and the conservative end of the Catholic world [may] have more in common with one another than they do some of their fellow Protestants or some of their fellow Catholics.

To hear more from Dana Hall McCain about the changing Republican Party, listen to the full episode here.

Reckon Interview Season Three

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