American conservatism has long been an incoherent and hypocritical creed.
There is nothing new about Republicans preaching balanced budgets while practicing fiscal profligacy; or prescribing laissez-faire for the indigent while expanding welfare for conservative constituencies; or equating public investment with communism while fighting to expand the most centrally planned sector of the economy. Ronald Reagan was a “small-government” conservative in the streets, but a Keynesian in the balance sheets.
Nevertheless, the ideological incoherence of the contemporary GOP is unusually severe. The Reaganites could not practice what they preached; post-Trump Republicans can’t settle on a catechism to hypocritically recite.
The party has a set of unwavering transactional commitments (to reactionary billionaires, provincial capitalists, and the Christian right). And some of its factions harbor intelligible agendas. But these contingents are no longer united by any overriding account of how public policy must change. Today’s GOP insists that corporate titans are “job creators” entitled to low taxes, but also “woke” traitors deserving of state persecution. It calls for an end to American nation-building in the Middle East, but also for Joe Biden to push for regime change in Iran. It derides welfare programs as invitations to dependency, but also evinces some interest in expanding refundable tax credits for working-class families. It wants to reassert American economic sovereignty by reshoring supply chains and protecting domestic manufacturing, but also to give multinational firms veto power over U.S. tax policy.