For more than 30 years, the Republican Party was defined by Ronald Reagan’s famous three-legged stool: a coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and national security hawks.
It’s not Mr. Reagan’s party anymore.
Today, a majority of Republicans oppose many of the positions that defined the party as recently as a decade ago, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released last week.
Only around one-third of Republican voters takes the traditionally conservative side on each of same-sex marriage, entitlements and America’s role in the world — three issues that defined George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and correspond with each leg of Mr. Reagan’s stool.
Instead, the survey suggests that the Republican Party and conservative movement have been redefined by the rise of Donald J. Trump’s conservative populism. On trade, immigration, entitlements and foreign affairs, a majority of Republicans side with Mr. Trump on the very issues that badly split Republicans a decade ago.
Mr. Trump’s first primary campaign amounted to a hostile takeover of the old Republican Party. He said he opposed the Iraq War and favored an America First foreign policy. He ran against the fiscal conservatives, epitomized by Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, who would cut entitlement spending to reduce the debt. And while he did not run against social conservatives, no one could confuse Mr. Trump for a member of the religious right. Instead, immigration, crime and political correctness figured more prominently in his campaign than opposition to abortion or same-sex marriage.
Perhaps surprisingly, the poll found little evidence that Republican voters who still sit upon Mr. Reagan’s stool make up an outsized share of the G.O.P. opposition to Mr. Trump. The voters who take the Bush-Reagan side of same-sex marriage, entitlements and foreign affairs offer nearly as much support to Mr. Trump as the rest of the party does — a finding that holds even if one substitutes an alternative set of questions about abortion, preference for tax cuts over tariffs, and aid to Ukraine to define the Reagan wing. Either way, Mr. Trump has more than 50 percent of the primary vote among the Reaganites — and more than 50 percent of the anti-Reaganite vote.
Mr. Trump’s support among the vestigial, traditionally conservative wing of the party is a reminder that his takeover of the party didn’t necessarily amount to a total repudiation of the conservative agenda. After all, Mr. Trump still cut income taxes, attempted to repeal Obamacare and appointed Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade.
Mr. Trump’s alliance with social conservatives, in particular, seems to play a crucial part in sustaining his support among traditional conservatives overall. Republican voters who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion offer Mr. Trump even greater support than voters with more moderate views on these issues. This seems to cancel out the more modest reservations traditional conservatives have about Mr. Trump’s views on foreign affairs and entitlements.
Yet at the same time, Republicans remain divided by the new issues that defined Mr. Trump’s candidacy in 2016, including trade and immigration along with an isolationist foreign policy and defense of entitlements. In these cases, voters are siding with Mr. Trump’s populist conservatism over the positions taken by Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush. Free trade and support for immigration reform may not have amounted to a leg of a Bush-Reagan stool, but the opposing view on these issues might amount to a leg in any golden stool Mr. Trump might one day seek to build.
Republicans who take Mr. Trump’s view on trade, immigration, entitlements and foreign affairs back him by an overwhelming margin in the primary. The Republicans who disagree with Mr. Trump’s view on these issues oppose the former president by just as much. But those who agree with Mr. Trump’s positions greatly outnumber those who do not.
Of course, it’s possible — even likely — that loyalty to Mr. Trump plays a crucial role in shaping Republican attitudes on these issues, rather than attitudes on the issues driving loyalty to Mr. Trump.
Either way, there’s not much room for an issue-based, ideological challenge to Mr. Trump in today’s Republican Party. While large numbers of Republicans may disagree with him on an issue here or there, a frontal assault on the tenets of Trumpism is unlikely to go anywhere. Zombie-Reaganism certainly will not.
Next week, we’ll take a deeper look at the various groups that make up the Republican Party.