In 2004, Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Toomey the face of the conservative uprising. Toomey was an anti-tax, anti-spending hawk, and one of many conservative upstart who favored a more moderate Republican; in the case of Toomey, longtime Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter.
Then Republican President George W. Bush, Side by side with Specterwho won by less than 2 percentage points in the end. According to Specter changed parties in 2009 when polls showed Toomey beat him in a primary, Toomey won the seat in 2010.
But despite the conservative bona fides that helped Toomey get elected, he experienced backlash of the GOP after becoming one of seven Senate Republicans join the democrats Vote on the condemnation of former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment proceedings.
However, Toomey’s transition from conservative insurgent to pariah among certain factions of his party is not an isolated incident.
Senator Mitt Romney called himself “strongly conservative”During his presidential bid in 2012 and planned to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But when he became a senator years later, he often defied Trump’s agenda, voting twice to convict Trump in his impeachment trials, and faced a drum beat of criticism by Republicans In answer.
To be clear, Toomey, Romney and the now ousted GOP party leader Liz Cheney have them Policy Views that they were labeled Conservatives a decade ago. But in the meantime, Trump and his presidency may have shifted the ideological ground beneath their feet.
At first, Trump seemed an unlikely candidate for redefining conservative politics. In 2016 he did was pilloried how not sufficiently conservative by some quarters of the GOP after this Support tax hikes for the rich and pledges to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Voters do not Think of Trump as so conservative. Senators who were far viewed as conservative, as Sens. Ben Sasse and Jeff Flakesaid they wouldn’t vote for him.
Ultimately, Trump’s nomination and subsequent election sparked a fight within the Republican Party over what the party stood for – a fight the former president appears to have won. Indeed we have found in our research In both 2016 and 2021, Trump’s influence on the party began to redefine what it means to be “conservative”.
If there is a group of people who are likely to care what terms like “conservative” and “liberal” mean, this is it political activists. These are the people who Get involved in politics beyond just voting: You volunteer for political campaigns, donate money, work for politicians and sometimes even run for office yourself. They also help define their parties in the Eyes of the voters and can be good barometers for changing ideological winds, as they often influence and sometimes regulate the attitude of politicians.
To better understand how party activists think about conservatism and to measure Trump’s influence on how they think about it, we partnered with HuffPost and YouGov to interview Republican and Democratic activists three times over the course of the 2016 campaign, and then once with YouGov in 2021 after Trump stepped down, asking them each time how conservative or liberal they were a pair of prominent politicians. For each pair we simply asked: “Which of these two politicians is more liberal / more conservative?” By chance coincidence, some politicians are paired against particularly liberal or conservative counterparts, so it is not enough to simply count the number of times a politician is considered to be ” “more liberal” or “more conservative”. Instead, we’ve adjusted the politicians that a particular politician was compared to, which is comparable to a. is Adjustment “strength of the schedule” in the analysis of sports teams.
Some important findings are immediately apparent. First, if you just look at our 2021 poll data, a politician’s support for Trump has led to whom party activists call conservative. Romney, Toomey, and Sasse, despite being conservatives, have all been classified as fairly liberal Republicans Voting Protocols in Congress, after DW nominationwhich quantifies the ideology of each member of Congress based on votes cast by name in a legislative period. Strictly pro-Trump politicians (or politicians close to Trump) like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sens. Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham, and Trump were all on the more conservative end of the spectrum, even if they were there are some ideological differences between these men. Pence, for example, is characterized by the fact that he is a very conservative track record before Trump, while Cotton, Graham, Hawley and DeSantis’ claims of being so conservative are more closely tied to their association with Trump. What seems more important is not so much the pre-Trump era election record as the relationship with Trump.
And despite his ideological heterodoxies, Trump was classified as more conservative than all but 10 of the 114 politicians we asked about. In other words, ideology is not all about politics.
Of course, that poll was conducted after the November 2020 election, the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, and Trump’s subsequent impeachment, and therefore Trump could be particularly influential.
However, from our 2016 survey data, we can see that even before his presidency, Trump began redefining who party activists considered conservative. For example, based on their voting logs about DW nominationHaving set voting records of 1 (most conservative) to -1 (most liberal), Flake and Sasse were about as conservative as Senator Ted Cruz. But activists thought Flake and Sasse were much more moderate, possibly because of their staunch opposition to Trump. Pro-Trump Senators like Jeff Sessions (the first senator in support of Trump) and Cotton were perceived as far more conservative than their actual vote results suggest. In other words, Trump began reshaping the “conservative” person well before he took office.
Of course, our level of ideology is no more “real” than a level based on roll call votes, but it is perhaps a closer approximation of the country’s view of these politicians’ ideology. On the one hand, voices are real, while conversations are cheap. Senators, on the other hand, can only vote on the issues that are put to the vote, and their voting decisions are often strategic. For example, much of what they vote on is determined by party loyalty, while in public statements or even in campaign ads they can often express more nuances. Because of this, issues such as abortion and a politician’s stance on it can play a big role in the minds of activists, even if these issues are rarely voted on in Congress.
Political scientists like to point this out ideology and party are not the same. Yet our level of ideology among political activists suggests that it is even trickier than we think. We know the Republican Party is changing. Longtime conservatives like Romney and Cheney say the party has given up on the Conservatives Principles and that they hope the GOP will return to them. However, our research suggests another possibility: Conservative principles themselves change. The Civil war in the Republican Partyas far as there is one, is not between conservatism and a new form of populism. Instead, it lies between the old conservatism view and the new one. That points to a very different future for the Republican Party – one in which reactions to Trump affect who is considered conservative more than views on taxes or spending.
This history and additional data is also available on YouGov.