Conservatives Should Embrace Principled Populism

Conservatives Should Embrace Principled Populism, by Mike Lee.

While congressional Republicans tend to identify as conservatives, President-elect Donald Trump is a populist. Many observers, including some Republicans, see this as an un-squareable circle.

I disagree. For all the challenges a President Trump may present conservatives during his term, his populism need not be one of them. Far from contradictory, conservatism and populism complement each other in ways that can change history — as did the most successful populist in recent decades, Ronald Reagan.


The chief political weakness of conservatism is its difficulty identifying problems that are appropriate for political correction. Conservatism’s view of human nature and history teaches us that problems are inevitable in this world and that attempts to use government to solve them often only make things worse.

This insight actually makes us good at finding solutions. At our best, conservatives craft policy reforms that empower bottom-up, trial-and-error problem-solving and the institutions that facilitate it, such as markets and civil society. At our worst, though, we can seem indifferent to suffering and injustice because we overlook problems that require our action or resign ourselves to their insolvability.


Populists, on the other hand, have an uncanny knack for identifying social problems. It’s when pressed for solutions that populists tend to reveal their characteristic weakness. Unable to draw on a coherent philosophy, populists can tend toward inconsistent or unserious proposals.

A partnership:

The rough terms of a successful partnership seem obvious. Populism identifies the problems; conservatism develops the solutions; and President Trump oversees the process with a veto pen that keeps everyone honest.

hat-tip Stephen Neil