Over the two-day conference, 20 speakers, including then-Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, hammered home the argument that the same faith used to justify abortion bans and curtail LGBTQ rights also demanded a different approach to the economy, one that might plausibly be called socialist. Laissez-faire capitalism, speakers said, wasn’t the organic force conservatives have long claimed but the product of state intervention; ever-expanding markets hadn’t brought universal freedom but wage-slavery and despair; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal — demonized on the right for generations — was in fact a “triumph for Catholic social thought”; social welfare programs were good.
All that might be striking enough. But the conference also served as something of a rebuttal to another gathering of right-wing intellectuals that had taken place a few weeks before: the third major National Conservatism conference, held this September in Miami. The two conferences — one in a hollowed-out former steel town, the other in a $400-per-night golf resort — represented two sides of what some partisans recently called a “fraught postliberal crack-up.” Broadly speaking, these are ideological kin: members of the Trump-era intellectual “new right” who see themselves as rebels fighting an elite “Conservative, Inc.” But it’s a family in the midst of a feud, and the public split signified by the two meetings comes after months of less visible infighting over questions only hinted at in headline Republican politics.
The midterms gave conservatives of all stripes something to claim, or to denounce. Activists who spent the last two years sniffing for “critical race theory” and “gender ideology” in public schools cheered DeSantis’ re-election as proof that maximalist culture war is the key to Republican success. Anti-Trump conservatives pointed to culture warriors’ widespread losses elsewhere as proof the GOP needs to come “home to liberal democracy.” In a New York Times op-ed, Ahmari chastised conservatives who’d spent the run-up to the election mocking an overworked Starbucks barista as one likely reason that “the red wave didn’t materialize.” Vance’s victory in Ohio was simultaneously touted as proof that right-wing populism remains viable and that “the culture war still wins.”