There has been heated division within the Republican Party between neoconservatives and libertarians and will have significant impacts in 2020 and beyond.
First, it is important to know what neoconservatism and libertarianism are at a basic level.
Here’s how the Oxford dictionary defines the two:
Neoconservatism: “relating to or denoting a return to a modified form of a traditional viewpoint, in particular, a political ideology characterized by an emphasis on free-market capitalism and an interventionist foreign policy”
Libertarianism: “an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens”
The easiest way to contrast the two is that neoconservatives believe that morality, usually rooted in Judeo-Christian principles, should be enforced and promoted by the government, and libertarians believe that it is typically not the government’s job to regulate economic and societal issues. These two groups will generally agree on things, but there are major differences in how they want policies executed. Unfortunately, the differences outweigh the similarities and are creating tension within the Republican Party.
In the early 2000s, neoconservative ideas flourished under the Bush administration with people like John Bolton serving as the United Nations Ambassador. 9/11 created the opportunity for big government actions such as the Patriot Act, the TSA, and the NSA. Citizens were deeply worried about the safety of their country, so they were naturally inclined to support immediate solutions from the government, without considering how these actions may have potentially invaded their rights. The War on Terror was also a creation of neoconservative Bush-era policies, leaving troops in the Middle East to this day.
With the Obama Administration ushering America into the 2010s, liberalism influenced the general populous, making plenty of Republicans skew farther left socially. Then the Trump Phenomenon began, with right-wing ideologies seemingly thrown out the window, as a populist President took power. While many on the left think that Trump is a right-wing extremist, many of his policies are moderate. Socially speaking, Trump is the first President to support same-sex marriage at the time of taking office and has generally preferred non-interventionism (whether or not he’s actually achieved non-interventionism, that’s a different story). For many young conservatives seeing President Trump as the example for conservatism, they’ll tend to lean libertarian, at least on social issues.
Neoconservatism and libertarianism are only two factions of the Republican Party, but each has played a dynamic role in American politics for decades. A major test with the sparring groups will be the current tensions between the United States and Iran. Although the situation with the United States killing of the top military commander of Iran is still fluid, it will undoubtedly cause a greater rift between the generally anti-war libertarians and pro-war neoconservatives. The aforementioned neoconservative John Bolton, who briefly served as President Trump’s National Security Advisor, tweeted this about Iran this week:
Congratulations to all involved in eliminating Qassem Soleimani. Long in the making, this was a decisive blow against Iran’s malign Quds Force activities worldwide. Hope this is the first step to regime change in Tehran.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 3, 2020
The United States and Iran will likely engage in a proxy war, much like the wars going on for decades in the Middle East, but the situation is unpredictable as of now. But whatever happens, this will have great implications for the re-election of Donald Trump, and the Republican Party.
Whether it is foreign policy or social issues, neoconservatives and libertarians will always be at odds as to how to tackle problems. After President Trump leaves office, people will be asking themselves: What will the Republican Party look like? It is near impossible to have a definite answer, except it can be guaranteed that there will be an ideological battle that will shape the next generation of Americans.
Photo Source: Bush White House Archives