A Reading from the Book of the Prophet Rick

A Reading from the Book of the Prophet Rick

Vivek Ramaswamy – thus far, the highest profile GOP presidential candidate not named Donald Trump – is a full-throated capitalist.  He is an entrepreneur who made multiple hundreds of millions of dollars as the CEO of a biotech startup.  He left that company (Roivant Sciences) to publicize his book, Woke, Inc., and, in time to found another company, the “post-ESG” financial firm, Strive Asset Management.  Over the last few weeks, Ramaswamy has been a fixture on Fox News broadcasts, but long before then, he was a regular on Fox Business and CNBC – because he is and always has been a businessman.

Despite this, if you pay attention to Ramaswamy on the campaign trail, he is NOT talking about budgets and taxes and the Federal Reserve.  He is NOT talking about how to contain inflation while maintaining full employment or about how to utilize time-honored supply-side tactics to promote real, solid, fundamental economic growth.  He’s not talking about any of the things that one might expect a young businessman to talk about in his first foray into politics.

Instead, he’s talking about social issues.  He’s talking about affirmative action and the insult it pays both to the spirit of American meritocracy and to the young minorities who are treated, definitionally, as “less than” by the white establishment.  He is talking about closing the southern border and using the military to secure it – not because he thinks illegal immigration hurts blue-collar employment or drives down wages or any of the other traditional economic cases against open borders, but because he sees the Fentanyl crisis and the power of the Mexican drug cartels as serious threats to the national well-being.  He’s talking about shutting down the Department of Education – again, not because it costs too much or is wasteful, but because it has been captured by radicals who use their power to enable the education system to serve as a means to radicalize the nation’s youth.

Vivek Ramaswamy is out on the campaign trail, talking about social issues—and almost nothing else.   And he’s not the only one.  As we first noted seven years ago, Donald Trump – also a businessman/entertainer in real life appeals to his voters on a strictly social level.  He doesn’t appeal to them on taxes or spending or any of the other traditional conservative economic issues.  He appeals to them on quality-of-life issues, like, for example, whether they can drink the water in their town after the Department of Energy OKed a “controlled” burn of toxic chemicals from a train derailment.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a presumed but not yet declared candidate, spent his morning signing a law kicking Bob Iger and Disney (America’s wokest entertainment company) in the teeth and releasing a pre-announcement video (that looks very much like an announcement video), discussing Florida’s “success” and its “freedom,” contrasting them to the federal government’s failure and despotism, all overlayed against images of COVID, school and business shutdowns, open borders and unchecked immigration.  Near the end of the video, DeSantis touts his accomplishments.  “Florida,” he says is “#1 in education freedom, #1 in economic freedom, and #1 in higher education.”  Note that education freedom comes before economic freedom.  And ask yourself when was the last time you heard a conservative presidential hopeful tout his state’s higher education accomplishments?  (Spoiler: You NEVER heard that before.)

None of this should surprise anyone.  Indeed, this is precisely what we should all have been expecting – not because the Religious Right is resurgent or because Republicans are interminably prude and authoritarian, but because it has become largely inarguable over the last quarter-century or more that there is simply no way even to begin to solve the nation’s economic issues until we address the social issues that are their precursors.  We put it this way exactly 11 years ago tomorrow, just after Congressman Ron Paul’s upstart presidential campaign had fizzled out, just after Senator Rick Santorum had won the Iowa caucuses, but just as Mitt Romney appeared to be consolidating support for his nomination:

[T]he fact of the matter is that the nation is bifurcating into two distinct classes, separated by a vast chasm on matters of values, culture, responsibility, and governance. Examples abound….

As we have argued over the last several weeks, and as the eminent Charles Murray has noted in his latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, this national bifurcation has common roots with the culture wars. The battles over sex, sexual liberty, contraception, abortion, the role and definition of family, and all sorts of other cultural issues over which liberals and conservatives have been fighting for some 40 years or more, turn out also to be critical variables in any serious and comprehensive model of the social breakdown and concomitant economic dislocation that has taken place over those four decades as well.

All of which is to say that you cannot have a serious debate in this country about matters such as income inequality or the rise of a “new elite” or the “death” of the middle class without tackling as well the issues of the sexual revolution, sexual license, increased out-of-wedlock birth, the disintegration of the traditional family, and the cumulative impact of single-parenting on children’s prospects for overcoming poverty and achieving economic success.

Enter Rick Santorum.

We would argue that Rick Santorum’s current position in the 2012 Republican presidential nominating contest is not merely a case of him being the last Non-Romney. We would argue that it’s not really about his purported populist skill either. Most especially, we would argue that all of the commentators and critics who have declared that Santorum remains involved in this contest in spite of rather than because of his positions on cultural issues, and specifically issues related to sex, family, and birth control, have it precisely backward.  Rick Santorum, culture warrior, is in this race because he is, in fact, Rick Santorum, culture warrior….

[W]hen it comes to the sources of many of the nation’s socio-economic struggles, there can be little question that Rick Santorum understands far better than most politicians what has and has not hurt poor and working-class men and especially women and children. The collapse of marriage and the family as the core social bonds, the increase in single-motherhood and related increases in childhood poverty, and the upsurge in fatherless children all play a role in the social dislocation that characterizes the bifurcated nation. All are related to some degree or another to the political and cultural changes unleashed upon the nation by the leftist cultural warriors of the 1960s. And only Rick Santorum among presidential candidates is ready, willing, and able to discuss these matters.

What this means, we think, is that Rick Santorum is a harbinger. He is not the retrograde holdover the left and the mainstream press want us to believe he is.  Instead, he is likely the herald of a new era in social conservative political activism. Libertarianism is all good and well, we think, but there are other issues on the minds of the masses than just the size and scope of government.

Last week, Ramaswamy tweeted that “The most fundamental divide of our time is not black vs white, gay vs straight, or even Democrat vs Republican. It is the Great Reset vs the Great Uprising. Aristocracy vs sovereignty. Self-governance vs monarchy.”

A fair number of Conservatives responded, insisting that this argument is both nonsensical and non-conservative.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  This is Vivek’s phrasing of the same argument that was made 11 years ago by Charles Murray (Belmont vs. Fishtown), that was made two years before that by the late, great Angelo Codevilla (the Ruling Class vs. the Country Class), and that we have been harping on ever since we stole borrowed it from the two of them.  THIS is the face of right-leaning social activism now.  This is how social issues are defined in the era of conservative populist revivalism.  This is a fair and accurate description of how a great many (perhaps even a majority) of voters see the issues – and for good reason.

If the conservatives who criticized Ramaswamy for this tweet are unhappy that a Republican presidential candidate would talk this way, then they’d better get used to being unhappy.  Trump will use (and has used) the same framework, only more bombastically.  DeSantis will use (and has used) the same framework, only more subtly.  We think we will probably see a variation on the theme from Senator Tim Scott as well, assuming he gets into the race.  We’re not sure what we’ll hear from Ambassador Nikki Haley, but then, we’re also not sure it’ll matter.

Rick Santorum was, indeed, a herald of a new GOP.  Get used to it.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
[email protected]

Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.