America might be “uncancelled,” but the Republican Party of old can’t say the same

Michaela Bax-Leaney

The 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference. Photo via the New York Times/Erin Schaff.

Liz Cheney and the nine other house representatives who voted in favour of impeaching Trump highlighted a stark divide in the Republican party, but it is a divide that has been forming for years. It is a complicated, multi-faceted divide, resulting from fractures on dozens of issues, but the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, entitled “America Uncancelled” highlighted those differences in perhaps the clearest terms yet. If not gone then quickly fading are the libertarian roots of the GOP – the Liz Cheney brand of Republicanism, as it were – advocacy for less spending and smaller government.

Instead, in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency, the GOP is leaning into its new identity, cemented in anti-immigrant, nativist grievances focussed on wielding a culture war rather than one rooted in policy. But what is perhaps most interesting is the wholehearted embrace of the European model of far-right populism, including forging ties with other foreign populists. While this might seem like a contradiction from a party that has made a point of reinventing itself to convey “America First” messaging, this international populist allegiance makes more sense than one might imagine.

In fact, David Motadel, a historian at the London School of Economics, made the case in 2019 that the far-right is far more internationally minded than their rhetoric would initially lead us to believe. Motadel wrote of the alliance between members of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party from France, Matteo Salvini’s Italian Northern League, to members of Nigel Farage’s Reform Party (known at the time as the Brexit Party). This alliance was formed of members of Europe’s leading far-right nationalist groups, and yet it spanned international borders.

And it would appear that this brand of internationally minded nationalism has found its way into the GOP, where it has been warmly received. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, was a featured guest at last year’s CPAC and gave a video message to attendees this year, alongside far-right Spanish and Croatian politicians. A former right-wing South Korean politician told the crowd that he had also lost his election due to voter fraud from the left.

The Trump brand of conservatism saw close ties forged with Jair Bolsonaro, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Polish president Andrzej Duda, all of whom have embraced far-right populism in their own countries. 

But nationalists have always found one another, and there are clear examples of the forging of these bonds throughout history, particularly throughout the interwar and post-war years in Europe. In 1934, Benito Mussolini’s Comitati d’Azione per l’Universalità di Roma convened the 1934 Conference of Fascist Parties in Montreux, Switzerland. The goal was to form strong transnational bonds in order to resist socialism and liberal democracy. At the Nuremberg Party Rally in 1931, the Nazis hosted fascist youth from Spain, Italy, Romania, Japan, Siam, Bolivia, and Iraq.

There was the World Nationalist Congress in the 1970s, formed by neo-fascist Americans, and which hosted peers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and others, lobbying for the release of Nazi war criminals, and proclaiming support for “all White Nationalists throughout the world,” writes Motadel. The policy of the British National Party in the 1960s was that it was “as much concerned with the fate of our people in Melbourne as those in Manchester, or those in Stockholm and those in Sheffield” declaring that this international cooperation was integral to the formation of a united nationalist world movement.

Historian Florian Bieber argues that as long as the worldview of the far-right is dominated by real and perceived external threats, those within will always seek to form ties with their fellow resisters – in this case, those resisting the “threat” of the liberal brand of internationalism, and its corrupting influence on the white, so called Judeo-Christian identity of which many within the Western far-right see themselves as not only members, but defenders. 

And while these alliances certainly seem paradoxical, there is a near inevitability to their formation. They will certain not be without their own internal friction, but it is clear that far-right lawmakers and their supporters in the U.S. see the future of conservatism in expanding the role of government to combat the threat of liberal ideology, and to do so they are embracing the ties that bind – even if those ties span the very borders they so virulently seek to defend.

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