According to one left-of-center blogger and one right-of-center professor, a major takeaway from the 2016 presidential contest is that ideological conservatism is unpopular, even in the Republican party.
In an interview with Zack Beauchamp of Vox, Samuel Goldman, a political-science prof at the George Washington University and a frequent contributor to The American Conservative, stated that the “great message” of Donald Trump’s campaign “is that there really are not that many movement conservatives” in the sense of average Americans “who are vested in a conventional combination of limited government, a relatively hawkish foreign policy, and a sort of religiously inflected public morality.”
As for why conservatism lost market share, so to speak, Goldman remarked that George W. Bush “brought the country into two inconclusive [wars] and at least one unnecessary war,” and that “the economic package that was associated with conservatism stopped delivering the goods…Since conservative politicians and policies have stopped delivering peace and prosperity, I think it’s more or less inevitable that voters have become dissatisfied.”
Moreover, noted Goldman, activists on the right pushed for “a conception of America that finds its home outside the cities, exurbs and rural areas, in what Sarah Palin called the real America…If you project yourself as a white Christian provincial party, you're not going to get very many votes among people who are none of those things. That's what's happened over the last 10 or 15 years.”
Beauchamp followed up by asking, “What led to the adoption of that vision of America?” Goldman answered (bolding added):
I think partly it was the product of a kind of demographic delusion. A lot of conservatives — not so much political professionals who spend their time studying the numbers, but rank-and-file Republicans and voters — really seemed to believe that they are a silent majority. In some ways, this election could be described as the story of a minority that thinks it's a majority.
From the left, The Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman alleged that for most Republicans, policy ideas take a back seat to raw resentment: “The base does not care…what Trump proposes, either way. As long as he’s giving the middle finger to the people who have failed them and all their traditional enemies, Trump can do no wrong…‘Small government’ and ‘local control’ and ‘free enterprise’ and the rest of the GOP’s ideological playbook simply never had much appeal to their base except as signifiers for Trumpian impulses to smash outsiders and oddballs and anyone who discomforts them.”
Longman did concede that “it’s not all about bigotry and race-hatred and fear. It’s also about broken promises and shitty results. The Republicans told folks that they’d end illegal immigration and stop gay marriage and ban abortion and crush terrorism and liberate Iraq and create enormous economic growth. They either failed or failed to even sincerely try to do those things.”