The long read: The traditional right is clinging on to power but its ideas are dead in the water

Conservatism is the dominant politics of the modern world. Even when rightwing parties are not in power, conservative ideas and policies set the shape of society and the economy. Ever since the transformative 1980s governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with their new fusion of disruptive capitalism and social traditionalism the assumption in Britain, the US and far beyond has been that conservatism is the default setting of democratic politics.

Even when other parties have been in office, leaders such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have continued with the conservative project of privatising the state and deregulating business. For decades, armies of rightwing activists with rich financial backers and many allies in the media have successfully spread and entrenched conservative ideas.

Many of conservatisms opponents have come to expect that, somehow, it will always prevail. Despite the spectacular failure of Theresa Mays premiership and the unpopularity of her divided party, the contest to succeed her is likely to dominate British politics this summer, as if the identity of the Tory leader is its weightiest matter. The Republican Donald Trump, despite the most consistently bad approval ratings of any modern US president, is widely thought to have a good chance of re-election. In todays otherwise unstable, fast-changing political world, conservatism has an air of permanence.

Yet this aura has led to an overconfidence about conservatisms underlying health. In Britain and the US, once the movements most fertile sources of ideas, voters, leaders and governments, a deep crisis of conservatism has been building since the end of the Reagan and Thatcher governments.It is a crisis of competence, of intellectual energy and coherence, of electoral effectiveness, and perhaps most serious of all of social relevance.

This crisis has often been obscured. The collapse of Soviet communism in the 80s, the apparent triumph of capitalism during the 90s, the western lefts own splits, dilemmas and failures, and the ongoing surge of rightwing populism have all helped maintain conservatisms surface confidence. Meanwhile, the rightwing medias fierce, enduring faith in the ever-more distant politics of Thatcher and Reagan has helped delay the moment of recognition that those politics have grown obsolete. The right is still winning elections, from India to the European parliament, but transatlantic conservatism as we have known it since the 80s pro-capitalist, anti-government, controlled by the traditional parties of the right may be dying.

The signs of this crisis have been around for years, for those who cared to see them. In Britain, the Conservatives last won a solid general election majority 32 years ago, in Thatchers final landslide victory. The Republicans have won the popular vote only once in the last seven presidential elections: in 2004, in the afterglow of George W Bushs deceptive early successes in the Afghan and Iraq wars.

The numbers are haunting, says Charles Kesler, a leading conservative political scientist who teaches at Claremont McKenna College in California. The Republican party has been telling itself for decades that it is on the verge of becoming a majority party. It has long been a central claim of conservatism that it represents what Richard Nixon called the silent majority. Yet over recent decades, says Kesler, all those hopes have been disappointed.

Since the 90s, Britain and the US have steadily become more urban, multiracial, more connected to other countries, and, in some ways at least, fairer to women. Meanwhile, support for the Tories and the Republicans has grown ever more concentrated in towns and rural areas, and among white men. While Reagan and Thatcher looked forward as well as back, promising both to build a new world and to restore an old one as in Reagans famous 1984 campaign slogan Its morning again in America conservatism has since become increasingly imprisoned by nostalgia.

The Tory party has doubled down on [exploiting] older peoples feelings about the modern world, says Andrew Cooper, Conservative peer and co-founder of the polling and social research firm Populus. The party has got itself on the wrong side of a huge values divide. Across Britain, he says, people under 45 have an increasingly open, meaning liberal, worldview. This liberalism will not fade as they enter old age, he predicts a shift on which conservatism has long relied because it is largely pragmatic: a response to a more diverse and interdependent world.

In 2012, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham summed up conservatisms problem with modern demographics and social attitudes more bluntly, saying: Were not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.

In the UK, Conservative party membership has been dwindling for decades. At its peak, in the early 50s, it was 2.8 million. Last year, it was 124,000 and the party received twice as much money from dead members, through wills, as from the living. Katy Balls, political correspondent of the usually pro-Tory Spectator magazine, described the Tories last year as a zombie party.

Intellectually, the movement certainly seems barely alive. A sense of entropy hangs over the rightwing thinktanks that used to show conservative governments how to change society. These institutions have grown old together: the American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1938, the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1955, the Heritage Foundation in 1973, the Centre for Policy Studies in 1974, the Adam Smith Institute in 1977. Despite all the setbacks for their free-market project the financial crisis, the diminishing returns of capitalism for most people, the collapse of such once-lauded examples of outsourcing and deregulation as Enron and Carillion, the failures of privatised services ranging from trains to probation the thinktanks answer to every problem has remained essentially unchanged: lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government.

George Osborne and David Cameron on the night the latter became prime minister in 2010. Photograph: Andrew Parsons

The Tories, both in government and more generally, seem to have stopped talking and thinking about economics, wrote Stian Westlake, until January an adviser to a succession of Tory ministers, in a widely shared article last month. Britains rightwing intellectual life, he wrote, had become performative rather than practical: play-acting and position-taking rather than fighting the real battles. Cooper describes the current conservative intellectual landscape as a desert. For years, rightwing politicians and strategists have been wandering it and finding only mirages. These promise a new conservatism, one that will make the movement modern again, or restore its broad appeal, or reunite its radical and traditional factions, which have been acrimoniously growing apart ever since Reagan and Thatcher left office.

But these visions of renewal have melted away. The compassionate conservatism briefly promoted by Bush, the Big Society optimistically sketched by David Cameron, the anarchic deconstruction of the state advocated by Trumps bombastic adviser Steve Bannon, the anti-metropolitan conservatism proposed by Mays equally confident and ill-fated adviser Nick Timothy: all have been tried and quickly abandoned.

Theres an effort to find a winning formula, says Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind, probably the most acclaimed recent book on conservatism. Theyre cycling through all these ideas, faster and faster. Theyre running out of options.

As a political practice and philosophy, conservatism is famously durable and flexible: hard to define precisely. For centuries, many conservatives have insisted that their politics is about preserving things and avoiding ideology. But in practice the most effective conservative politicians have often done the opposite.

Robin, who is on the left, argues that behind the facade of pragmatism there has remained an unchanging conservative objective: the maintenance of private regimes of power usually social and economic hierarchies against threats from more egalitarian forces. Once democracy arrived, conservatives were faced with a harder task, he argues. They needed to make privilege popular or at least popular enough for them to hold office.

Under Reagan and Thatcher, conservatisms solution to this conundrum was to promote a Darwinian but supposedly inclusive capitalism that was meant to keep the economy evolving while also preserving the social structures that conservatives favour, such as the traditional family. Yet since the 80s the economic benefits of this model have steadily become thinner and more narrowly distributed; meanwhile, its social costs have increasingly been felt by conservative-inclined interest groups, such as shopkeepers and people living in small towns.

In this unsettled, disillusioned political environment, conservatives have depended more and more on extraordinary means to win power: the narrow and partisan supreme court ruling that awarded Bush victory in 2000, the last-minute coalition with the Liberal Democrats that made Cameron prime minister in 2010, the Russian assistance that helped Trump narrowly outflank Hillary Clintons lumbering campaign in 2016.

At the same time, conservative administrationshave tried to tilt the electoral process against left-leaning social groups such as the young, the transient and recent immigrants. Registering to vote and voting itself have been made more difficult, with more documents required, despite little evidence of electoral fraud.

Conservative parties retain their legendary will to win, but winning seems a greater and greater strain, and is being achieved by less and less inspiring means. What does it say about us as Conservatives, asks Cooper, if our only hope for the next generation of voters is that they dont vote?

Belatedly, some on the right have begun to ponder such unsettling questions. Last month the former Tory leader William Hague warned in the Telegraph that his party had failed to notice that the world outside our ranks [is] changing. He concluded bleakly: I inherited a party in ruins. The next leader may find even less.

Donald Trump at a rally in February 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Three years ago, the Claremont Review of Books, a conservative journal edited by Charles Kesler, published a despairing denunciation of the whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc the well-funded American world of rightwing thinktanks, media outlets and political conferences. Its sole recent and ongoing success is its own self-preservation, wrote the articles anonymous author, later revealed as a relatively unknown rightwinger, Michael Anton.

The last chance for conservatism to save itself, Anton wrote, was to play Russian roulette by supporting the worse than imperfect Trump in the 2016 election. Shortly afterwards, Anton was appointed as a spokesman for Trumps national security council.

The rise of rightwing populists such as Trump and Nigel Farage has convinced many people that populism is conservatisms latest potent incarnation. But its electoral success may be a sign of conservative decay rather than renewal. Farage and his allies are fragmenting the rightwing vote and are even more dependent than the traditional conservative parties on white male rage against a changing world.

The British philosopher John Gray, a close and sometimes sympathetic observer of the global right since the 70s, sees the new rightwing populism and the established conservative parties attempts to emulate it as signs of an age-old conservative sense of entitlement turning to panic. Conservatives still think their ideas about how the world should be are natural, he says, but they can feel the electorate slipping away from them. The result is a politics of wild, disconnected gestures attempts to grab back the electorates affection.

When Boris Johnson said Fuck business last year, in response to corporate opposition to Brexit, we saw the most likely next leader of a party that has been intimate with business for centuries behaving with a recklessness that felt hugely significant and counterproductive. It was a sign that the alliance between capitalism and conservatism may be coming apart.

Conservatives always used to pride themselves on their competence, says Gray. It could take 20 years for the idea that theyre the grownups to come back.

During the 80s, Thatcher and Reagan seemed to have created a conservatism that would last. By 1988, at the end of Reagans second term, records David Farber in his 2010 book The Rise and Fall of American Conservatism, for the first time since such polling data existed, more Americans identified themselves as conservatives than liberals. In Britain, after Thatcher won her third consecutive election in 1987, the political theorist Stuart Hall warned his mostly leftwing readership that she had overseen the creation of a consumer society so complete that a tiny bit of all of us is … inside the Thatcherite project. Just before the [anti-Thatcher] demonstration, Hall wrote, we go to Sainsburys.

For all their triumphalist rhetoric, Thatcher and Reagan appreciated that their transformative project sometimes needed to be pursued with caution and slyness. Both had risen during the 60s and 70s, when liberal and leftwing interest groups were strong, and had learned not to take on too many enemies at once. As prime minister, Thatcher caricatured trade unions as bullies but took away their powers only gradually, making sure she kept enough of the public on her side. As president, Reagan attacked welfare spending as profligate and immoral, but did little to cut popular programmes.

But during the final, all-conquering years of their governments, transatlantic conservatism began to lose this tactical astuteness. Conservative movements need enemies as Corey Robin points out, they are literally reactionary, finding energy when they have a threat, usually from the left, to react against. But by the end of the 80s, the enemies that had drawn many British and American rightwingers into politics since the second world war, from Soviet communism to strong trade unions, had been defeated, seemingly for good. Without them, many conservatives entered a period of introspection, wrote George H Nash, then the leading historian of the American right, in 1996. They wondered what purpose conservatism should now have.

Irving Kristol, the influential American conservative intellectual and activist, once told Robin that after the end of the cold war, [We] got kind of flabby. Conservatism went from what Robin calls the classroom the contested but educational environment of the postwar years into the playground of the prosperous, relatively carefree 90s.

Some Republicans acted as if this playground ought to be theirs alone. After Clinton was elected in 1992, and re-elected in 1996, instead of reflecting on his victories and realising they were early signs that modern conservatism could be vulnerable that its ideas could easily be stolen and repackaged by centrist politicians they treated his presidency as an affront, to be resisted by almost any means. They constructed what the journalist Kurt Andersen calls a fantasy-industrial complex of talk radio stations and websites that manufactured and distributed news of unsubstantiated Clinton conspiracies.

Meanwhile, the rightwing media magnate Rupert Murdoch ordered the creation of Americas first national television channel essentially devoted to anti-Democrat, pro-Republican propaganda: Fox News began broadcasting in 1996. Together, these developments marked the beginning of the modern conservative media bubble. Inside it, as the historian of the American right Rick Perlstein put it in 2005: Conservatism never fails. It is only failed. Conservatism had become a faith; any failures by the right were blamed on a lack of belief.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher walk Reagans dog Lucky on the White House lawn. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

The movement also grew more rigid and inward-looking in Britain. Thatcher was ejected from Downing Street in 1990, largely for insisting on unpopular policies such as the poll tax. Yet for their next four leaders John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard the Conservatives stubbornly chose keepers of the Thatcherite flame, as if her ideas simply hadnt been applied for long enough. All the current leading candidates for the Tory leadership are also essentially Thatcherites.

During the late 90s, when Hague was leader, Andrew Cooper was his director of strategy. He wrote Hague a memo suggesting he reposition the party to adjust to the fact that public attitudes were now shifting leftwards, in reaction to the inequalities and strained public services left by Thatcherism. Hague initially welcomed the document. But within literally two weeks, Cooper remembers, it was clear he wasnt following it. I began nagging him. He began getting irritated. So I resigned.

Cooper was left with a suspicion about his party that has never dissipated: A lot of Conservatives still think our policies should be a literal repeat of what Margaret Thatcher did in the 80s. Yet these true believers fail to see that she and many of her lieutenants ultimately found themselves bewildered, in some ways, by the new country they had helped create.

A few days after Thatchers death in 2013, I interviewed her former employment secretary Norman Tebbit. A social conservative, like Thatcher herself, he told me he now worried her government had loosened the country morally, not just economically. I sometimes wonder, he said, whether our economic reforms led to an individualism in other values, in ways we didnt anticipate.

Yet during the 90s, instead of pondering Thatcherisms unintended consequences, many British conservatives, like their American counterparts, had switched their attention to a scapegoat. The European Union, like Clinton, was pro-business, hardly a fundamental threat to free-market conservatism, and the European single market had been partly Thatchers creation. But like the Clinton presidency, the EU was a rival power centre, and also provocative to conservatives in other ways: it saw politics as about compromise rather than conviction, and was relatively liberal in its social and cultural values. As a new enemy for conservatives, it proved irresistible.

Euroscepticism gave British conservatism a dark new energy. There was a malicious glee in the distorted accounts of EU activities produced by the Telegraphs early-90s Brussels correspondent, Boris Johnson. But there was also a cost.

With some justification, conservatives had long prided themselves on their attention to facts, to how people actually lived, or wanted to live rather than trying to build utopias, as they accused the left of doing. Even the most dogmatic Thatcherites had been keenly aware of social trends such as the rise of individualism, and how they might be politically exploited. But, starting in the 90s, on both sides of the Atlantic, much of the movement ceased to be empirical, Gray says. And without an interest in facts, it is hard to govern well for long.

Radical politics in a democracy sometimes requires an excess of belief and a readiness to exaggerate: minds need to be changed, a sense of crisis created. But under George W Bush, the Reagan-Thatcher balancing act between propaganda and practical policies gave way to wishful thinking, as if the Republicans had started believing their own rhetoric.

Many of Bushs key subordinates were neoconservatives, members of a self-confident rightwing faction, some of them former leftists and Democrats, who had become disillusioned during the cold war with what they saw as the Washington establishments lack of decisiveness and moral clarity. Neocons believed the US was uniquely powerful and should use that power aggressively to spread its values; and also that sweeping assertions could be used as political weapons to exploit the medias appetite for drama and overcome the inertia of the government bureaucracy. As Bushs strategist Karl Rove reportedly told the journalist Ron Suskind in 2004: We [the Bush administration] create our own reality.

When no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, Bush and his advisers claimed vindication regardless. Bush made a speech from the deck of an aircraft carrier under a banner reading Mission Accomplished. The following year, in 2004, he was re-elected, defeating the establishment Democrat and decorated war veteran John Kerry.

George W Bush aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Photograph: Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images

The neocons had promised that the occupation of Iraq would be a cakewalk, but during Bushs second term an anti-American insurgency and civil war began there, and lasted for more than a decade. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans. Bush publicly praised his appointee Michael Brown, the underqualified official in charge of alleviating the chaos Brownie, youre doing a heck of a job days before Brown was forced to resign. American conservatism, as Robin puts it, had acquired an air of decadence.

In Britain, the movements growing carelessness and overconfidence showed itself in smaller ways at first. During the run-up to the 2010 general election, the Conservatives first real chance to win for 13 years, staff working for David Cameron would sometimes leave sensitive strategy documents lying around in front of journalists. After an unfocused Tory election campaign, Cameron was forced to form a coalition, but often ruled as if he had won decisively anyway just as Bush had done after being squeezed into power by the US supreme court.

The Cameron government shrank the state more than any since the 1930s. Many economists warned that imposing austerity on an economy already weakened by the financial crisis would lead to a recession. But Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, ignored them, and instead followed a rightwing press orthodoxy that state spending hindered rather than helped economic growth unchanged since the 70s, despite evidence to the contrary from successful economies ranging from South Korea to Germany. When a recession duly began in Britain in 2011, even former Thatcherite risk-takers such as the former head of her Downing Street policy unit, John Hoskyns looked at Camerons slapdash radicalism and shook their heads.

Critics of the Cameron government often attributed its lack of rigour to his and Osbornes privileged backgrounds, to a supposed upper-class insouciance. But there was also a less-noticed and less parochially English explanation. Two other key cabinet ministers, from less grand backgrounds the education secretary Michael Gove and the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith had long been close to American conservatives, and shared their growing impatience with the detail and incrementalism of orthodox government.

A senior civil servant who worked for Gove told me he had once told the education secretary exasperatedly: You cant get from A to B just by announcing, Im at B! Meanwhile, Duncan Smith was repeatedly criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for making unfounded claims about the success of his ambitious reforms to the benefits system. I have a belief I am right, he told BBC Radio 4s Today programme in 2013. We have not published evidence, he admitted. But precisely because of this absence, he suggested, his claims could not be dismissed: You cannot disprove what I said. Conservative government now seemed to be as much about sophistry as changing society.

It worked electorally for a time Cameron was re-elected in 2015, with a majority in part because the Conservative disregard for facts was shared by much of the rightwing press, and by the wider public and media these newspapers influenced. The week before Duncan Smiths Today interview, the polling firm Ipsos Mori published Perceptions Are Not Reality, the results of a survey that asked the public to make statistical estimates about social trends and contentious areas of state spending. In almost every case, from the nature and distribution of state benefits to the number of immigrants in Britain, voters were hugely mistaken, in ways that matched the governments rhetoric and also coverage of these issues in the rightwing press. People estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates [suggest], a typical section of the survey found.

The logical conclusion of this politics of minimal facts and maximum conviction was the Brexit referendum. Cameron called it, andexpected, with characteristic overconfidence, to win itfor remain, as if the decades of Eurosceptic journalism had never happened. Gove and Duncan Smith were both prominent in the leave campaign, which bent statistics out of all recognition. And when Trump also won after a campaign even more based on magical thinking, it seemed that conservatism or at least a populist mutation of it still had prospects.

One way for conservatism to hang on to power is to play clever electoral games. For a long time, the Tory party has been very successful at squeezing out marginal gains, says Cooper. Theyve been smarter than other parties about the process that draws constituency boundaries. And theyve fought wedge elections ie, finding and pushing issues that divide other parties potential supporters, such as the possibility of a coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists, which put some English voters off voting Labour in 2015.

In elections and in government, conservatives have also shrewdly often shamelessly appealed to their core supporters. The Tories austerity measures have not been applied to pensioners, who are more likely than other age groups to vote and much more likely to choose the Conservatives.

In the US, as the political analyst Thomas Frank noted a decade before Trumps win, the Republicans have often chosen to wage battles where [complete] victory is impossible, such as over immigration, so that their followers feelings will be dramatised and their alienation aggravated. The purpose of Trumps proposed border wall is less to keep immigrants out there are countless other entry points than to keep his base feeling besieged.

With that core vote mobilised, with its electoral impact maximised thanks to a US voting system that disproportionately represents small towns and the countryside, with the Democratic vote minimised thanks to gerrymandering and voter suppression, and with the conservative media grinding away, the American right will continue to eke out election wins. A similar dynamic may keep the Tories winning general elections in Britain. Their 2017 campaign may have been hopeless in most ways, but in one it was highly efficient: despite getting only 2% more of the vote than Labour, they ended up with 20% more MPs.

For many conservatives, such outcomes are reasons not to worry too much about the future. Cooper says: They think, If we carry on winning, why do we need to come up with new policies? Corey Robin argues that until the left in Britain and the US becomes much stronger, wins power and actually takes on conservative interests, conservatism will not change. Until their class position is truly threatened, he says, what incentive is there to think things anew?

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit in 2016. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Some conservatives also cite the long history of doomy forecasts about their movement. Kesler points out that one of the best-known books to argue that US social trends are undermining the movement, The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B Judis and Ruy Teixeira, was published almost 20 years ago. Yet the US Democrats election results have remained patchy since. They have to keep postponing the date for when their great breakthrough will come, Kesler says.

In 1994, Gray published The Undoing of Conservatism, a thick, gloomy pamphlet for the centre-right thinktank the Social Market Foundation. He argued persuasively that modern, free-market conservatism was a self-undermining political project, since its global and corporate priorities were alienating the small communities and nationalistic voters on whom conservatism had always relied. The pamphlet contained other prescient material about how conservatism would fragment into illiberal movements, evangelism for free markets and attempts to restore a traditional social order.

Yet Grays most dramatic contention, that Tory Britain is gone for good, reads less well now, with the Conservatives having been in power for almost half the years since. In Britain and the US, the big political story of the last quarter century, in many ways, has been how, with so little in the way of ideas, talent, administrative competence and electoral support, conservatives have been able to change society so much. In office, they often have a willingness which liberals and the left often lack to use to the maximum whatever power they have,as supporters of American abortion rights are currently discovering to their cost.

Yet this era of conservative bluffing and bodging is coming to an end. The climate emergency, the collapse of confidence in capitalism, the rise of inequality to explosive levels, the revival of the radical left: many conservatives may deny these are happening, but soon their movement is going to have to address them. The real question for conservatives, says Charles Kesler, is what their politics should be about now that Reaganite optimism is no longer possible.

Kesler thinks the dark, sometimes apocalyptic conservatism promoted by Bannon and other rightwing populists is too negative, and lacks practical proposals. He sees more potential in other elements of the Trump presidency, such as its protectionist economic policies and stated concern for the countrys infrastructure and working class. Kesler argues that these signal a return to the more nationalistic, socially inclusive Republicanism of the early 20th century.

But even if these concerns are real rather than just rhetorical so far, the main beneficiaries of Trumpism have been corporations and the wealthy the Republicanism of the early 20th century is a very old-fashioned remedy for the crises of todays world. And Kesler accepts that Trumps presidency is so personal and idiosyncratic that, even if he is re-elected, his brand of conservatism doesnt offer a lasting solution to the movements dilemmas. Theres no second Trump, Kesler says.

Gray still believes a new conservatism is possible but sees no sign, so far, of anyone coming up with the right formula. What has not emerged anywhere, he says, is a conservatism that protects the things that the market threatens, without being illiberal or a conservatism that travels light, without being burdened by economic theory or a conservatism adapted to how most people are actually living.

Modern conservatism, in many ways, began in California, where Reagan was governor from 1967 to 1975. For decades, the state was a laboratory for low taxes, government cutbacks and rightwing activism. Nowadays, thanks to immigration, the growth of Californias cities and the spread of urban liberalism, Republicans are virtually an endangered species in statewide offices, as Kesler puts it. Pessimistic conservatives see Californias political trajectory as a terrible warning to the right as a whole.

But in the states south, one of conservatisms former electoral strongholds, a self-styled rightwing resistance movement has sprung up. Breitbart News, the far-right website formerly run by Bannon, is based in Los Angeles. So is the Daily Wire, a younger conservative website edited by Ben Shapiro, a melodramatic, not always astute former Breitbart editor who, during an acrimonious interview earlier this month, accused the rightwing BBC presenter Andrew Neil of being on the left.

At the Daily Wire, All we do all day is talk about ideas, Shapiro told the news website Vox last year, because were living in an area where no policy prescription that you [propose] will ever be implemented. The left is used to that feeling. In decades to come, conservatives beyond California may have to get used to it as well.

Follow the Long Read on Twitter at @gdnlongread, and sign up to the long read weekly email here.