Shop around: Federal antitrust enforcement from the New Deal until the Reagan administration helped independent businesses— like the ones on this Montana main street in the 1950s—flourish. Credit:

It isn’t just Establishment Republicans who lost to Donald Trump. It’s the conservative intellectual class — in particular the “Reformicons” who presciently warned that traditional GOP policies weren’t helping working class voters but whose own “new ideas” never really caught on.

Going forward, what role, if any, will intellectuals play in the Republican Party? And are there any ideas they can offer to win the Party back from the Trumpistas?

Washington Monthly Senior Editor Phillip Longman says yes, but only if GOP thinkers rediscover a long-forgotten truth: Monopoly capitalism is a threat to the free market and to everything conservatives hold dear.

In a tour de force essay in the upcoming November/December issue of the Washington Monthly, Longman argues that conservative intellectuals of the past, from Adam Smith and Edmund Burke to the founders of the Chicago School, understood that true laissez-faire required that government have a “positive program” of antitrust and other policies to keep corporate monopolists from seizing markets and destroying their efficiency.

Yet ever since Ronald Reagan, the federal government has abandoned antitrust and other policies that it had previously used to enforce competition. The result is Gilded Age levels of economic concentration that feeds income inequality; dampens innovation, entrepreneurship, and overall economic growth; and robs communities of the locally-owned businesses that form the backbone of a healthy civil society.

Joining the fight against corporate monopoly would require conservatives to challenge many of their wealthiest and most powerful individual and corporate backers, the kind of people and companies that thrive in the current rent-seeking environment. But if Donald Trump has taught them anything, it’s that there’s less of a political price to pay for that than they thought.

Moreover, Longman notes, adopting an antitrust position would give struggling Republicans an agenda that appeals to base GOP voters and that is different from, and better than, the racist Know-Nothingism of Donald Trump. After all, the dozen or two thriving metropolises that are hogging all the growth and gobbling up all the corporate ownership are solid blue and mostly on the coasts. It’s the mostly red state flyover country that’s getting the shaft. The commercials almost write themselves: “It’s time to stop the liberal monopolists in San Francisco and New York from stealing our jobs and robbing our future!”

Read Longman’s essay “How to Make Conservatism Great Again.”

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.