Reagan’s ‘Three-Legged Stool’ of Conservatism, MAGA Edition - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Reagan’s ‘Three-Legged Stool’ of Conservatism, MAGA Edition
Trump speaks at a campaign rally, September 26, 2020, Middletown, Pennsylvania (lev radin/

Your author yields to no one in the admiration of one Ronald Wilson Reagan, the greatest American leader of the Cold War era, who accomplished, through courage and foresight, what upon his election was considered impossible — total victory over the Soviet Union without firing a single shot in a direct war.

Reagan was a masterful politician, but furthermore he was a visionary statesman and leader. His political adversaries sought to damn him with the faint praise of terming him “The Great Communicator” and “The Teflon President,” appellations meant to minimize the substance of a man against whom they had no real defense.

Ronald Reagan saw very clearly the reality of geopolitical life in the second half of the 20th century. He recognized that Soviet and communist tyranny was a whitened sepulcher, a horrific human disaster covered up only by political power in the nations where it was practiced and cowardice among fellow travelers and other weaklings in the West. Reagan knew that to stand up to that tyranny was to beat it into remission, and that’s exactly what he did — from being the first to rhetorically deposit it into the ash-heap of history to standing in Berlin and demanding that Mr. Gorbachev tear down his wall.

Reagan won, and so did America. Within a year or two of his leaving office in triumph, the United States reached the zenith of its political, cultural, moral, and economic power. It is not inaccurate to say that the United States of America at the end of the 1980s had reached a point in world history that will never be matched in terms of peaceful hegemony across the globe. We were at war with no one, we held economic power never before seen, and American culture so dominated the world that Reagan’s detractors were busily touting Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen as the real reason the Soviets collapsed.

And Reagan galvanized the American electorate with a very simple political formula later called the “three-legged stool,” which formed the basis for American conservatism for four decades.

It was a good formula. It encapsulated the times extremely well. It included staunch anti-communism, social conservatism, and supply-side economics. Reagan was right in all three particulars, though there were holes in the execution of them, as would be expected.

We won the Cold War without question, but that victory didn’t include sweeping communism out of Cuba and North Korea, and the Chinese Communist Party simply lay in wait for its opportunity to renew the fight for tyranny against freedom on a global stage.

Reagan’s cultural renaissance gave America its pride again, and the American family made a comeback after the utter disaster of the 1960s and 1970s. But that victory wasn’t complete — the dissolution of the nuclear family halted only slightly throughout the 1980s before accelerating later.

And while Reagan won the war over taxes, the federal government became unmoored from its budgetary constraints particularly under the administration of his successors. What was called “voodoo economics” at the time now looks like abject austerity, with an unpayable price looming before us.

None of this is intended to blame Reagan for our current troubles. No political victories are permanent, and neither are political doctrines. We do our best to uphold the philosophical virtues behind our Constitution, but we know how difficult it is to keep them relevant as they certainly must be in a free society.

As such, it’s past time to recognize Reagan’s three-legged stool is no longer the formula that can command a majority of the American electorate in service to conservative ideals. That’s an unfortunate reality, since the stool has been a comfortable formulation for so long and deserves, if nothing else, a gold watch and a proper retirement party.

It’s time for a new conservative formulation, one built upon the successes of Donald Trump’s four years in office.

Many of the Never Trump variety within the conservative movement have insisted on keeping it as the foundation of the Right, though the credibility for such arguments has waned. If David French is unwilling to condemn the purveyors of Drag Queen Story Hour as they groom young children for the LGBTQ agenda, for example, exactly how does social conservatism survive?

It’s time for a new conservative formulation, one built upon the successes of Donald Trump’s four years in office. Those successes are due for dramatically increasing appreciation, given the unmitigated catastrophe the Biden administration is becoming. In this week alone, Biden has managed to alienate, and be humiliated by, both the Chinese and Russians, while at the same time subject the country to an unprecedented policy cataclysm along our southern border. And that’s just for starters.

America is going to be looking for something better. That something is going to need to be tangible, and it can’t depend on the personality of one man. Most notably because the next federal election is a midterm, and one man isn’t on the ballot — instead it’s 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats. You can’t count on winning that many personality contests; you need an agenda.

Thankfully, there is one. It simply needs to be articulated. The good news is we can distill the essence of what got Trump elected and worked for MAGA conservatives up and down the 2020 ballot even if Trump didn’t win reelection on November 3 (we’ll table that discussion, while conceding little, for now) into five things.

And here they are. Consider this a platform to replace and update Reagan’s three-legged stool:

1. Resisting China and its rise as the single largest threat to human liberty on the planet

That one is pretty easy, considering that the Chinese Communist Party has become everything we should have been most concerned with where the USSR was concerned. In retrospect, the Soviets and the KGB were clownish and laughable compared to the perfidy and sophistication of a CCP that buys up American media and cultural properties, co-opts political leaders, engages in aggressions in the tech space to make opposition to them impossible, and acts with a ruthlessness Joe Stalin would be offended by in dealing with dissidents like the Uighurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong.

Everybody knows this. The only people who doubt it are being paid by the Chinese to doubt it. Politically it’s a no-brainer. And it must be done if America is to have a future.

2. Protecting American working-class wages and working conditions by controlling and managing immigration

If ever there was a doubt that this needed to be a major part of a conservative agenda going forward, it’s gone now, considering what Biden and his handlers have done to our southern border. Of course, in the aftermath of the destruction the Chinese COVID-19 virus has wrought upon our economy, we’re even less capable of accommodating the kind of mass immigration for political purposes the Democrats are bent upon inflicting on us. So resisting that is a bedrock agenda item for which Americans of virtually every ethnic and demographic stripe would reward the GOP.

3. Keeping our economy open for entrepreneurship and small business growth by restricting, if not breaking up, oligopolistic companies like Walmart, Amazon, and Google

This one is also quite easy, as it brings together both the MAGA conservative crowd and what members of the Bernie Sanders fan club are willing to adjust their approach to dealing with a problem they’re accurate in recognizing.

America’s economy is too much an oligarchy, and particularly in the tech space. As discussed in my last column in The American Spectator, Big Tech is homogenous, radical, largely anti-American, and viciously anti-competitive. The Bernie Bros, who are wrong in virtually every particular as to solutions, nevertheless aren’t wrong in recognizing the problem; many of them have had it in their crosshairs since Occupy Wall Street. They just don’t know how to fix it. But the Right, who can draw upon the historical experience of Teddy Roosevelt and his contemporaries, does.

Make an issue of it, and don’t back down when Big Tech acts as the entrenched special interest it has become.

4. Rolling back the political and legal corruption of the Left, which has created a dual-track legal system for elites and common Americans

Everyone knows this is a problem. Everyone hates that this is a problem. This is a problem that deeply offends everyone who doesn’t benefit from it, which is virtually everyone.

Trump didn’t press on this button remotely as hard as he should have. He knew lots of people who benefited from their elite status when it came to privilege and favorable treatment from the political, judicial, and media/opinion establishments, but while he touched upon the subject he largely left it alone outside of his fights to preserve himself against the abuses of the systemically corrupt in Washington. Trump wasted two and a half years defeating the lie that he was essentially a Russian agent running a Manchurian candidacy because members of the corrupt cabal at the center of our abusive political elite chose to slander him thus.

And now Joe Biden is president despite clear evidence he and his family members have run a long-standing pay-for-play operation the Clintons would be proud of, including selling out American interests to China.

There is no better time for the GOP to stand for one legal and political system, one standard applying to all, and no more cultural and political elites not accountable to the American people.

5. Breaking the power of American elites to corrupt and degrade our cultural institutions with things like wokeism, cancel culture, and Critical Race Theory

When Reagan established the three-legged stool, there were detractors on the right who didn’t like the social-conservatism piece much. They thought the pro-life argument was preachy and tedious, and they didn’t want to talk about God. They believed, and spread, the lie that if the GOP married itself to the Religious Right it would never win elections.

That was a colossal mistake.

Not so much because the Religious Right commanded the allegiance of a majority of the American people, but because when those social moderates abstained from the culture wars and the Christian crowd was routed out of bedrooms, classrooms, and television rooms, the Left never recognized the limits the moderates expected. The culture war devolved from birth control to no-fault divorce to gay marriage to the trans moment, and now we’re on the cusp of normalizing pedophilia. And the definition of racism is now literally whatever the Left thinks will benefit it in the next election cycle.

That’s what you get when you refuse to fight in the culture. Trump gets credit for recognizing this and being willing to fight not on the Christian conservative side so much as that of the traditional American value set. It’s an entirely majority stance, one that a decade ago would have been seen as soft to the point of being left-of-center, but it’s entirely defensible.

The line is Martin Luther King Jr.’s color-blind society. It’s the simple formulation that a man who thinks he’s a woman has the same problem as a man who thinks he’s Napoleon. It’s the understanding that you can be and do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t impinge on the same freedom enjoyed by others. It’s the insistence that your desire to exchange ideas even on controversial topics does not make you untouchable and should not destroy your livelihood or social acceptability. And it’s the recognition that for whatever flaws America is a beautiful, righteous, moral place founded on the best principles, and our imperfections do not invalidate our experience.

The American people understand each of the five principles above. They will make a majority. Each of them was present in Trumpian politics, though they were never presented holistically as the essence of his political doctrine.

And thankfully, they are not dependent on Trump’s presence on the ballot. Any Republican with credibility to espouse them can win with them.

So let’s get to work. America needs us, and so does the world. We’ve got to present the public with something better than what the people behind the razor wire in D.C. have on offer.

Scott McKay
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Scott McKay is a contributing editor at The American Spectator  and publisher of the Hayride, which offers news and commentary on Louisiana and national politics, and, a national political news aggregation and opinion site. Additionally, he's the author of the new book The Revivalist Manifesto: How Patriots Can Win The Next American Era, available at He’s also a writer of fiction — check out his three Tales of Ardenia novels Animus, Perdition and Retribution at Amazon. Scott's other project is The Speakeasy, a free-speech social and news app with benefits - check it out here.
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