The 2016 election, one might credibly argue, showed just how weak the conservative movement is. A non-conservative outsider candidate came in, flouting every supposed requirement for proving one’s conservative bona fides. He stole the Republican mantle despite preaching trade protectionism, uttering mostly nonsense on social issues, promising a massive stimulus package, and showing little familiarity (or perhaps just excessive flexibility) with what were supposed to be his own economic proposals.

But conservatives could well get the last laugh in the Trump years. For one thing, he is about to get as conservative a Cabinet as anyone has ever appointed. One person he can thank is retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his nuclear option. But another issue is that he has nowhere else to draw from. Trumpism, if it is even a movement and not just a man, has no developed infrastructure, no think tanks, and no model legislation to work with. Trump’s appointees will all come from among established conservative experts, as will his judicial appointees, as will most of the ideas that eventually make it into legislation.

And then there’s one other important thing, the subject of a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal on the State Policy Network. The five-dozen-plus conservative think thanks in the states will play a very large role in crafting both national and state policy in the Trump era.

If Trump’s promised infrastructure bill passes, state think tanks like the Granite Institute, the Goldwater Institue, and the Mackinac Institute will be helping state legislators and governors find the best use for the money. If Medicaid waivers or block grants are suddenly on the table, they have plans for using the flexibility in the most advantageous way that have been tested and refined through use in various states.

These local think tanks, for which the Journal notes there is really no left-wing counterpart, also have ideas for softening negative effects of Obamacare repeal at the state level. And in the states that Republicans now control anew, they will be in a position to help conservative lawmakers craft initiatives that can improve their states’ business climates (right to work, tax reform), educational performance (charter schools), and long-term state fiscal viability (pension reform).

So yes, conservatives lost their grip on the GOP presidential nomination. One could even say they were proven a paper tiger during this year’s Republican primaries. But thanks to the infrastructure they’ve developed over the last 35 years, they’ve never had more influence for making and influencing both state and federal policy than they do now.

Wisconsin's red realignment

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The state’s vote for Trump shouldn’t be a surprise; it’s been trending GOP for years.

12/19/16 11:01 PM

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