May, 2019

Building a Conservative State

Partisan Polarization and the Redeployment of Administrative Power
  • Nicholas Jacobs

    PhD Student, University of Virginia
  • Desmond King

  • Sidney M. Milkis

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It is commonplace to equate the arrival of a new conservative administration in Washington, DC, with the “rolling back” of the federal activities. We disagree with this conventional perspective, and seek to demonstrate that the equation of conservative Republicanism and retrenchment elides a critical change in the relationship between party politics and State power—a relationship that Donald Trump seems determined to nurture. Drawing on primary research, we argue that partisanship in the United States is no longer a struggle over the size of the State; rather it is a contest to control national administrative power. Since the late 1960s, conservative administrations have sought to redeploy rather than dismantle or roll back state power. Through “redeployment,” conservative presidents have sustained previous levels of State spending or State activity, but in a way reflecting a new administration’s ideology.