Cockburn last weekend headed over to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s American Economic Forum. The speakers were on fire with ISI's particular brand of pro-working-class zeal, and Cockburn was lit at the VIP reception bar.

Since Johnny Burtka took the helm at ISI, the right-leaning think tank has acquired a more socially conservative, economically protectionist flair, in line with Pat Buchanan, the founder of the magazine where Burtka used to work, the American Conservative.

After dodging the Vice News journalists begging for an interview, Cockburn made his way over to a speech by former Trump administration trade representative...

Cockburn last weekend headed over to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s American Economic Forum. The speakers were on fire with ISI’s particular brand of pro-working-class zeal, and Cockburn was lit at the VIP reception bar.

Since Johnny Burtka took the helm at ISI, the right-leaning think tank has acquired a more socially conservative, economically protectionist flair, in line with Pat Buchanan, the founder of the magazine where Burtka used to work, the American Conservative.

After dodging the Vice News journalists begging for an interview, Cockburn made his way over to a speech by former Trump administration trade representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. Much like the majority of the conference’s speakers, Lighthizer rejoiced in the GOP’s recent turn toward populist protectionism.

Lighthizer was blunt, describing libertarian economics as “a philosophy for stupid people,” and the crowd loved it. As for Cockburn, he loved the red wine waiters kept refilling his glass with throughout the talk.

Lighthizer hammered home the need for domestic manufacturing, saying that this is the “best chance [for poor Americans] to get into the middle class.” He highlighted China’s adversarial position, a point almost unanimously agreed on by speakers over the weekend. And he spoke clearly to the new GOP status quo on trade: “There is nothing conservative about free trade.”

After sleeping off his inebriation, Cockburn returned the following day and to the mellifluous sound of Rick Santorum stomping on neoliberals. Santorum emphasized the hindsight conservatives now have with regard to Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes a Village: “I understood what they really meant. Now you understand… which is ‘You conservatives have the children, and we’ll take them and indoctrinate them into what we believe.’ That’s the village.” Santorum emphasized instead the need for family childrearing.

The former Pennsylvania senator was abundantly clear: “We are the party of people who aspire to marry, of people who want good and stable lives.” The room greatly approved.

The forum’s speakers also emphasized how milquetoast conservatives will have to buck up. A young attendee asked how he should explain the value of marriage and family to those who disagree. Santorum responded, “I know you will offend some of your friends by not using ‘she/her/ze/zim,’ but you need to be virtuous and stand for the truth, and you need to be willing to pay the price for that.”

If the conference made one thing clear, it’s that the GOP is tired of being on the backfoot. Cockburn thinks this is a different Republican Party than existed 10 years ago, ready to move forward on pro-family legislation (with many speakers citing Poland and Hungary as examples), while free trade rapidly loses popularity.