TIM CARNEY: At Christmas 2015, causes for conservative joy:

President Obama is trying to force nuns to pay for birth control and the new Republican speaker just approved a trillion-dollar spending bill laden with earmarks and an inexplicable boost in the number of low-skilled foreign guest workers.

Donald Trump — campaigning on the ethanol mandate, more eminent domain, a Supreme Court appointment for his radical pro-abortion sister and standard misogyny — is leading the national polls.

It’s easy for a conservative to despair at all this. But Christmas is a season of hope, and if one looks back at 2015, it’s not hard to find glimmers of cheer for conservatives.

For 157 days of 2015, the Export-Import Bank of the United States — a corporate-welfare agency created by Franklin Roosevelt and wielded by Obama as a tool of environmental and industrial policy — was in liquidation. Ex-Im was forbidden in those months from approving new subsidies to the foreign customers of U.S. goods.

The economic gains from pausing Ex-Im’s distortions were small, because Ex-Im is small. And ultimately, free enterprise lost this year’s battle to big business — Congress revived Ex-Im in December. But the progress was unmistakable.

In the Bush era, only a couple of dozen House Republicans would typically vote against Ex-Im, and the Senate would reauthorize the agency by voice vote. In 2015, Senate Republicans opposed Ex-Im 31-24, and nearly half of the House Republicans voted against it as well. Both chambers’ committee chairmen, the new House speaker and both chambers’ majority leaders opposed Ex-Im. Eventually, every serious Republican presidential candidate came to oppose Ex-Im, too. . . .

More broadly, the rising tide against Ex-Im exemplified a nascent Republican move away from corporate welfare. Marco Rubio led the fight to block an insurer bailout through Obamacare. Ted Cruz is leading in Iowa polls while unambiguously pledging to kill the ethanol mandate. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and most of the rest of the field also feel compelled to inveigh against corporate welfare, even if they don’t oppose it in every specific instance. There’s a long way for the party to go, but they’re at least marching in the right direction, because they’re no longer always marching to K Street’s tune. . . .

A final note: If you’re a conservative who’s feeling oppressed — by the Republican establishment, by Obama’s power grabs or by the prevailing liberal media bias — I encourage you to take a step back and look at the state of the Republican Party.

Almost any analysis of the early primaries or the national polls will note that “establishment support” is split between Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

Think about that. Six and a half years ago, Marco Rubio was considered the insurgent enemy of the Republican establishment. The National Republican Senatorial Committee was funding his moderate primary opponent Charlie Crist. Former Majority Leader Bob Dole, the GOP standard-bearer in 1996, actually donated to Crist after Crist quit the party.

Now Rubio is the highest-polling “establishment” candidate. Has he become more establishment? Only slightly. Mostly, the establishment has been forced to cede more governance of the party to the Tea Party base.

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