A few days ago I was struck by the response of Laura Ingram on Fox news to the question of whether Ted Cruz’s strong comments in opposition to allowing transgendered men to use women’s restrooms would help him in his battle against Donald Trump. Presumably, since Trump equivocated on this “social issue,” while Cruz took the “conservative position,” the Right would now move toward the Texas senator and away from Trump. Ingram responded that she didn’t think that present or future Trump supporters really care about who says what about transgendered restrooms. They just don’t believe anything they hear anymore from the GOP establishment or from anyone this establishment backs. Republican spokesmen already “lied to them so many times, especially on social issues,” that the party regulars are now suffering from a perhaps insuperable credibility gap. For a short time (that is, as long as they thought they could obtain votes by taking this stand) Republicans pretended to be against gay marriage. But as soon as the Supreme Court took over the issue and nationalized gay marriage in a shocking instance of judicial overreach, the party breathed a collective sigh of relief. They could now go back to what they did best, feathering their own nest and collecting funds from favored interests.
If Ingram is right that fewer and fewer members of the Republican base believe GOP leadership, then this is certainly true for the misnamed conservative movement. This establishment is neither (in any meaningful sense) conservative nor a movement, as opposed to a crowd of media hacks and DC operatives. Unlike others, I was not surprised to learn that Charles Koch, who with his brother David has provided “conservative” enterprises with tens of millions of dollars, is not a member of what the official Left continues to call (however counterfactually) “a great right-wing conspiracy.” Koch is a leftist on social issues and has now given up even pretending to embrace a free market economy. If one is looking for an explanation for why the official Right continues to march leftward, then one might begin by looking at its major funding sources. The Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, who together help fund the GOP media, Heritage, Cato Institute, and the now leftward drifting Federalist Society to stand firmly on the social Left. Although no one is claiming that such funding from philanthropists with leftist views is the only reason why “conservative” organizations and personalities have tended leftward, who gives and gets money is far from irrelevant.
The GOP establishment and its big donors have emphatically rejected the Donald as a presidential candidate, and their lackeys have been driven into weird contortions in trying to explain why Trump is morally and socially unacceptable to “conservatives.” From reading such kept organs of the party bosses as townhall and National Review and such faithful mirrors of neocon orthodoxy as Weekly Standard, I’ve figured out that not being “conservative” means being unacceptable to their non-movement movement and GOP party bosses. A long tirade “Against Trump” published in National Review (January 21) proclaims that the Republican frontrunner “is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” Since I’ve already spent decades demonstrating that Lowry and his patrons and underlings represent nothing that is even remotely “conservative,” unless one accepts their periodic redefinitions of the term in question, perhaps I am presuming on the reader’s patience by restating my past objections here.
Yet I must say something on this score. For years NR has been in the vanguard of a fake conservatism based on American propositional nationhood, wars to spread democratic values, and the compulsory worship of Martin Luther King and (now) Harriet Tubman. The magazine’s comment on a “broad conservative ideological consensus” is particularly laughable, in view of its editors’ favorite activity for decades. This has been to throw thinkers and writers “off the bus,” for daring to dissent from the publication’s repeated, fitful lunges to the Left. Also distressing (and perhaps emetic) is NR’s complaints against Trump for not being sufficiently on the Right, given Lowry’s and his magazine’s enthusiastic endorsements of Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, and the Bush family, all of whom were touted in varying degrees as conservatives. Apparently this term is so flexible that any GOP centrist presidential candidate, even one strenuously leaning toward the Left, can be turned into a “conservative” as soon as the party leadership bestows its blessings.
Why am I supposed to believe that ultimate wuss, Mitt Romney, who slavishly followed Obama on all social issues in their debates, was and is a true “conservative”—unlike the GOP outsider Donald Trump? If we’re supposed to rage against Trump because he’s for “big government,” why didn’t paid “conservative” spokesmen go into a tizzy over earlier Republican presidential candidates and Republican presidents who were delighted to coexist with our expanding public administration? Even such a putative conservative hero as Ronald Reagan didn’t get rid a single department of the federal government during his presidency; he actually increased their number.
Might not the real objection to Trump be his tendency to go his own way; and, unlike W, he’s not likely to surround himself with neocon advisers? On foreign policy, Trump has already begun to blaze his own path, which diverges from the interventionist one that has become characteristic of our media-accepted conservatism? If we are to believe his policy statements, Trump would try to get along with the Russian head of state, instead of seeking confrontations with this supposed reincarnation of Hitler. Trump has also raised questions about the continued value of NATO, which may have outlived whatever defensive purposes it had during the Cold War. And Trump has just spoken out against another pillar of the neoconservative foreign policy, which is nation building.
How then can Rich Lowry’s and Jonah Goldberg’s friends support a figure for president, who fails to present himself as a leftist world missionary? In fact, Trump gives the impression of having no interest in bringing the blessings of what now passes for “liberal democracy” to the far corners of the globe. That may be why my friend Walter Block is high enough on the Trumpian threat to neoconservative ambitions that he has organized Libertarians for Trump. Although Trump is no more likely than the past preferred candidates of National Review to shrink the size and reach of public administration, at the very least, according to Walter, “We know that he won’t start World War Three.” That may be the real reason that Bill Kristol, Rich Lowry, and their friends can’t stand the Donald.