Barring a major shake-up of some sort in the coming months, the sides on the Right seem to be rigidly set. Certainly the Trump zealots will not be moved, as they have both proclaimed and demonstrated, the Trump is awful but Hillary is worse! crowd seems adamantly resigned to their fate, the disjointed #NeverTrump writers continue to defend their ideological stance against scurrilous attacks, and there seem to be very few like David Limbaugh who are still ambivalent on the subject. Thus, unless some significant event occurs, there is little reason to continue devoting such web space to the issue when a whole world of subjects abound. However, that is not to say the fight should not happen, should not be won, and is not without merit. So a few final thoughts on the matter.
The current floundering disunity of the Conservative movement bears a striking resemblance to the birth of the modern movement and the rise of William F. Buckley’s National Review as the voice of its various factions. Then, as now, the media was overwhelmingly Left. Then, as now, those Leftists ignored the radicals of their own ideology while focusing in on radical groups of the Right and forcing Conservatives to defend themselves in light of this false equivalency:
“Commentators like syndicated columnist George Sokolsky and radio broadcaster Fulton Lewis Jr. had their national audiences, but liberals smoothly undermined their effectiveness by associating them with extremists. CBS’s Mike Wallace invited television viewers one evening to listen to his guest Fulton Lewis explain ‘the attraction the far right has for crackpot fascist groups in America.'”
In his lengthy piece for Heritage, Lee Edwards goes on to draw a, perhaps unintended, parallel between those early years and this primary election which created, or perhaps merely revealed, deep cracks between the factions of the Conservative movement.
“Looking about him in the early 1950s, Buckley observed that the Right lacked focus and cohesion. ‘The few spasmodic victories conservatives are winning,’ he wrote, ‘are aimless, uncoordinated, and inclusive. This is so…because many years have gone by since the philosophy of freedom has been expounded systematically, brilliantly, and resourcefully.’ He resolved to change that.”
Though it may be a gross generalization, it is nevertheless accurate to say the failure of truly Conservative voters to mount a successful opposition stemmed largely from the factional, leaderless state of the Conservative movement: Christian Conservatives looked to Cruz, the Libertarians to Paul, the hawks to Rubio, etc. It is easy to look back to the ’76 Convention and lament the lack of a modern day Reagan whom Conservatives can rally around, but that starts in the third act and ignores the decades of groundwork done by Buckley and his compatriots. Before there could be a Conservative candidate, there had to be a Conservative movement; and that movement required a core philosophy able to withstand the inevitable low-blows of a Leftist media. To that end, one of Buckley’s earliest acts as leader of this new Conservative coalition was the 1962 shunning of the John Birch Society by publicly excoriating its leader.
“Over the objections of Brent Bozell, publisher William Rusher, Frank Meyer, and new senior editor William Rickenbacker, Buckley wrote an extended editorial expelling Welch from the conservative movement. Supported by James Burnham and his sister Priscilla, Buckley declared that Welch was ‘damaging the cause of anti-Communism’ with his inability to make the critical distinction between an ‘active pro-Communist’ and an ‘ineffectually anti-Communist Liberal.’ He said scornfully that Welch’s scoreboard describing the United States as ’50–70 percent Communist-controlled’ was in effect saying that ‘the government of the United States is under operational control of the Communist Party.’ Buckley yielded to no one in his passionate opposition to Communism, but Welch’s position was not only wrong but harmful to the cause of anti-Communism. He concluded his editorial by saying that ‘love of truth and country called for the firm rejection of Welch’s false counsels.’”
For those unfamiliar with the Society, you can thank Buckley and National Review for excommunicating Welch. The man was dangerously insane. Given his wild accusations, quite possibly in the literal sense but certainly in the colloquial. One does not accuse President Eisenhower of being a Communist agent if one is wholly rational. Or, in Buckley’s own words on the incident from Commentary,
“Kirk, unimpeded by his little professorial stutter, greeted the subject with fervor. It was his opinion, he said emphatically, that Robert Welch was a man disconnected from reality. How could anyone reason, as Welch had done in The Politician, that President Eisenhower had been a secret agent of the Communists? This mischievous unreality was a great weight on the back of responsible conservative political thinking. The John Birch Society should be renounced by Goldwater and by everyone else—Kirk turned his eyes on me—with any influence on the conservative movement.”
Buckley pulled no punches in his lengthy National Review piece which resulted from this meeting of Conservative minds. He was quite clear on both the strategic and tactical importance of expelling such extremists from Conservative orthodoxy. Welch’s views simply were not Conservative and continuing to accept him, whether actively or passively, as a member tarnished the very concept. Moreover, on a practical level, transitioning from philosophical pinning to practical political action would be nigh impossible with the weight of such nonsense hung around the neck of any potential Conservative candidates.
“How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points . . . so far removed from common sense? That dilemma weighs on conservatives across America. . . . The underlying problem is whether conservatives can continue to acquiesce quietly in a rendition of the causes of the decline of the Republic and the entire Western world which is false, and, besides that, crucially different in practical emphasis from their own.”
The necessity of this separation held so firmly within the Conservative movement, many of its leading thinkers and speakers expressed public outrage and incredulity when the John Birch Society co-sponsered CPAC 2010. Mark Levin withdrew as a speaker declaring, “they’re not a part of the movement.” The headline at PJ Media read, “CPAC: Consciously Providing Ammo to Critics.” Of course, this was precisely why Buckley led the movement to so publicly repudiate the Birchers. The Leftist media is going to be looking for any excuse to label the Right as out-of-touch extremists, so why embrace members whose rhetoric is so completely indefensible? To paraphrase Twain, if you attempt to defend a fool, onlooker’s may not be able to tell the difference.
If you still do not understand the gravity of the situation, if you have trouble grasping the dangerous insanity of Welch and his Society, there is a modern analogy: Alex Jones. For years, Jones has existed on the fringes of the Conservative movement; never embraced by its more serious adherents and rarely even acknowledged. And for good reason. It’s hard to have a legitimate debate on the issues if, after making a cogent point, your source then spirals into a rant on fluoridated water. Which, as Buckley points out in his piece in Commentary, is an especially on the nose comparison as the JBS denounced fluoridated water as a communist plot. Now, Jones is being embraced into the fold and given mainstream access by the likes of Matt Drudge, is an ardent Trump supporter, attacks anyone who dares criticize Trump, and is even having his brand of conspiratorial lunacy parroted by the GOP nominee. All to the detriment of Conservatism. The ideology and movement of which will be needed to stem the tide of whichever big government crony is elected President.
There is another vile, regressive aspect of the rise of Trump. The Left has long labeled the Right as anti-Semitic and, sadly, there is a kernel of truth to this claim. Though, returning to Lee Edwards’ piece, Buckley was also pro-active on that front.
“Buckley also took a firm stand against anti-Semitism, informing NR writers that the magazine would ‘not carry on its masthead the name of any person whose name also appears on the masthead of the American Mercury.’ Under owner Russell Maguire, the once-respected magazine had descended into the swamps of neo-Nazism, endorsing, for example, the theory of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy set forth in the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Yet Trump has allowed the formerly marginalized to find a new home in the Republican Party. Trump’s stance on Israel bears disturbing similarities to that of Pat Buchanan who had long ago been ostracized from the mainstream, only finding a home as the token Conservative on the far Left MSNBC or PBS. So, once again, the work of decades is being undone in the name of winning. But Buckley saw past such shortsightedness to the bigger, long-term health of the movement. Allowing the imprimatur of Conservatism to apply to such fringe elements is to force the movement to accept and apologize for their radical elements. Now, blatant, unapologetic anti-Semites dubbing themselves the “alt-right” are forcing themselves into the mainstream and trying to wrest the mantle of Conservatism from its historic standard bearers.
But to what end? What does this new Conservatism champion? Trumpism promotes bigger government through universal healthcare, protectionism, and cronyism which lead its apologists to make absurd statements, such as Reagan comparisons, which completely undercut the movement and rewrite its history. A true telling of that history tells another story. Once again, from Lee Edwards,
“In their prospectus for investors, Buckley and Schlamm rejected Eisenhowerism or modern Republicanism as ‘politically, intellectually, and morally repugnant.’ The most alarming single danger to the American political system, they said, was that a team of Fabian operators ‘is bent on controlling both our major parties—under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as ‘national unity,’ ‘middle-of-the-road,’ ‘progressivism,’ and ‘bipartisanship.’”
And the lessons of that true history must be learned for it was foresight and intellectual honesty of its early leaders which set the stage for Conservative victories in the decades to come; allowing political and cultural leaders to push back against the tide of Leftism by presenting a clear alternative.
“Slowly but steadily, Buckley constructed a strategy with the following objectives: Keep the Republican Party—the chosen political vehicle of conservatives—tilted to the Right; eliminate any and all extremists from the movement; flay and fleece the liberals at every opportunity; and push hard for a policy of victory over Communism in the Cold War.”
Now, the arduous work of decades is being dismantled as the Conservative movement and the DC-centric, big government proponents of the GOP become one.
Opposing the “GOP’s agenda” was, in large part, what led to the grassroots Conservative activism of the tea parties; something Trump apologists championed at the time but are now casting aside in the name of winning at all costs. There are now those on the Right echoing the long-standing talking points of the Left about the tide of history. Conservatism is dead, long live Trumpism. The thinking of the past being insufficient to the problems of the present was a familiar refrain which led to disaster of the New Deal and was the same sentiment Goldwater was still fighting. To which Buckley’s declaration of principle will forever be appropriate,
“I will use my power as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.”
Though frequently wrong of late, George Will nails the why principled Conservatives should stand against Trumpism even if he misses the how,
“He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley’s legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump ‘goes too far,’ he has ‘tapped into something,’ and therefore . . .
Therefore what? This stance — if a semi-grovel can be dignified as a stance — is a recipe for deserved disaster. Remember, Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond ‘tapped into’ things.”
There was justifiable fear of Soviet aggression abroad and infiltration at home and Robert Welch tapped into and exploited that fear to gain a large following, but Buckley, Kirk, et al rightly rejected Welch as one of their own because he was dangerously wrong in all other areas of analysis beyond the simple existence of the problem. That did not mean Buckley, Meyer, Goldwater or the others did not recognize the problem, they all continued to speak forcefully about the dangers of Soviet military and ideological expansion; but, unlike Welch, they went beyond fear-mongering, they rejected wild accusations, and presented thoughtful Conservative solutions to the problem and thereby advanced the cause to the public at large rather than preaching to a small, fervent audience. Likewise, the economic stagnation and foreign policy disasters of Carter did not lead to a cult of personality mob movement shouting for regressive retrenchment and isolation both economic and military. Rather, Reagan used the proven rhetoric and policies of decades of Conservatism to advance the movement and implement its principles with nearly unparalleled results.
Clearly, the Conservative movement has faltered with neither a political nor ideological leader. Though those clinging to principle may have once hoped for a miracle in this election cycle, the bizarre antics of the Libertarian Party and its candidate make it clear there is no home there, and this election is a lost cause where Liberty is concerned. There will be no grand, stunning victory like the battles of antiquity wherein Alexander found himself greatly outnumbered yet managed a victory; but, there remains hope if enough Conservatives stand on principle and declare this election our Alamo. The men of the Alamo stood their ground against tyranny, refusing to surrender in the face of impossible odds. Yet their stand was not simple stubbornness, misplaced valor, or hopeless idealism. By clinging to their principles, there were very practical effects; the enemy was severely bloodied and the Texas army was given time to rally which led to its eventual victory at San Jacinto. The moral of the story: there is more than just this election. And those principles so many Conservatives are so blithely throwing aside in the name of winning will be necessary to win elections down the road. And if you embrace the unbearable, if you defend the indefensible, then you destroy the much needed army rather than rallying it for the battle to come.
I stand by my conviction Trump is possibly worse than Hillary in the short term, and he is without question disastrous in the long term given his inevitable destruction of the Conservative movement as an effective force. That being the case, if polling in the days leading up to the election indicate a close race in my state, I will likely vote for Hillary to limit the damage. However, I think a clearer signal to the Trumpist insurgency and the always DC-centric Establishment would be for an extremely low vote total for all candidates. Do your due diligence for any primary races still to be determined, vote for Conservative candidates down ballot, but do not put your name, even anonymously, to any of the vile Presidential candidates. Reject Trumpism and its apologists, and stand for Conservatism.