Max Boot, Bill Kristol, and the Failure of the Neo-Conservatives

We have discussed the train wreck known as Max Boot previously. Now he’s going off the rails defending CNN’s Chris Cuomo for behavior that even Mr Cuomo said should have been “better”:

Mr Boot, supposedly one of the conservative columnists for The Washington Post,¹ was actually one of the neo-conservatives, who supported a few good things — more conservative government spending, increased spending on defense and foreign policy and an ‘aggressive’ foreign policy that put America’s interests first — but was a thorough urban liberal when it come to domestic affairs, supporting same-sex ‘marriage,’ abortion and action on ‘climate change,’ along with some sort of unspecified ideas about his ‘white privilege.’

In effect, one man consumed by #TrumpDerangementSyndrome, Mr Boot, is defending another man, Mr Cuomo, who’s eaten up by the same hatred, making the hypocritical claim that it’s an unacceptable attack on the free press for a member of the press to be criticized, while constantly exercising his right, as a member of the press, to criticize other people. No hypocrisy there, huh?

CNN has enjoyed the prestige of being the first of the 24 hour cable news networks, but that prestige has not prevented its slide to third, among three, of those networks. Fox News Channel is first in the ratings, by a wide margin, and liberally-oriented MSNBC is second. CNN is third among those all-news networks, but in the ratings, the gap between second and third is normally filled with HGTV, the History Channel, DIY Network, Discovery Channel and Hallmark Channel romance  movies.  CNN had played up the report by Robert Mueller III, implying all along that once Mr Mueller was finished, President Trump would be impeached and removed from office. When Mr Mueller’s report turned out to be a total dud for the left, CNN’s ratings, which had already been lagging, fell even further.  The network’s obsession with getting rid of President Trump destroyed its reputation among viewers when what they had touted flopped.

Another neo-conservative, Bill Kristol, was so consumed by hatred for President Trump that he wound up destroying the magazine he started, The Weekly Standard — the website still exists, but there are no new articles; older articles are archived by the Washington Examiner — by making it all-#NeverTrump, all the time, alienating his readership, many of whom supported President Trump. Started in 1995 by Mr Kristol in competition with National Review and The New Republic, it was finally shut down in 2018. The New Yorker, certainly no friend of conservatism, published a sorrowful paean to the Standard following its demise:

The Weekly Standard was killed last month, an act that had both a clear culprit and a muddy forensic trail. For twenty-three years, it was the most influential, and often the most interesting, publication of the American right, championing a less dreary and more adventurous conservatism, one that insisted that Washington was the center of human events. But, during the past five years, the magazine had lost about a third of its print subscribers and some three million dollars per year. In the second week of December, the C.E.O. of the Standard’s parent company, Clarity Media Group, told the staff that it would close the magazine and transfer subscribers to a new conservative publication that was already in the works, a weekly supplement to the Washington Examiner. That Friday, the staff threw an Irish wake at the home of Andrew Ferguson, perhaps the magazine’s most eloquent writer. Bill Kristol, the Standard’s founder, reminded them that his father, the pioneering neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol, had titled a book “Two Cheers for Capitalism.” Maybe, Kristol said, it should be edited down to one cheer.

In the press, the magazine’s demise was a media story, confined to the inside pages and told in a tone of half-sympathetic reminiscence. But the death of the major intellectual journal of conservatism, at a time of profound transition for the right, is about more than the strategic calculations of a media holding company in Denver. The decisive turn in conservatism during the half decade when the Standard shed subscribers and, eventually, its owners’ faith, was toward Trumpism, an evolution that the Standard opposed so vociferously that for a long time it has been hard to separate Bill Kristol’s public persona from the anti-Trump cause.

Conservatism, in the minds of the Washington and New York elitists, was fine when it was the mild-mannered Caspar Milquetoast variety, suitable for debates in quiet, wood paneled drawing rooms, or the pages of the Standard. The problems really started even before the first issue of the Standard, with the aggressive conservatism of Newt Gingrich, which garnered something the previous conservatives had not: a substantial enough victory in the voting booths to win control of the House and Senate. The elites were uncomfortable with Mr Gingrich’s bombastic politics, but the election of the younger George Bush, a conservative but still reasonably nice guy, mollified them.²

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is not a nice guy. He is, quite bluntly, an [insert slang term for the rectum here], but he was what conservative voters wanted, an [insert slang term for the rectum here] who would fight for what conservatives wanted, who would not take the insults of the left laying down, but who would hit back just as hard and just as nastily as the left.

The elites hated it, and assumed that a Good Guy like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would derail Mr Trump in the Republican primaries of 2016, but that didn’t happen, and conservatism was transformed in a manner that the elites simply couldn’t stomach: it was transformed from the libraries of the elites to the rough barrooms and muddy jobsites of the working class, a grittier world that the newspaper columnists could not, and didn’t want to, understand. The self-styled intellectuals had lost control of the debate, the Patricians were now subject to those awful Plebeians.

To Messrs Boot and Kristol, with their sinecures and personal wealth safely established, it was possible to resist the changes to conservatism, to cling to their urban elitism. After the nomination of Mr Trump, they could tolerate a Hillary Clinton presidency; for the working men and women of the heartland, such was more problematic. In September of 2016, CNN Money reported:

It’s another example of how experts on Wall Street and in Washington see the economy differently than the regular Joe. Many of the nation’s top economic experts say that America is “near full employment.” The unemployment rate has actually been at or below 5% for almost a year — millions of people have found jobs in what is the best period of hiring since the late 1990s.

But regular people appear to have their doubts about how healthy America’s employment picture is. Nearly a third of those survey by Rutgers believe unemployment is actually at 9%, or higher.

I noted, at the time, that for August of 2016, the U-6 unemployment rate, defined as “Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force,³ plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force,” stood at 9.7%. To me, it sure looks like those “regular people” are the ones who have it right: without the vast majority of them actually looking at the U-6 numbers — you do have to know where to look — they still guesstimated that unemployment was 9% or higher, right in line with the official numbers.

A millionaire like Mr Kristol, and a Washington Post columnist like Mr Boot, simply could not understand things like this. To them, the Official Statistics were the truth, and the feelings of the rubes in flyover country were simply unimportant when it came to intellectual discourse.

And that’s why Donald Trump is President, and the #NeverTrumpers are sitting at their computers, complaining about it.
¹ – Jennifer Rubin, another of the Post’s supposedly conservative columnists, has gone off the rails when it comes to President Trump. “Rubin has been one of the most vocal conservative-leaning writers to frequently criticize the Presidency of Donald Trump, as well as the overall behavior of the Republican Party during Trump’s term in office. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr. Munr Kazmir criticized Rubin for being “completely against policies she herself had championed for seemingly no other reason than Trump being in favor of them”. Rubin was criticized by Warren Henry of The Federalist for changing her view on John R. Bolton after he was named National Security Advisor of the Trump Administration.” This footnote taken from Wikipedia article on Miss Rubin.
² – The elder President Bush stated that he had voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, while the younger President Bush voted for “none of the above.”
³ – Persons marginally attached to the labor force are those who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not currently looking for work. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.
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