William F. Buckley, Jr must still be rolling over in his grave. I came of political age in the early ‘80s watching him skewer Democrats on his landmark PBS show, “Firing Line,” as well as learning the essence of conservatism in the pages of National Review, the leading conservative periodical of that time. Buckley had an enormous influence on a couple of generations of conservative luminaries over the years, including Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Rush Limbaugh.
National Review was launched in 1955 when it was apparent that America was under siege by the Left, which was beginning its long march through the country’s cultural and political institutions, including the media, Hollywood, and academia. One of Buckley’s favorite phrases in explaining the establishment of National Review was that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop!” He, of course, meant stopping the Left’s long march. Here were the principles from that first issue nearly 65 years ago as summarized in this outstanding tribute to Buckley that deserves a thorough reading by all who claim to be “conservative” these days.
- The editors declared themselves to be “irrevocably” at war with “satanic” Communism: Victory, not accommodation, must be the goal.
- They were unapologetically “libertarian” in the battle against the growth of government.
- They announced themselves as “conservative” (that is, traditionalist) in the struggle between “the Social Engineers” who try to adjust mankind to scientific utopias and “the disciples of Truth” who defend the “organic moral order.”
Those principles held true over the ensuing years, as regular readers of National Review and watchers of “Firing Line” learned about limited and constitutionally-constrained government, the Austrian school of economics (as opposed to Keynesian claptrap), low taxation, strong anti-Communism (anti-Socialism), and other ideological foundation stones now automatically attributed to those Americans who consider themselves to be “conservative.”
Even before Buckley died in 2008, the magazine began to lose its moorings and drift. In the preceding 30 years, the conservative intelligentsia had developed an elitism of their own that was a parallel to the so-called “Eastern establishment wing” of the Republican Party that people like Buckley and other intellectuals had fought to displace. They grew content with their sinecures and careers but were completely ineffective in injecting conservative principles in federal legislation especially during the Obama era.
A populist upstart by the name of Donald Trump caused an earthquake among these folks in 2015-16. National Review became a nexus for NeverTrump erstwhile conservatives/Republicans. The magazine published an editorial in the January 2016 issue entitled, “Against Trump.” Here are a couple of excerpts from that opinion piece:
If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.
Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.
As orchestrated by editor-in-chief Rich Lowry and the editorial board, subsequent issues of the magazine throughout the year featured columns by conservative NeverTrump intellectuals. The 15 February 2016 issue contained short commentaries from 22 of these people condemning Trump: Glenn Beck, David Boaz, L. Brent Bozell III, Mona Charen, Ben Domenech, Erick Erickson, Steven Hayward, Mark Helprin, Bill Kristol, Yuval Levin, Dana Loesch, Andrew McCarthy, David McIntosh, Michael Medved, Edwin Meese III, Russell Moore, Michael Mukasey, Katie Pavlich, John Podhoretz, R. R. Reno, Thomas Sowell, and Cal Thomas. Read what they said in that article about the future president here.
One particular guest column in National Review in the last few weeks of the 2016 campaign really got my goat. Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Free Beacon, lamented the rise of populist candidate Donald Trump in the pages of National Review in October 2016. This sentence succinctly summarizes how the NeverTrump erstwhile conservatives viewed Trump then.
Donald Trump is so noxious, so unhinged, so extremist in his rejection of democratic norms and political convention and basic manners that he has untethered the New Right politics he embodies from the descendants of William F. Buckley Jr.
I can’t imagine William F. Buckley agreeing to hand over the pages of his beloved magazine to “conservative” commentators like these bashing a Republican presidential candidate during the campaign while giving de facto aid and comfort to someone like Hillary Clinton who represents the antithesis of his core conservative principles.
And many of them remain fixated on his style over substance even after the CONSERVATIVE policy successes of President Trump that could never have dreamed of seeing under any post-World War II Republican president. This is exactly the same as complaints from many Democrats who also bitterly complain about the President’s public decorum and style. Go figure!
Many of these people continue to make appearances on various political round tables and produce commentary published in various media outlets such as Fox News. If you have listened carefully to the likes of McCarthy, Hayward, and Domenech over the past many months, for example, you can detect snippets of their continuing bias slipping out from time to time. Very few of these people – if any – have issued public mea culpas or even simple admissions that they misjudged President Trump’s ability to deliver on his CONSERVATIVE-oriented promises.
Getting back to Lowry, I caught his appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday. He was a member of a panel, and I suppose Chuck Todd included him for “ideological balance” (Lowry remains a self-styled “conservative”), given the others included Doris Kearns Goodwin (“presidential historian”), Peggy Noonan (Wall Street Journal), and Helene Cooper (Pentagon correspondent for the NY Times), all of whom are decidedly anti-Trump. Except that Lowry parroted the Democrat narrative and agreed with his colleagues on the panel about the President’s impeachment and its political implications. Here is some of what he said about the President’s conduct that led to the Democrats’ articles of impeachment.
Lowry: First of all, I think Republicans should just forthrightly acknowledge this is wrong, and they’ll regret it when it’s a Democrat in office and they want to complain about his or her abuses of power. But if you just look at what happened in the House, you have to be with your team on this. Jeff Van Drew, Democrat from New Jersey, votes against the impeachment inquiry and has to leave his party. Justin Amash, Republican from Michigan, comes out for impeachment and has to leave his party. And then also then historically … small sample size since we’ve just had two impeachment trials in our history … but never has a member of the president’s own party voted to convict in the Senate, and that’s likely to hold true this time as well.
There you have it. Lowry claims the President’s conduct was “wrong” despite the phone call transcripts, the public statements to the contrary by both presidents on that phone call, and the testimony from the single witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry that destroyed the Democrats’ “quid pro quo” allegations. Lowry couldn’t have possibly made his conclusion without a deep-seated and continuing animus against the President. And to somehow equate the Clinton and Trump impeachments is disgraceful. Both articles of impeachment failed to allege a single statutory crime committed by President Trump, unlike the 11 crimes that were cited in the Clinton articles of impeachment. The rest was pablum. Amash was a NeverTrumper long before the Ukraine hoax while Van Drew reflects the sentiments of his district.
Lowry hasn’t changed his anti-Trump spots at all. You can be certain that he will give aid and comfort to whoever the Democrat candidate is in 2020 through continued undermining of the President and an almost certain loud and public “non-endorsement” during the campaign. William F. Buckley would be aghast at his legacy as personified by the current editor of his beloved National Review.