In his latest column Pat Buchanan writes eloquently about a “civil war on the right.” According to Pat, “conservatives” are now locked in mortal combat over the future of the American Right, and the sides are divided between the fans and despisers of populist presidential candidate Donald Trump. From this narrative it seems that while some “conservatives” are rooting for the Donald, others are ready to bolt the Republican Party if he picks up the Republican presidential nomination.
Although the events Pat describes are indeed unfolding, his label is misleading. Whatever political term one may decide to confer on Trump, most of those who are now railing against him, led by Rich Lowry and his band at National Review, are hardly “conservative.” They are essentially leftists, who are slightly less leftist than their friends at the Washington Post and at other national papers, whose editorial pages are graced by such “conservatives” as Jennifer Rubin, Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Michael Barone. Much of what looks like the Right has been forced to live in the shadows since the neoconservatives in conjunction with the establishment Left helped to marginalize a truer Right in the 1980s. Real “conservative wars” did take place in the 1980s; and the paleoconservatives and paleolibertarians were overrun by the other side’s superior resources. The winning side was led by the neoconservatives who were helped significantly by the journalistic Left.
What happened in those years resulted in having “conservative” and “liberal” labels assigned to factions that had once belonged on the Left. By now of course the “conservative” label means whatever the media and our two official parties wish it to mean. Thus we encounter advocates of gay marriage, David Boas and John Podhoretz featured among National Review‘s “conservatives,” in a battle against the supposed interloper from the left, Donald Trump? It is certainly hard, and perhaps even impossible, to locate the “conservative” substance or worldview uniting the critics of Trump in National Review. Why should we think, for example, that National Review expresses “conservatism” when it protests Vladimir Putin’s critiques of “Western social decadence” and when a National Review-regular contributor wishes to intervene in Ukraine on behalf of the transgendered? Does the magazine represent the “conservative” side in international relations, as opposed to, say, self-described leftist Steven Cohen, who has urged greater moderation in dealing with the conservative nationalist Russian government?
Why are Republican presidential candidates who yearn to call Bibi and pledge him our unconditional support as soon as they’re elected taking the “conservative” side in anything? And is being in good standing with Rupert Murdoch and Sheldon Adelson the current operative definition of being a “conservative”? Perhaps Richard Lowry and Marco Rubio could answer this question for us. But it’s unlikely they would, since I’m considered to be the sworn enemy of “conservativism,” whatever that term has now come to mean. Not surprisingly, National Review and most of its anti-Trump critics ran to affix the label “conservative” to Mitt Romney, John McCain and to other centrist, leaning-left Republicans when they were nominated for president. The term “conservative” for these Trump-critics is synonymous with being acceptable to the Republican establishment.
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