Donald Trump, the National Review tells us, is a huckster, a dangerous demagogue, and an irresponsible fool. The first voice that the National Review brings out to tell us so, in the anti-Trump blurb collection that the magazine promoted to the New York Times yesterday and released to the bedtime internet last night, is the voice of Glenn Beck.
Trump, Beck warns us, is the latest avatar of “ever-expanding government,” a proven sympathizer with the Obama Administration’s tyrannical goals. “While conservatives fought against the bank bailouts,” Beck writes, “Donald Trump called them ‘something that has to get done.’” This is an interesting reconstruction of the politics around the question of whether to let the finance industry collapse; “it needed to be done,” was also how the Republican presidential nominee at the time described the bailout of AIG. (The bailout “was, unfortunately, necessary,” Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina said.)
The more notable historical oddity, though, is that the National Review should give that space to Glenn Beck at all. The magazine originally defined its place in the conservative intellectual world through William F. Buckley’s bold attacks on the John Birch Society and the paranoid conspiratorialist wing of the Republican Party. Beck is a neo-Bircher who built his career by weeping on television about the wicked machinations of America’s hidden enemies. Yet there he is, leading off Buckley’s magazine’s effort to explain why Donald Trump doesn’t belong in the conservative movement.
The further one reads through the National Review’s anti-Trump pleadings, the more sense Beck’s participation makes. If Buckley declared that his magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop,” the Trump package stands alongside history muttering “History? History, history... Hmm, nope, doesn’t ring a bell.”
There are, at this point, two fairly straightforward thoughtful arguments that a conservative publication could make against the rise of Donald Trump. One would be a pragmatic or tactical one: Despite his theatrical contempt for liberal elites, Trump is unpredictable and insufficiently committed to the conservative movement’s plans and goals. Where a President Ted Cruz would fill the federal bench with names from a Federalist Society spreadsheet (or a spreadsheet Cruz himself had prepared for the Federalist Society), for all anyone knows, a President Trump might appoint Nancy Grace to the Supreme Court. That would surely make liberals mad, but it wouldn’t get the big job done.
The other argument that a conservative publication could make against the rise of Donald Trump would be an unsparing self-examination and self-criticism, reckoning with the currents of brutish populism that have run from Nixon through Reagan through George W. Bush to the present-day circus, and humbly apologizing for its role in creating them. Any real attempt to write Donald Trump out of the Republican Party needs to engage, head on, with the fact that Donald Trump is currently polling far ahead of the field with people who identify as Republican voters. What is the conservative movement if it is not the way that voters who identify as conservative are moving?