February 26, 2018


WFB Today (RICHARD BROOKHISER, February 16, 2018, National Review)

Buckley wrote about Trump the politician once, in an article for Cigar Aficionado, which ran in the spring of 2000 after Trump's brief pursuit of the nomination of the Reform party, Ross Perot's then-rudderless vehicle. Buckley ID'd Trump as a demagogue, narcissist division. "When he looks at a glass," Buckley wrote, "he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America." This was a political as well as a personal judgment: Trump sought office not to accomplish anything, but to advance and gratify himself. Candidate Trump had issues in 2000, and more in 2016, and beyond. But Bill knew his man. They had been fellow New Yorkers for decades. Bill did not regularly read Page Six, but his wife Pat did. Bill had observed every step of Trump's public career. He knew Trump was gilt all the way down.

Trump's first-year accomplishments testify to the conservative movement's momentum. After he stopped talking about the Supreme Court's power to write bills, or appointing his sister to it, he turned judicial nominations over to conservatism's legal infrastructure and to Mitch McConnell, and produced a string of good ones. The tax bill reflected years of Paul Ryan's, and other congressmen's, thoughts and hopes. Candidate Trump's foreign policy might be summarized as, Every Yazidi for himself (a position Buckley embraced at the end of his life); President Trump, taking counsel of his generals, has been more proactive. Where conservatives had not done their homework -- as in thinking about how to replace Obamacare rather than merely attack it -- Trump came up empty-handed.

That is Trump's business, and America's. But what has Trump done to conservatives?

One of Trump's abilities, which he possesses at the level of genius, is finding and naming the weaknesses of enemies: Low-Energy Jeb, Little Marco, Crooked Hillary. Related is his ability to create weaknesses in his supporters. A weak man needs weak supporters; strong ones might make him feel insecure, or differ with him. And so, whether from design, or simply because it is the way things work, Trump's conservative admirers have had to abandon and contradict what they once professed to hold most dear.

The most egregious example is the religious Right. The religious Right is the latest version of an old model of American politics, variously incarnated by Puritans, abolitionists, and William Jennings Bryan. It, like its predecessors, has argued that America and individual Americans need to have a godly or at least moral character to thrive. Now the religious Right adores a thrice-married cad and casual liar. But it is not alone. Historians and psychologists of the martial virtues salute the bone-spurred draft-dodger whose Khe Sanh was not catching the clap. Cultural critics who deplored academic fads and slipshod aesthetics explicate a man who has never read a book, not even the ones he has signed. Followers of Harry Jaffa, the most important Lincoln scholar of the last 60 years, rally round a Republican who does not know why the Civil War happened. Straussians, after leaving the cave, find themselves in Mar-a-Lago. Econocons put their money on a serial bankrupt.

Admiring Trump is different from voting for him, or working with him. Politics is calculation; "to live," Whittaker Chambers told Buckley, who quoted it ever after, "is to maneuver." But to admire Trump is to trade your principles for his, which are that winning -- which means Trump winning -- is all.

In three years (maybe seven), Donald Trump will no longer be president. But conservatives who bent the knee will still be writing and thinking. How will it be possible to take them seriously?

Posted by at February 26, 2018 3:30 AM