Don't Give Up The Shit
National Review is cruisin' for a losin'
I don’t pay much attention anymore to National Review, the onetime conservative “flagship” publication, not for the reason that the rest of America doesn’t — that is, because it sucks — but because over the past few years it has become mostly a walled garden accessible only to its few remaining subscribers. It is something to think of the days — decades, really — when it proudly presented to the world the face of the American Right.
(There is no such face, now, really; if any equivalent existed it would be like the serpent in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao with its multiple leering, monstrous heads: Trump, DeSantis, Greene, maybe a neo-Nazi, a tradcath, etc. There is no human unifying Face of the movement now, though its many Faces may unite their voices in the howl of rage and bloodlust with which it now regularly announces itself.
Nonetheless the magazine lets one out (so to speak) now and again, and today I was able to see an article by the man I call Charles Two Middle Initials Cooke, a snotty Brit expat who has hung in, been promoted, and let his once-taut sneer grow slack. His new article is called “Donald Trump’s Recipe for Electoral Failure” and it is of some interest to students of the degeneration of American conservatism.
Longtime readers will already know National Review’s sad history with Trump and Trumpism; how they raised dudgeon against him as an interloper who had not only jumped line but made them, the manicured intellectuals of the movement, look like mouthpieces for a mob goon. Nonetheless when he took power they fawned and fleered; the high point of their pusillanimity was editor Rich Lowry’s desperate call on the eve of the 2020 election for all conservatives to elect Trump as “the only available middle finger” to all the people and things they hated — hatred being, even the National Review now seemed to admit, all the movement was about anymore.
In 2023, National Review writings are mostly, as I have said, hidden from those of us who are not so debased as to pay for them, but you can tell by the headlines (“DeSantis Versus the Left-Wing Educrats, Again,” “DeSantis Does It Again,” etc.) and from the general tenor of other, similar simp-wingnut discourse that while to them Trump’s still de trop, Ron DeSantis — as thuggish and hateful toward minorities and liberals as Trump, if not as talented at putting it over, but also solicitous of conservative elites like themselves — is A-OK.
Cooke is one such, and he starts his essay by telling us that Trump’s “preferred approach to politics [has] been responsible for grievous Republican losses in the last three national elections,” which invites much speculation — for example, how would those elections have looked had Trump never existed? Even as it is, how much blame should Trump take for candidates supported by a broad majority of Republicans? It’s not like he forced them to nominate Dr. Oz, Doug Mastriano, and Kari Lake. Maybe his “preferred approach to politics” is to win the affection of conservative voters.
Cooke is miffed that Trump proclaims himself the “savior” of the Party (actually Trump has said, rather, that he is the Party’s “retribution” — interesting that Cooke missed that, and its import) and that he blows off not only DeSantis but his alleged “squishy conservative” supporters Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, and Paul Ryan — characters who had previously been blown off by the Republican Party itself.
But that doesn’t matter to Cooke because, though conservatives who did not write for magazines thought they sucked, to him they were the pride of the movement. Jeb Bush, though Republicans shit him out a porthole in 2016, was “probably the best governor in the history of Florida,” Cooke says, “and the reforms that were made during his tenure are the primary reason why the state has become as attractive as it has to conservatives of all ages.”
One wonders if Cooke thought even for a second about the alternate interpretation: That the Bush tenure — during which, Cooke brags, he “cut the state’s workforce by more than 10 percent… ended affirmative action… privatized as much of Medicaid as it could; and adopted the nation’s first ‘stand your ground’ bill” etc. — made Florida the kind of rightwing hellhole that only conservatives could find attractive, and thus produced DeSantis, who, like those policies, only conservatives could find attractive, which would be fine if he just stayed in his mosquito-gator-and-mortgage-fraud kingdom and were not running for the Presidency of the United States, where such credentials are a very hard sell.
Anyway, Cooke takes issue with Trump’s characterization of these worthies as squishes:
Still, let’s assume for a moment that Trump is correct, and that, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush were, indeed, squishy conservatives. What, exactly, is this supposed to tell us about DeSantis, or about anyone else whom those people have praised? As far as I can see, the argument here seems to be that if, in addition to all of the solid conservatives who are backing a given candidate, that candidate also has fans who are more politically moderate, he must, ipso facto, be a fraud. Which . . . well, which is completely backwards, isn’t it?
This is a rookie mistake: Taking Trump’s meaning of words for what fancy-schmancy intellectuals mean by them. When Trump says “squish,” he doesn’t mean that Ryan and Bush (hey, what happened to Karl Rove?) (Ha ha, who cares) are moderate. He means they’re weak.
And as poll after poll shows, Trump’s displays of strength support his analysis — because, as I previously mentioned, conservatism is no longer about a bunch of policies that merely reflect the cruelty of their creators — they’re about the cruelty itself. And having learned to do without the masks and subterfuges employed by damp squibs like Bush and Ryan, why wouldn’t the movement’s adherents flock back to the O.G. Trump, who delivers raw cruelty in abundance?
In his outro, Cooke goes on about the wonderful coalition-building powers of Ronald Reagan and Glenn Youngkin. But Youngkin is on his way out — even Virginia Repubicans don’t want him for President — and Reagan, well, it’s already a truism that the modern Republican Party would ride him out of CPAC on a rail, and after decades of the nightmare to which he condemned the middle class I doubt even whatever’s left of the “Reagan Democrats” would spare the tar and feathers.
Thus we leave Cooke claiming to support conservatives who can win by supporting conservatives who are proven losers, from the masthead of the onetime conservative flagship that, its hatches battened against the world, sails in clueless circles in search of a conservatism-with-good-taste that no longer exists.
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