After Cleveland: Why The Neocons Are Still #NeverTrump
Needless to say there’s frantic Main Stream Media spinning after Donald Trump’s powerful (and immigration-patriotic) acceptance speech at the GOP convention in Cleveland. I believe it’s important to note that much of it comes from neoconservatives—for example Jennifer Rubin [email her] wrote in the Washington Post “enraged, angry rant” seemed “more indicative of a televangelist or a 1930s fascist leader than a president of the United States.” The neocons believe Trump represents what they themselves would call an “existential threat” to their grip on the American Right. They may be right.
Here’s Bill Kristol’s tweet on the speech:
This is Pat Buchanan's 1992 convention speech, considerably dumbed down, and– more important–delivered by the Republican Party's nominee.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) July 22, 2016
Indeed, for some time we’ve seen that neoconservative pundits and “policy advisers” are doing everything they can to defeat Trump. Some like Robert Kagan are openly supporting Hillary Clinton. Bill Kristol, Elliot Cohen, Rich Lowry, and Steve Hayes continue to spit their bile [No Trump, by Stephen Hayes, Weekly Standard, March 14, 2016].
As always with the neoconservatives, it’s 1939 all over again. Jacob Heilbrunn [Email him] explains in the New York Times that neoconservative internationalists view Trump as the reincarnation of Nazi-appeasers of the late 1930s [The Neocons vs. Donald Trump, March 10, 2016]. Neoconservatives shudder at Trump’s invocation of “America First,” a term that they claim carries anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi implications. Max Boot [Email him] in Commentary has designated Trump as “the No. 1 threat to American security”–an accusation that even a fellow traveler like Heilbrunn described as “hyperbolic”[There is no escape from Trump, March 3, 2016].
National Review says Trump is not a “conservative” [The GOP’s ideological earthquake and the aftermath, by Charles Krauthammer, May 5, 2016]. Commissar Leon Wolf ’s Red State argues the GOP, “by supporting Trump, absolutely rejects conservatism” [Trump as useful fool, by Kimberly Ross, June 10, 2016].
Of course, these same people screaming that Trump is not a real “conservative” had no trouble with Mitt Romney, John McCain and other Republican Establishment products—who, apart from anything else, were useless on immigration.
The reasons for this are obvious. Trump seems less willing than his opponent to engage in adventurous missions abroad under neoconservative guidance. He has positioned himself too far to the Right of the neocons on immigration—which they really don’t want to see raised at all. Finally, he wishes to renegotiate all the trade deals that the neocons and their sponsors have energetically promoted.
But what might happen to these implacable neocon adversaries if Trump became president? This is far from unlikely. According to polls, Trump presently trails Hillary by only a few points among likely voters. In Rasmussen polls, Trump is actually winning. Voters, according to the latest polling, also no longer rate Hillary as “better prepared” than Trump for the presidency. [Voters Question Clinton’s Qualifications, Now Rate Trump Equal, Rasmussen, July 11, 2016]
On the left, both Salon and Bill Maher were impressed with Trump’s speech, not to say frightened: His dark materials: After that diabolical, masterful performance, Donald Trump could easily end up president , (by Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, July 22, 2016).
But are the neoconservatives irreparably damaged if Donald Trump becomes President of the United States?
After long and bitter experience, I would say the odds are, no. The neoconservatives’ assets are so “yuge” (as the Donald would say) it would take nothing short of a missile attack or an outbreak of the Black Plague in New York and Washington to destroy them. Among their considerable assets (and this is hardly exhaustive) is a vast media empire that press baron Rupert Murdoch has put at their disposal, numerous websites and think-tanks in the New York- D.C. Corridor, access to the Leftist national press (who regard neocons as the acceptable opposition) and publishing houses (such as Encounter and Regnery) that churn out neocon agitprop. “Conservatism, Inc.” is a neocon holding, and it is impossible for me to imagine the present conservative movement without its neoconservative spokespersons and direction-givers.
That said, I doubt that the neoconservatives could endure a Trump-presidency without taking a hit. The GOP’s presidential nominee is now surrounded by politicians and public figures who were once tight with the neoconservatives. This widening list would include Rudolph Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, and on the basis of his recent statements, John Bolton. If Trump became president, these and his other supporters will not rejoin Trump’s neoconservative detractors. Given persistence and virulence of the neoconservative campaign against Trump, Trump’s new allies have no way back.
Plus the party figures the neoconservatives would still have are those GOP hacks and “moderates” Trump crushed in the primaries. Not exactly a promising start for rebuilding one’s political network!
We also can’t forget the masses of voters who delivered Trump the greatest victory numbers in the history of Republican primaries. It is hard to imagine these Trump backers would harbor any affection for those bogus conservatives and questionable Republican loyalists who worked indefatigably to elect Hillary Clinton. Why would they attach positive motives to those who sought the humiliation of their beloved candidate? And why would Trump curry favor with sworn enemies, some of whom he angrily denounced as “losers” during the primaries? They would have nothing to offer him, given that he won the presidency in the teeth of their malicious opposition.
We also have to assume that Trump and/or his staff have been reading his anti-neoconservative supporters on the Right, like Ann Coulter, Pat Buchanan, and various contributors to this website, who have underlined the irrepressible conflict between the Donald and the likes of Max Boot and Bill Kristol. [Email him]
In a pungently written study called The Trump Revolution, paleolibertarian commentator Ilana Mercer stresses the close connection between the rise of the populist Right in the US and the clumsy behavior of neoconservative mediocrities. The problem faced by neoconservatives is not only that they don’t relate to America’s nationalist base. They also have nothing much to offer anyone with even room temperature IQ or anyone who holds even minimally traditionalist views.
She writes that the Beltway Right “counts among its greatest heroes not only MLK but the minor abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Major abolitionist and murderer John Brown is close to making the cut, at least in the view of National Review’s Kevin Williamson. Williamson reached ‘peak leftism’ when he declared his sympathies were “more with John Brown than John Calhoun” in an article entitled We Have Officially Reached Peak Leftism (June 24, 2015).”
Mercer is equally unsparing in going through the current lineup of neoconservative “thinkers,” including the “intellectual pygmy” Rich Lowry, the “mediocre scribbler” ”youthful nullity” Katie Pavlich, “irrational mystic” Glenn Beck, and “government functionary-cum-attorney-and Jeb Bush cheerleader” Michael Mukasey.
Mercer singles out the “ponderous, self-important neoconservative “Krauthammer from his less intelligent soulmates. Significantly, however, although “hopping mad” about Trump, Krauthammer is “nowhere to be found among those aligned ‘Against Trump’ at National Review”. At least he understands that “to come out as a collective in an attempt to overthrow a candidate so popular with the Republican base and beyond, as Trump is, is pretty stupid.”
Lest I bring too much cheer to my readers (and myself) by painting prematurely the downfall of our opposition on the faux Right, let me repeat the caveat that I stated a few paragraphs ago: there is nothing in Trump victory would necessarily end the neoconservatives’ influence in the MSM or their practical control of Conservatism, Inc.
But, on the positive side, a Trump presidency would not bring the faux Right the political plums that fell into their laps during W’s presidency or the perks they would garner if (Heaven forfend!) we get President Hillary. They would be forced to spend several years mending their political ties in Washington and, at the very least, face an unfriendly presidential administration.
Trump would have to be a total fool (which I doubt he is) to let these people become his “advisers.” A far less destructive role as court clowns may suit them better.
Paul Gottfried [ email him ] is a retired Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of After Liberalism, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt and The Strange Death of Marxism His most recent book is Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.