Former vice president Mike Pence announced Thursday the formation of Advancing American Freedom to promote “the pro-freedom policies of the last four years that created unprecedented prosperity at home and restored respect for America abroad.”
To lead the group, he’s chosen Dr. Paul Teller, a highly regarded former congressional staffer and member of his vice-presidential staff. Teller’s policy chops and conservative contacts are hard to match. Pence has also attracted other conservative heavyweights—like former Heritage Foundation presidents Dr. Ed Feulner and Kay Coles James, Arizona governor Doug Ducey, Ambassador Calista and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former senior Trump advisers Larry Kudlow and Kellyanne Conway and important organizational leaders like Lisa Nelson, Penny Nance and Marjorie Dannenfelser—to serve on AAF’s advisory board.
If you think this looks like a presidential campaign in all but name, you’re not wrong. Pence says he wants AAF to blend “traditional conservative values with the Make America Great Again policy agenda that propelled the nation to new economic heights, and unprecedented strength and prosperity.” That’s a fancy way of saying “take the best of Trump, jettison the baggage and create an agenda the American people—especially the formerly reliable Republican suburban voters who helped put Joe Biden in office—can embrace.”
It’s a smart formula that relies on addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division. As GOP political consultant Roger Stone used to advise, anything a campaign does that isn’t focused on growing its share of the vote is a waste of time.
The question is whether Pence can pull it off. As a House member, he was a GOP star, perhaps in line to be speaker someday. As Indiana’s governor he was a solid, if not exactly inspiring, chief executive who on the ideas front could never quite outshine his immediate predecessor, Republican Mitch Daniels—who is now president of Purdue University.
Pence has a chance to shine now, to step into the spotlight and show America what he’d do and how he’d inspire voters to embrace conservatism redefined. He could bring back the sunny optimism and hope that defined Reaganism—strong and not defensive but also not obnoxious.
On paper that sounds easy. In real life, it will be hard. The media elite already have their guns out for Biden’s potential 2024 challengers. Look at the hatchet job CBS‘s 60 Minutes just tried to do on Florida GOP governor Ron DeSantis, another possible presidential candidate, by alleging that in exchange for campaign contributions he let the Publix supermarket chain dispense the COVID-19 vaccine. The story landed with a thud—but it’s likely just the first of many drive-bys the media will try.
Let’s face it; the elite media helped put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office and have a vested interest in seeing them stay there. That means the knives are out for Pence, DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and any other Republican who wants the nomination. This will make it especially tough for the former vice president as The New York Times, CNN and others try to tie him to the former president.
The challenges Pence faces on his way to the White House are threefold. First, he must separate himself from Trump enough to allow the Never-Trumpers to consider voting for him while not alienating the MAGA movement. Second, he has to come up with a bold agenda for growth and reform that will get the country moving again to counter what the Democrats offer during Biden’s term. Third, Trump has to decide not to run.
Since the third point is out of his control, Pence would do best to concentrate on the other two. The team he’s assembled so far represents a top-tier mix of MAGA conservatives and Reaganites, meaning that when he runs, Pence will be a force to be reckoned with.
A favorite Republican catchphrase deserves higher scrutiny
“We are now the party supported by most working-class voters,” congressman Jim Banks of Indiana wrote to House minority leader Kevin McCarthy in a six-page memo this week. Banks, head of the Republican Study Committee, said the lesson is clear: It’s time to act like a working-class party. “Our electoral success in the 2022 midterm election,” he concluded, “will be determined by our willingness to embrace our new coalition.”
The Banks memo, first reported by Axios, is part of a trend. Influential Republicans have embraced the notion that Donald Trump transformed the GOP into the vehicle of the proletariat. “We are a working-class party now,” Josh Hawley tweeted on election night. “The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working class coalition,” Marco Rubio said a week later. “The future of the Republican Party is as a party that defends the social, economic, and cultural interests and values of working American families of every race, color, and creed,” Trump toldCPAC in February. Last month, Rubio announced his support for Amazon employees in Alabama who want to form a union.
Banks doesn’t go that far. The word union appears nowhere in his memo. He mentions “labor” only once, in a derisive reference to a Democratic special interest group. The lacuna is a reminder: Despite the emerging consensus that the GOP is a working-class party, there is little agreement on what such a party should stand for. Industrial policy? Trust busting? Family subsidies and financial transaction taxes? Banks sidesteps these trendy measures on the intellectual right. He suggests instead that Republican candidates adopt Trump’s posture of opposition to illegal immigration, offshoring of manufacturing jobs, COVID-19 lockdowns, Big Tech censorship, and political correctness.
It might take a second—or longer—to see how the issues Banks highlights relate to the material interests of Republican voters. What they have in common is an adversarial attitude toward the votaries of managerial liberalism. Indeed, Banks’s dichotomy isn’t between working class and capital, but between populism and elitism. Republicans, Banks writes, must “highlight the cultural and economic elitism that animates the Democrat Party.” It’s “Democrat elitism” that has driven working-class voters to the GOP. And “nothing better encapsulates Democrats’ elitism and classism than their turn towards ‘wokeness.'” Taxes, spending, welfare, and entitlements do not come up.
For all of the “working class” rhetoric in conservative discourse, few Republican politicians have adopted the economic measures put forth by Oren Cass at American Compass, Samuel Hammond at the Niskanen Center, and Julius Krein at American Affairs. Rubio and Hawley are political entrepreneurs willing to push the boundary of conventional GOP policymaking. But they are outliers. A figure like Banks, who has to win reelection every two years, is more cautious. He perceives that Republican voters are more interested in aggressive prosecution of the culture war than in technocratic manipulation of the economy.
The “class war” mentioned so often in conservative discourse is in fact the continuation of the half-century-long war over which values and social roles should be authoritative in American culture. Imposing a class framework on this struggle leads to confusion. After all, according to the 2020 exit poll, President Biden won voters making less than $100,000, while then-president Trump won voters who earn more than $100,000 by 12 points. And Biden won union members by 16 points. The AP Votecast results were more closely divided, but just as muddled: Trump lost voters who earned less than $50,000, barely won voters who made $50,000-$99,999, and narrowly lost voters who earned more than $100,000.
If you read class through the lens of educational attainment, you see that the GOP leans ever more heavily on white voters without college degrees. But that trend long predates Trump. And the white voters without bachelor’s diplomas are a large and diverse group. They encompass a variety of ages, life experiences, occupations, and net worth. The successful contractor who attended college for a few years before starting his own business has a different set of economic concerns than the restaurant server or grocery store clerk. Does muscular labor define membership in the working class? Perhaps. But not every voter without a college degree works with his hands. And agriculture and industry constitute a narrow base for a political party in an economy where 79 percent of jobs are in the service sector. Conservatives like to position themselves as the representatives of the rural heartland against the cosmopolitan metropolis. True enough. But what about the majority of Americans that lives in the suburbs?
Ideology, partisan affiliation, and religiosity mark one’s place in the culture war far better than income or education. Liberals went for Biden 89-10 in the exit poll, and conservatives backed Trump 85-14. Both candidates won 95 percent of their respective parties. And the gaps between voters without a religious affiliation and all others, and between white evangelical voters and all others, were huge.
Ideology also explains the Republicans’ surprisingly good performance among minority voters. There’s evidence, for example, that black Protestants are moving toward the GOP. “What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates,” election analyst David Shor recently explained to New York magazine. “They started voting more like white conservatives.” Why? Revulsion at the far-left messaging of radical elites on immigration and policing.
When the pollsters at Echelon Insights asked Republicans what they want from a candidate, the answer was someone who would “fight” for the conservative cause, support the Trump agenda, and speak out against cancel culture. The most important issues for Republicans are illegal immigration, law and order, taxes, and liberal media bias. The Echelon data have been replicated elsewhere. My AEI colleague Ryan Streeter writes, “Large national surveys conducted by the American Enterprise Institute suggest Trump’s supporters are actually quite content with American economic life but highly reactive to elite dominance of American culture life.”
Calling Republicans “working-class” is a self-flattering way to put the party on the side of the “forgotten American.” But it risks reducing voters to factors of production. And it flirts with an economic program actual Republicans don’t seem to want. The new class consciousness is another example of the Europeanization of American politics: For decades, the two parties competed for the loyalties not of the working class but of the middle class, and public policy experts devoted themselves to improving the condition of the urban poor or “underclass.” Now, Republican communicators are beginning to sound like the leaders of European parties whose anti-bourgeois romanticism often manifests itself in ugly ways.
Maybe less has changed than people think. Remember that Barry Goldwater first identified himself with the “forgotten American” back in 1961. The GOP remains a populist conservative party whose voters are incensed at the values, directives, and rhetoric of the men and women who occupy the commanding heights of American culture. It’s the party of married parents, of the small business owner, of the journeyman who aspires for a better life for his family. It’s the party of peace through strength, low taxes, safe streets, legal immigration, national pride, and traditional pieties. And what it needs most in 2022 are strong candidates who inspire the grassroots without terrifying independents.
Veteran Emmy-winning broadcaster Rita Cosby, it was announced Monday, is joining the primetime lineup on WABC 770 AM, the New York City-based station that at one time served as the flagship for the late Rush Limbaugh, whose three-hour daily program changed American radio forever.
In an interview conducted before the launch, Cosby promised her show would be “a cancel free zone” and invited listeners and fans of all kinds to call in with questions and comments.
“Rita Cosby is the best in the business, with a tremendous following and incredible background,” John Catsimatidis, CEO of the Red Apple Group and 77 WABC Radio, said. Her new show, which will air weeknights from 10 pm to 12 midnight “will bring a new and exciting dynamic to our important evening programming.”
“Rita’s top-notch interviewing skills, impeccable record in journalism, and deep ability to connect with our listeners,” he added, portends big things for both the show and the station, Catsimatidis continued. The program begins at a time when the future of terrestrial talk radio, at one time an incredibly economically robust industry platform, is undergoing major changes thanks to the proliferation of podcasts, satellite radio, and internet streaming service.
None of that should pose any problems for Cosby, one of America’s most recognized broadcasters whose successes across various media platforms can be matched by few other journalists. Her work in journalism has taken her around the globe and includes live reporting from the war zone in Afghanistan, from Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia during the NATO bombing, and along the U.S. border with Mexico. Known for her engaging style and headline-making interviews, she has obtained exclusives with more than twenty world leaders, including seven U.S. Presidents and Pope Francis, as well as with entertainment icons Michael Jackson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and infamous inmates Dr. Jack Kevorkian and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, a serial murdered who terrorized New York’s five boroughs beginning in the summer of 1976 through his arrest in August of 1977.
“We are thrilled to have Rita Cosby taking over this important timeslot. Beginning Monday, our evening listeners will get a great dose of the latest news along with powerful and compelling interviews, from one of the country’s most well-regarded broadcasters,” said Chad Lopez, the president of Red Apple Media/77 WABC Radio.
Cosby was named Radio Ink’s 2018 Most Influential Woman Legend of the Year and has won six Gracie Awards in radio, including for Outstanding Host and Outstanding Talk Show. She previously worked at 77 WABC radio, serving as the station’s political editor and as the anchor of weekend and midday talk shows, from 2014 to 2018.
“The Rita Cosby Show” begins at 10 pm on March 15, 2021, and be heard on 770 AM throughout the New York City greater metropolitan area and live on the internet at https://wabcradio.com/.
In the weeks since Donald Trump departed the White House — and during the four years he resided there – we were constantly told that conservatism is in crisis. Then again, crisis seems to be a recurring condition for conservatism, or, more precisely, for the American conservative movement. By and large, these crises have proved fertile. American conservatism’s resilience over the last seven decades — its ability to shift weight and adjust focus to achieve a suitable balance — suggests that what appears as calamitous disarray involves salutary adaptation, sometimes painful and awkward, to changing circumstances.
The post-World War II conservative movement was born in crisis. Communist totalitarianism abroad and rapid expansion of the welfare state at home provoked incisive responses from two camps: those determined to conserve individual freedom and limited government and those dedicated to conserving traditional morality. Both classical liberalism and traditionalism had populist appeal, espousing principles that political and intellectual elites rejected but which significant swaths of ordinary voters embraced.
In 1955, a sense of crisis surrounded William F. Buckley’s launch of National Review. The upstart magazine quickly established itself as American conservatism’s preeminent publication, serving as a home for classical liberals and traditionalists, who were often at loggerheads even as polite society ostracized both. The conservative movement’s first national standard-bearer, Barry Goldwater, suffered a landslide defeat in the 1964 presidential election to Lyndon Johnson. In the mid-1970s, the fallout from Watergate roiled conservatism as well as the nation. George H.W. Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election sent shock waves through the conservative movement as did Barack Obama’s defeat of John McCain in 2009 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
In each instance, the movement regrouped, recalibrating the balance between classical liberal and traditionalist imperatives, while appealing to the people against the elites. National Review laid the groundwork for Goldwater’s candidacy. His defeat and Watergate’s tumult served as preludes to Ronald Reagan’s presidency. President Clinton’s failed effort (which effectively excluded Republican participation) to pass health-care reform energized Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution. President Obama’s successful passage of health-care reform (which also effectively excluded Republican input) galvanized the Tea Party movement. Eventually, the Obama administration’s permissive immigration policy and inattentiveness to the distress that globalization wrought in working-class households fueled the populist backlash that Donald Trump rode to the White House.
In “A New Conservatism: Freeing the Right From Free-Market Orthodoxy,” published this month in Foreign Affairs, Oren Cass addresses conservatism’s current crisis. He sensibly contends that, in light of Trump’s achievements and implosion, conservatism must rebalance its priorities. For good reason, Cass urges conservatives to develop better policies to deal with inequality, labor, and public education. However, his tendentious critique of those whom he disparages as promulgators of “market fundamentalism” — from whom he would strip the title conservative – echoes old errors that marked internecine conservative strife dating back to the 1950s. It also warps today’s political realities and subverts Cass’s aspiration to form a right-leaning governing coalition.
Cass is executive director of American Compass. Founded in 2020, the new organization’s mission is “[t]o restore an economic consensus that emphasizes the importance of family, community, and industry to the nation’s liberty and prosperity.” At the time, Jack Butler gently observed in National Review that “some of Cass’s immediate claims are worth questioning.” That remains true.
Consider his mockery of conservatives’ response to the COVID-19 global pandemic: “Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House flipped frantically through their dog-eared playbooks from the 1980s to determine just the right tax cut for the moment.” In the pandemic’s wake and consistent with their principles, many conservatives did propose tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Cass, however, falsely accuses Republicans of having “hewed rigidly to an agenda of tax and spending cuts, deregulation, and free trade.”
Actually, the GOP adopted a hybrid agenda. On March 27, 2020, in the pandemic’s early days, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by a Republican-led Senate and a Democratic-led House. The CARES Act provided one-time cash payments to individuals, temporarily supplemented unemployment benefits, authorized loans to small businesses and large corporations, and delivered hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments. In May 2020, the Trump administration announced Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership that in record time supplied the American people and nations around the world with responsibly tested and highly efficacious vaccines.
Cass’s narrow definition of conservatism further distorts his analysis. “The hallmark of conservativism,” he begins reasonably enough, “is not, as is often thought, opposition to change or the desire for a return to some earlier time.” A related mistake, he observes, is “that conservatives lack substantive preferences.” But instead of identifying American conservatism’s substantive preferences — along with its principles and understanding of human nature and government — Cass highlights conservatism’s supposedly defining concern: “What in fact distinguishes conservatives is their attention to the role that institutions and norms play in people’s lives and in the process of governing.”
Progressives, too, care about the moral and political impact of institutions and norms. Having wrested control of the K-12 school system and universities, mainstream media, Hollywood, and the federal bureaucracy, they seek from those commanding heights to remake popular and political culture. Moreover, the left — in the academy, the media, and government — stresses the use of law and public policy to transform family, society, and the organs of government in accordance with progressive norms. Left and right differ over which norms should be cultivated, how institutions should be structured, and the extent of government’s involvement.
Cass’s abstract definition of conservatism as attentiveness to norms and institutions, moreover, reflects the excess of abstraction that conservatives since Edmund Burke — whom Cass cites as a model — have criticized. While appreciating that conservatives in the mold of Burke must combine “a disposition to preserve” with “an ability to improve,” Cass does not adequately specify the norms and institutions central to the American experiment in ordered liberty. In contrast, we can look to “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” published in 1790. In that document, the first of the modern conservatives came to the defense of the venerable beliefs, practices, and associations that sustained British liberty against the radical dogmas about freedom emanating from Paris.
While the American conservative movement possesses substantive preferences and is dedicated to the preservation of specific institutions, Cass fails to identify the core ones. Well understood, the conservative movement in America seeks in the first place to preserve the constitutional order, which is grounded in unalienable rights, embodies the principles of limited government, and depends on a citizenry that is educated — at home, in the community, and at schools — for the rights and responsibilities of freedom. Cass rightly seeks policies that fortify families, sustain communities, and address the discontents of working-class Americans, who have been hit hard by globalization. But he tends to downplay or neglect the imperatives of individual freedom and limited government in the fashioning of such policies.
American conservatism must once again respond to crisis by striking a balance, appropriate to the circumstances and the demands of the moment, that gives both classically liberal convictions and the traditional morality that sustains freedom their due. We need not “a new conservatism” but rather a new blend of American conservatism’s enduring principles.
Former President Donald J. Trump’s recent speech to the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) put him back in the spot he most enjoys: front and center of the national conversation. He’s been the topic, even as President Joe Biden suffered his first defeat on Capitol Hill and House Democrats passed a bill that suppresses our treasured right to freedom of speech.
Trump, always controversial, continued unhelpfully to assert the election was stolen from him even while effectively attacking the nascent Biden administration for undoing policies that “made America great again.”
The speech breathed new life into the discussion of a possible run in 2024 and whether he could win the Republican nomination.
Republicans and Democrats both know he could be a formidable presidential candidate in 2024, should he win the GOP nomination. He won 74 million votes in 2020—11 million more while losing than he did while winning in 2016. The GOP also picked up a governorship and flipped control of two state legislative chambers from Democrat to Republican (Democrats flipped none). Out of 227 defeated state legislators seeking re-election, only 52 belonged to the GOP.
Trump ran ahead of John McCain and Mitt Romney among blacks and Hispanics, and the GOP came within an eyelash of winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives—when pre-election forecasts predicted they’d lose as many as two dozen seats.
Still, it’s not all gravy. The GOP lost control of the U.S. Senate and, as Karl Rove pointed out recently in The Wall Street Journal, almost all the Republicans running for the House ran ahead of Mr. Trump—”including eight in the 14 closest races that gave the GOP its pickups.” Down-ballot, the pattern was repeated, as many state legislative candidates ran ahead of the president.
Trump ran ahead of John McCain and Mitt Romney among blacks and Hispanics, and the GOP came within an eyelash of winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives—when pre-election forecasts predicted they’d lose as many as two dozen seats.
Still, it’s not all gravy. The GOP lost control of the U.S. Senate and, as Karl Rove pointed out recently in The Wall Street Journal, almost all the Republicans running for the House ran ahead of Mr. Trump—”including eight in the 14 closest races that gave the GOP its pickups.” Down-ballot, the pattern was repeated, as many state legislative candidates ran ahead of the president.
Others have encouraged the party to disavow Trump and what they refer to as “Trumpism”—which, until the former president’s speech at CPAC, was a phrase left either ill- or un-defined by those advocating for it.
This is where the danger lies—something that could plunge the GOP into a prolonged civil war that could cost the party greatly, and for a long time. Going forward, the party needs to decide what it’s for and what it’s against, and give the American people “an agenda worth voting for,” as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to say.
What that in mind, it’s important to first define what “Trumpism” is in order to decide if it should be tossed aside. At CPAC the former president defined it as support for cutting marginal tax rates and deregulation to spur economic growth and job creation, traditional values and a strong military, secure borders and a merit-based immigration system, law enforcement, the rule of law, the Second Amendment, life, liberty and not letting China eat America for lunch (among other things).
Altogether, that sounds like an agenda most conservatives could, and should, support.
There may be other positions out there that people in positions of influence would like to see the GOP adopt. If there are, they should say so now, so that a discussion can be had. Simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as some suggest, would erase decades of progress by conservatives in defining the GOP as a coalition standing for free minds, free people and free markets.
That’s not to suggest everything about Trump should be swallowed whole. Like many of his predecessors, he refused to tackle entitlements, did nothing to address spending and approached important intergenerational issues and societal changes in a ham-handed, angry fashion. It’s one thing to push back against the Left—and it’s important he did—but it’s equally important to pursue consensus and to remember that compromise does not necessarily equal capitulation.
Right now, the GOP is stuck. To move forward and regain the majority in Congress as well as the presidency, the party must figure out how to take from Trump what was best while casting off things that were political or electoral liabilities. It’s not as hard as it sounds—and it’s been done before, as in 1994, when Republicans got past President George H.W. Bush’s betrayal of his promise to never raise taxes to win back Congress for the first time in 40 years.
The party’s mission, as the former president told CPAC, “must be to create a future of good jobs, strong families, safe communities, a vibrant culture and a great nation for all Americans.” If the GOP can come up with a plan to do that, its future electoral success is assured.
Why Rush Limbaugh matters
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Feb. 7, 2020. The Washington Free Beacon is reposting on the occasion of Rush Limbaugh’s death Feb. 17, 2021.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis spoke to Rush Limbaugh last fall at a gala dinner for the National Review Institute. The radio host was there to receive the William F. Buckley Jr. award. “He actually gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had,” Limbaugh told his audience the next day. “He listed five great conservatives and put me in the list.” DeSantis’s pantheon: William F. Buckley Jr., Ronald Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Limbaugh.
Good list. No media figure since Buckley has had a more lasting influence on American conservatism than Limbaugh, whose cumulative weekly audience is more than 20 million people. Since national syndication in 1988, Limbaugh has been the voice of conservatism, his three-hour program blending news, politics, and entertainment in a powerful and polarizing cocktail. His shocking announcement this week that he has advanced lung cancer, and his appearance at the State of the Union, where President Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, are occasions to reflect on his impact.
It’s one thing to excel in your field. It’s another to create the field in which you excel. Conservative talk radio was local and niche before Limbaugh. He was the first to capitalize on regulatory and technological changes that allowed for national scale. The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 freed affiliates to air controversial political opinions without inviting government scrutiny. As music programming migrated to the FM spectrum, AM bandwidth welcomed talk. Listener participation was also critical. “It was not until 1982,” writes Nicole Hemmer in Messengers of the Right, “that AT&T introduced the modern direct-dial toll-free calling system that national call-in shows use.”
Limbaugh made the most of these opportunities. And he contributed stylistic innovations of his own. He treated politics not only as a competition of ideas but also as a contest between liberal elites and the American public. He added the irreverent and sometimes scandalous humor and cultural commentary of the great DJs. He introduced catchphrases still in circulation: “dittohead,” “Drive-By media,” “feminazi,” “talent on loan from God.”
The template he created has been so successful that the list of his imitators on both the left and right is endless. Even Al Franken wanted in on the act. Dostoyevsky is attributed with the saying that the great Russian writers “all came out of Gogol’s ‘Overcoat.'” Political talk show hosts came out of Limbaugh’s microphone.
Limbaugh’s success prefigured more than the rise of conservative radio. His two bestsellers, The Way Things Ought to Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993), were the leading edge of the conservative publishing boom. And his television program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, produced in collaboration with Roger Ailes, was a forerunner of the opinion programming on Fox News Channel. “I had to learn how to take being hated as a measure of success,” he told a Boy Scouts awards dinner in 2009. “Nobody’s raised for that. And the person that taught me to deal with this and to remain psychologically healthy was Roger Ailes.”
Limbaugh is not fringe. His views fit in the conservative mainstream. He idolizes Buckley. “He was a fundamental individual in helping me to be able to explain what I believed instinctively, helping me to explain it to others,” Limbaugh saidlast year. The ideas are the same but the salesman is different. Limbaugh is Buckley without the accent, without the Yale credentials, without the sailboat and harpsichord. Limbaugh is a college dropout from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who spends Sundays watching the NFL and speaks in plain language. His background connects him to the audience—and to the increasingly working-class Republican voter.
Limbaugh entered stage right just as Ronald Reagan made his exit. He took from Reagan the sense that America’s future is bright, that America isn’t broken, just its liberal political, media, and cultural elites. “He rejected Washington elitism and connected directly with the American people who adored him,” Limbaugh said after Reagan’s death. “He didn’t need the press. He didn’t need the press to spin what he was or what he said. He had the ability to connect individually with each American who saw him.” The two men never met.
Limbaugh assumed Reagan’s position as leader of the conservative movement. In a letter sent to Limbaugh after the 1992 election, Reagan wrote, “Now that I’ve retired from active politics, I don’t mind that you have become the Number One voice for conservatism in our Country. I know the liberals call you the most dangerous man in America, but don’t worry about it, they used to say the same thing about me. Keep up the good work. America needs to hear ‘the way things ought to be.'”
In a long and evenhanded cover story in 1993 by James Bowman, National Review pronounced Limbaugh “the leader of the opposition.” Bowman quoted R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of The American Spectator. “We need to have people who can dramatize ideas,” Tyrrell said. “You need that literary spark. Luigi Barzini had it; Buckley has it. And, though he’s a great talker rather than a great writer, Rush has it too.”
More than a decade later, after the Republican defeat in 2008, Limbaugh once again stepped into the breach. The media likened Barack Obama to FDR. Republicans wavered. Should they cooperate with President Obama in building a “New Foundation” for America? Limbaugh gave his answer on January 16, 2009. “I’ve been listening to Barack Obama for a year and a half,” he said. “I know what his politics are. I know what his plans are, as he has stated them. I don’t want them to succeed.” Limbaugh said he hoped Obama failed. “Liberalism is our problem. Liberalism is what’s gotten us dangerously close to the precipice here. Why do I want more of it?” The monologue, and the speech he delivered to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., a month later, became a sensation. They set the tone for the Tea Party and Republican victories in 2010 and 2014.
Limbaugh did not mock Trump when the businessman announced his presidential campaign in June 2015. “This is going to resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys are going to pooh-pooh it,” he said. He spent the primary reminding listeners of the importance of defeating Hillary Clinton. Trump was not an ideological candidate, he said. Trump was a missile aimed at the establishment. If ideology matters, then you should vote for Ted Cruz. “If conservatism is your bag, if conservatism is the dominating factor in how you vote,” Limbaugh said in February 2016, “there is no other choice for you in this campaign than Ted Cruz, because you are exactly right: This is the closest in our lifetimes we have ever been to Ronald Reagan.” But, Limbaugh added, the feeling in the country might be so anti-establishment that Trump’s unusual coalition could win the presidency. It did.
To say that Limbaugh supports the president would be an understatement. Last December he introduced the president at a Turning Point USA summit. He mentioned a recent encounter on a golf course. Someone told him it is hard to defend President Trump. “I said, ‘What? Hard to defend the president? It’s one of the easiest things in the world to do.’ President Trump does not need to be defended.” The crowd cheered. A few seconds later Limbaugh said, “How do you defend Donald Trump? You attack the people who are attempting to destroy him. They’re trying to destroy you. They’re trying to transform this country into something that it was not founded to be.”
Bold, brash, divisive, funny, and amped up, President Trump’s style is similar to a shock jockey’s. His presidency is another reminder of Limbaugh’s staying power. The American right has been molded in his anti-elitist, grassroots, demotic, irreverent, patriotic, hard-charging image. Rush Limbaugh is not just a broadcaster. He defines an era.
Polarization, or a tendency toward the extremes, is a matter of degrees and frequently vexes free and democratic government. The hyper-polarization that disfigures American politics today — the determination to view fellow citizens who vote differently as mortal enemies — subverts free and democratic government.
A healthy liberal democracy thrives on a diversity of opinions. Hashing matters out in public frequently gets messy and often makes a hash of matters. But the gains that come from putting competing opinions to the test of open discussion with fellow citizens representing a range of perspectives and parties offset the inconveniences and unlovely aspects of democratic give-and-take. Free-flowing debate exposes errors to the light of day, refines evidence and argument, and develops the habit of listening and considering before dismissing or embracing.
The hyper-polarization that plagues the United States stifles the conversation among citizens that is democracy’s lifeblood. To benefit from the public exchange of opinion — indeed, to sustain it – citizens must respect others and trust that their views will be heard fairly and responded to in civil fashion. That can’t happen when a significant segment of the right despises the left and believes they are enemies of the state and a significant segment of the left despises the right and believes they are enemies of the state.
Hyper-polarization differs from the endless disagreements about policy and the normal opportunism and hypocrisy that mark democratic debate. Between 2001 and 2016, for example, views on executive power tended to reflect preferences in the most recent presidential election. As polarization intensified, the opportunism and hypocrisy got harder to swallow, but the controversies followed a familiar pattern.
During the presidency of George W. Bush, Republicans argued for far-reaching presidential powers, encompassing the authority to employ highly coercive interrogation techniques against enemy combatants, to detain them indefinitely, and to intercept a wide range of foreign and domestic communications. Democrats accused Bush of shredding the Constitution.
Subsequently, Democrats defended President Barack Obama’s still more expansive interpretation of presidential power. It included sending Americans into battle in Libya without congressional authorization, making new law through executive fiat to grant approximately 5 million undocumented immigrants the eligibility for temporary legal status, and promulgating a “dear colleague letter” that sidestepped the legally prescribed regulatory process in order to compel colleges and universities to deny the accused in campus sexual-misconduct cases elementary due-process protections. Republicans were aghast not only at Obama’s substantive policies but at the latitudinous view of executive power that informed them.
Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Republican primaries changed the terms of the debate. While frequently speaking in characteristically grandiose and sweeping terms of the extent of his power as president, President Trump did not surpass Bush or Obama in expanding executive power. Nevertheless, the self-proclaimed “resistance” to Trump’s presidency — launched before he entered the White House and set in motion publicly and behind the scenes before he won the election — indefatigably challenged his very exercise of executive power.
With Trump’s presidency, polarization in America turned into hyper-polarization. The anger and bitterness that had been increasingly rearing their ugly heads metastasized into fury and hate engulfing the body politic.
To slow down the spread of these destructive passions and lower the temperature of American politics, it will be necessary to exercise virtues of evenhandedness, toleration, and civility while embracing shared principles that can frame political controversies, bridge disagreements, and yield accommodations and compromises — sometimes favoring the right, sometimes favoring the left — with which both sides can live. In “The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution,” Michael McConnell exhibits those virtues and shows that those principles can be discovered in the Constitution.
A Stanford Law School professor and my colleague at the Hoover Institution, McConnell did not in the first place undertake to counter hyper-polarization. The work of an eminent scholar of constitutional law, his book authoritatively reconstructs the original understanding of Article II — which lays out the scope and character of the president’s powers, eligibility for the office and the manner in which the president is chosen, presidential duties, and the actions for which the president may be removed from office — and related constitutional provisions in order to illuminate contemporary controversies over executive power.
At the same time, McConnell’s study of the Constitution’s original design and his treatment of executive power furnish a nonpartisan standpoint for organizing partisan political disputes of all shapes and sizes. In addition, his unfailing judiciousness in considering evidence, sorting through claims, and reasonably interpreting and impartially applying constitutional principles provides a model of virtues that undergird free and robust discussion.
Among the leading questions at the Philadelphia convention of 1787, according to McConnell, was how to “achieve the independence, vigor, secrecy, and dispatch necessary for an effective executive without rendering him an elected monarch?” Taking advantage of executive power — which, as the president’s constitutional responsibility as commander-in-chief demonstrates, extends well beyond implementing the law made by the legislative branch — without opening the door to illiberal and anti-democratic government remains the central question for constitutional government concerning presidential power.
To understand the delegates’ answer, McConnell argues, we must become students of history. Only by grasping how the Constitution’s clauses would have been understood by Americans at the time of the document’s drafting and ratification by the states can we appreciate the Constitution’s legal meaning. That in turn requires detailed examination of British political and legal history in which the drafters were steeped as well as of the writings of Locke and Montesquieu among other seminal thinkers who shaped the era’s leading ideas and major intellectual currents.
Some will disparage — or praise — such an approach as conservative. In fact, it lies at the very heart of the judicial enterprise. If federal judges confronting cases and controversies about the supreme law of the land are not construing the Constitution as understood by those who composed it and expressly consented to it — the authority of which is tacitly affirmed in every generation by those who live under it and enjoy the rights it secures and the prosperity it promotes — then they depart from the specific grant of power the Constitution assigns to the judicial branch.
Because language is malleable, judges will encounter — in even the most carefully crafted charters of government — play in the joints and face the responsibility of filling in gaps, overcoming ambiguities, and reconciling conflicts. Whether they discharge that responsibility in light, or in defiance, of the Constitution’s text, structure, and history makes all the difference.
“Constitutional text and original meaning are the only hope we have for finding principles that could constrain modern assertions of presidential prerogative,” writes McConnell. And the principles of free and democratic government embedded in the Constitution are the only hope we have for establishing a common ground on which to conduct constructive public discourse; refine opinions about law, policy, and politics; and advance the public interest.
McConnell places on a sounder footing the jurisprudence of the presidency and the separation of powers. Legal scholars and experts in political ideas and constitutional government will derive great benefit from his meticulous and trenchant account of the work of the Philadelphia convention; of the distribution between Congress and the presidency of what were considered “royal powers” in the British political tradition; of the internal logic of Article II; and, not least, of the application of constitutional text and original meaning to classic Supreme Court cases and contemporary controversies about executive power.
Amid the hyper-polarization racking the country, McConnell’s demonstration of the centrality and wisdom of the Constitution along with the spirit of his argument, at once rigorous and generous, also contribute to the still more urgent task of stabilizing liberal democracy in America.
In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden used the word “unity” 11 times to highlight his commitment to bringing the American people together. According to one new poll, it didn’t have much of an effect. His call for a new togetherness to fight what he called “common foes” including resentment, disease, hopelessness, anger, and lawlessness appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
Whatever Biden may have said, most voters, a Rasmussen Reports telephone and online survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters “think the country has become more divided since Election Day.”
According to the poll, fewer than 1 out of every 5 are “very confident” Mr. Biden will be able to bring Americans together. A majority of those answering the survey – 56 percent – said divisions have increased since the November 2020 election while just 16 percent said they thought the country was “more united.”
Personally, Mr. Biden is doing better than his calls for national healing. His job approval, based on the averaging of six different national polls, stood at 56 percent – not exactly at traditional “Honeymoon” levels but higher than his immediate predecessor was ever able to achieve.
One way in which Mr. Biden himself may have exacerbated existing divisions has been through his aggressive use of executive orders to repeal or make changes to policies enacted during the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
While most of his predecessors – Republicans and Democrats – used this power sparingly during their initial days in office, Mr. Biden has been on something of a tear, issuing nearly two score and counting in his first weeks on the job. One of them, which rescinds the permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline at an estimated cost of more than 10,000 union jobs, has further inflamed the blue vs. green split in the Democratic Party between industrial workers and environmental activists.
The data indicates Mr. Biden has a tough needle to thread moving forward. The coalition that elected him is held together by very thin wire despite his having won a record-shattering 80 million-plus votes in the last election. Without Mr. Trump to keep progressives and Democrats united against a common enemy, the new president’s need to satisfy the demands of the people who put him in office will repeatedly come into conflict over the remainder of his term.
The Rasmussen Reports survey was conducted after Biden’s inauguration on January 25-26, 2021. The data has a reported sampling error of +/- 3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
Let's be honest: The right is making a forced retreat. Here's how we can make it a strategic one that sets our ideas up for better success in the long run.
Joe Biden’s inauguration is a sad day for those of us on the right, and it’s not just because — either through actual votes or through deliberate election confusion — we lost the Senate and presidency. It’s because so many of us are deeply aware of what Democrat reign means.
It means the acceleration of mass murder and forcing taxpayers to pay for it. It means, as my boss Ben Domenech puts it, “nuns are back on the menu.” It means, as I’ve pointed out, the increase of public schools destroying children’s innocence and facilitating minors’ access to drugs that enable HIV-positive sex. It means an entrenchment of the institutional racism of critical race theory in every institution possible, also pushed by taxpayer funds.
It means Democrats rig more structures of American life against those who disagree with them, possibly preventing us from ever having a meaningful voice in our own governance again. It means the proliferation of government spending that accelerates our nation’s likelihood of devastating economic collapse. It means frighteningly labeling half the country “domestic terrorists,” a label that prepares for stripping more of our rights. All this, in turn, makes us increasingly vulnerable to foreign enemies, propagandists, and demagogues.
This is a weight that is difficult for the perceptive to bear. Those of us who deeply treasure what makes America itself are again staring into the abyss of the genuine possibility that what we love about our country may be truly lost forever, as not just lambasted authors of Flight 93 essays but also highly studied, more tonally measured observers such as Charles Murray think is quite clear from the data.
While these losses do mean the increase of genuine moral evils and therefore deserve to be mourned, all is not lost. Yes, we’re forced to retreat, but let it be a strategic, orderly, cunning retreat, not a chaotic retreat that breaks into a rout.
There are now numerous strategic advantages and strategies available to the people who love America, if we choose to employ and enlarge them. With them we may begin, if not to “save America,” at least to enlarge some space for living more closely to America’s founding principles than we inhabit now and to mitigate the evils that are to come.
Those of us who have been paying attention are now highly aware that corporate media and corporate tech are a bicephalic propaganda monster. We’ve learned through a 2020 of constant lies, information control, and gaslighting — from COVID to Hunter Biden — that the quickest way to guess the truth is, as in communist countries, to read what state media are saying and then assume the opposite.
While it’s frightful that corrupt, pedophile-enabling corporate media control our lives right down to the air we are allowed to breathe and whether we are allowed to honestly support our families, and that the majority of Americans either believe their outright lies or are heavily influenced by them, this knowledge is also highly useful. For it means that Americans are not necessarily supportive of socialism and baby murder and all the other things that Democrats do when in power. It means that our country still includes a lot of well-meaning people who love America but have been deeply deceived enough to turn it over to its worst enemies.
This means Democrats do not have, in any way, shape, or form, a mandate to perpetrate the policies upon which they are about to embark. Their empire is built on a throne of lies. And empires like that are weak and unstable, as Democrats’ fortification of the capitol and crazy accusations that U.S. soldiers who voted for Trump are traitors also projects.
This weakness means danger, but also opportunity. We must be ready to bind up the wounds and welcome to our ranks those the left’s culture war has devastated. We must do our utmost to dispel the lies that give the left power. Information warfare — in education and media contexts, primarily — should be a top priority.
Additionally, this means (metaphorical) war against corporate and tech media dominance is highly needed and will be effective. It has plenty of room and need for growth. It also means that citizens need to do more to combat media lies and provide the basic information Americans need and which big media takeovers have entirely hollowed out. Their lies need to not only be exposed, but replaced with truth.
I’d start with forming local blogs focused on local information-sharing about basic entities like the school board, city council, election laws and procedures, and district attorney. It’s not that hard to go to a meeting and write a 800-word summary of what happened. Get a dozen friends and divide up the job.
Ask DA and county sheriff’s candidates their positions on the crazy things Democrats are doing like springing rioters and enabling opioid spread, and publish what they do or don’t say. Stop railing on Facebook and start attending public meetings and writing about them on your own local group blog.
As a part of Democrats’ lack of awareness they lack a mandate other than “don’t be Trump,” they are going to overshoot, big time. They are going to enact many extremist ideas. Even the propaganda media won’t be able to entirely hide this from Americans. And there will be backlash.
This will heighten the contradictions between Democrat leadership and many current Democrat base voters who are staying with the party even though its priorities hurt them and the nation. The lack of Trump as an all-purpose leftist scapegoat will assist with this.
As has been widely noted, Trump was able to break through some of the racial stereotypes about what it means to be a Republican or Democrat and earn more nonwhite support. With him in retirement, those of us on the right have the opportunity to continue making his case without being saddled with his baggage.
This is a huge opportunity. Without Trump to use as an excuse for everything, Democrats are going to provide clarity to many more voters that they are actually the totalitarians they project onto the right. They are going to harass nuns, foster parents and agencies, Christian camps, and minorities who disagree with them. They are going to be more obviously the party of the rich and corrupt.
It’s a bad look. And it will turn voters away. Again, we need to be ready to welcome these voters even if they are not ideologically “pure.” I’d rather have a wasteful social welfare state that murders fewer babies, supports free speech, and doesn’t harass nuns than a corporate welfare state that harasses the poor and religious. If that is the tradeoff we get, I’ll take it.
In the wake of the capitol riots that weren’t perpetrated by Black Lives Matter, big corporations and chambers of commerce have pulled their high-dollar donations from many Republicans and Republican political funds. Good.
For years, elected Republicans offered lip service and placebos to their base voters and did what big corporate donors actually wanted, which hurt their voters and structurally undermined their long-term support, such as through mass illegal immigration. This has rightly fueled the public perception that Republicans care only about money and rich people, rather than an equal playing field for all and the common good. Now without those donations, they have no reason to offend and harm large numbers of voters to suck up to a small number of donors. This will make them more competitive and less corrupt.
Behavior like the below, for example, will erase the financial incentive for Republican officeholders to provide special breaks and bailouts for businesses that pay politicians big money to slant the legal playing field in their favor. Trump has made for a GOP that is far more competitive in the small-dollar online donor space. This will further help low-information voters see that Democrats are the party of the corrupt at the expense of the people, and make the GOP less so.
COVID shutdowns with no end in sight are a violation of our natural, constitutional, and human rights. However, as with a Biden administration coming to power, this evil also will cause damage to those who attempt to wield it against their enemies.
It will mean a quicker downfall of many corrupted institutions, from “churches” that don’t proclaim orthodox theology losing parishioners who will never come back from “virtual church” to the death of higher education institutions that have been colluding with corrupt politicians to scam gullible young people out of their futures.
Our country is populated by people who fail to the top. But the more of them there are, the more enemies they make and the weaker their rigged systems become. And the more aware their opponents and the people caught in the middle become of their decay.
This will mean more cultural, theological, and philosophical refugees. Ready the lifeboats for them now.
Let every locale where it is possible create the most secure voting systems in the world. Let every locale where it is possible elect and support sheriffs who will not allow a Biden administration to crush Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Let every Republican governor and member of Congress who has lost corporate support now make a ruthless plan to eliminate corporate favors from the entire legal code over which they have jurisdiction.
Let every single town board and town council put Comcast, Verizon, and all other ISPs and broadband providers on notice that if they do not adhere to First Amendment protections for all customers, these local governments will be finding another business to profit from the public infrastructure in their towns. Let every single legislature controlled by Republicans ban the institutional racism of critical race theory in every single public workplace in their state, including universities and public schools. If every elected Republican will not support this, they should be put on record explaining why not, by citizens and their local news blogs.
If the United States is to live under neo-feudalism, in which our rights are subject to the whim of whoever is in power and shift with every election instead of being protected forever equally for all under the Constitution, then let these neo-feudal lords begin to stake their territorial claims and protect their citizens as best they can, severing the levers the abusers of our rights deploy against us (such as federal funding).
Let sanctuary cities and states no longer be only for California. It will be a good thing for the federal government to have more difficulty forcing its schemes on states and local governments.
All this will only accelerate the migration from blue to red states that is already underway.
The sheer extent of the degradation of America’s founding principles and the citizenry who once had the character to live under them clarifies what is at stake. No longer can we pretend that identity group “antidiscrimination” rules are compatible with equal protection or the First Amendment. No longer can we pretend that a government that can dole out unfathomable amounts of money can do so without corrupting both those who give and those who receive this false charity.
We now live among the real-world results of implementing leftist ideology, and it’s not pretty. And no one can really deny it. This is why Democrats take refuge in the culture war, the cult at the core of their secular religion — they have nothing left to offer the masses but bread and circuses.
This is pushing people to make significant life changes towards a more meaningful and integrity-filled way of life, and to seek other people to join this journey. It is also pushing the truly awake people — and a few of our lawmakers — to reach down into the well of first principles to find water in a parched land. This well is an abundant source of life and renewal that many people would not seek if life stayed comfortable.
This is precisely the time for we anti-wokesters to coalesce around principles on which we can all agree. This may be our only hope of survival, in fact. As in the Cold War era, to defeat our common foe we need a broader coalition that is necessarily going to include a lot of people who disagree on a lot of particulars.
To work out our strategies and points of agreement to fight not against each other but against our common foe in the ideology of the totalitarian left, we need to encourage more speech, not less. We need to engage more points of view and be willing to let more people speak, not fewer. We need to not be primarily attacking and tone-policing people of good will who love our country, but primarily facing outward at the barbarians who control the gates and want to destroy our country.
This doesn’t mean there are no morals, that people should be relieved of the burden of proving their assertions, or that we should elevate the voices of people who believe things that have been soundly proven to be wrong (such as Holocaust deniers). It means, however, that instead of banning them from the Internet or refusing to allow them to air their ideas, we should listen with empathy and try to understand their points of view. Our primary orientation should be persuasion, conversion, discussion, and openness, not eradication.
Instead of shutting people up because we disagree with their conclusions, we should ask them to prove their assertions and explain what led them to their stances, as James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian recommend in their excellent book. If it works with Ku Klux Klan members and people in divorce counseling, it can help our country too.
As regarding the capitol rioters, the propaganda narrative depicts us and Trump making a cacophonous, beaten-puppy exit. But in fact, as this week’s impeachment vote and more prove, we are highly unified. The outliers are given outsized voices by corporate media to deceive and demoralize us.
We are not like these rioters in any way, including in making an ignominious exit. Yes, we’re headed for the wilderness circuit that befalls a party out of power, but the truth is, we’ve been out of power this whole time. Trump was undermined and lied to continuously by every branch of the government he was elected to command. The past four years have made this and many other truths much plainer to see. Seeing clearly makes it possible and necessary for us to act prudently.
Being in the wilderness also has its advantages. They include loyalty — not sycophancy, but loyalty of the kind that only arises amid brothers and sisters in arms under constant attack. It teaches us to sacrifice, to become tougher, leaner, smarter, more agile. These are all great assets that may or may not give us a political advantage here in this temporal life, but absolutely make us better fit for eternal life. And the left can never truly command people whose souls are free, no matter how strong they appear to be.
The noise generated by President Donald J. Trump’s contesting the outcome of the November election is drowning out the news that the results yielded more good than bad for the GOP. Once again, the much-ballyhooed “Big Blue Wave” broke up before it crashed on the shores. The Republicans gained net one governor, flipped at least two net state legislative chambers, maintained their good field position crucial to the upcoming post-reapportionment redistricting and, counting only contested seats, came out ahead in the national vote for Congress.
This leaves the party in better-than-expected shape heading out of the Trump era. Most of the focus now is on the two Georgia run-off elections, which will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. Consequently, there’s been little discussion of what current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and his allies should do when it comes time to organize the House.
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are heading into the next Congress with one of the slimmest majorities in history. A switch of just a handful of votes by so-called “moderate” Democrats, who claim they’re chafed every time Pelosi cracks the whip to drive her conference leftward, would block anything she wants to do—including her re-election to the speakership.
Among those moderates, 10 returning to the House in 2021 voted against her for speaker in 2019. That’s more than McCarthy needs to become speaker if he wins over those moderates and also maintains the unanimous support of his own conference, leaving Pelosi in a precarious position.
National politics being what they are, there’s almost no scenario in which a Democrat wishing to be re-elected votes for McCarthy over Pelosi even if such a vote would play well with most of the voters back home. Any Democrat who did that would have to change parties or risk re-nomination next time. But what if one of these alleged moderates, like Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger, Michigan’s Elissa Slotkin of New York’s Kathleen Rice, announced a last-minute challenge to Pelosi’s leadership?
They’ve said publicly they’re at least uncomfortable with Pelosi’s progressivism, and feel the actions of “The Squad” and others are a drag on the party’s future. So why not launch a revolution that would, on a bipartisan basis, drag the House back toward the center, matching what’s been billed as the upcoming centrist Biden presidency? McCarthy could probably deliver the GOP votes necessary to pull something like that off without needing too much in return. Maybe he’d settle for an agreement to increase the number of bills brought to the floor under an open rule, or an end to the proxy voting created to address pandemic-related concerns but no longer needed as vaccines are rolled out.
This has been done before—and recently, in both Texas and Ohio. Both states saw moderate Republicans chosen to lead their state’s Houses of Representatives, with the backing of Democrats wishing to block the installation of more conservative Republicans as speakers.
The arrangement in Texas was successful and lasted several sessions. Things in Ohio ran aground after the speaker was indicted on corruption charges—but the plan to put him in the chair still worked. To pull something like this off in the U.S. House, McCarthy and his inner circle will need to start thinking and acting like Democrats, at least politically, and turn up the heat on the moderates.
This isn’t just a fool’s errand. With the GOP sitting somewhere around 212 seats—pending the true finalization of one result in each of New York and Iowa—the pathway back to the majority is indeed achievable. Preliminary estimates of the upcoming reapportionment’s effect on who will control the House suggest that McCarthy and his compatriots should pick up at least six seats, with lines drawn fairly and without having to depend on the kind of extreme gerrymandering the Democrats used in places like California, Ohio and North Carolina to keep control of the House throughout the 1980s.
With control of the floor in doubt and with the country just having voted to eschew extremism in favor of a problem-solving approach to the nation’s woes, McCarthy can help himself by advancing the interests of the moderates in the other party over the progressives. To do that, he needs to be conciliatory while, at the same time, making every vote to move left a tough one. He must call on the Pelosi-skeptical faction of Spanberger, Slotkin, Rice, Tennessee’s Jim Cooper and Maine’s Jared Golden (whose congressional district Trump carried in 2016 and 2020) to be sensible and join with his caucus to vote down extreme Pelosi-backed proposals to raise taxes, drive up energy and food prices, make America less safe, and open the borders.
It’s doable. Most conservatives believe the fight against the socialist agenda will come in the Senate—which is why the GOP must win the Georgia run-offs, so Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell can remain majority leader. If he doesn’t, new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (who will be spending much of the next two years worrying that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) might soon primary him from the left) will let every extreme proposal under the sun, from court-packing to publicly funded abortion, sail right through.
The Senate-focused conservatives may be right. McConnell can be counted on to stop anything extreme from coming to the floor. And a Schumer-led Senate would probably be a nightmare for conservatives. With the right attitude and organization, however, coupled with the ability to apply pressure in the right ways and in the right places, McCarthy could have a similar effect in the House as McConnell can have in the Senate. Forcing a handful of self-described Democratic moderates to declare where they stand—with progressive Pelosi or with the people back home—is the beginning of the fight to keep America from lurching sharply to the left over the next decade.
For some unexplainable reason, conservatives rush towards fratricide with the same kind of urgency that drives lemmings over the edge of the cliff. It’s what they do, even when it’s counterproductive and costly.
Conservatism was not made better off by the four-year campaign waged against Speaker Newt Gingrich by some House conservatives who considered him ideologically unreliable. It was not helped by John Boehner’s premature departure from Congress, brought about by the continual political headaches caused by House Republicans on his right flank who branded him an establishment sellout even after he forced President Obama to agree to nearly draconian spending cuts without giving up much in return.Recommended
A small group of so-called purists on the right even crossed swords with Ronald Reagan, without whom modern conservatism would have emerged stillborn after the thumping Barry Goldwater received in 1964 from Lydon Johnson.
Since Reagan, the GOP has marketed itself as the party of ideas and open debate. His eight years in the White House transformed the world as well as the U.S. government. He created a revolution the results of which progressives are still trying to roll back. His policies led to the rebirth of the American economy and the national spirit; millions of new jobs and small businesses were created; and the Cold War concluded in a way many did not think possible. Many forget that when Whittaker Chambers broke with the Soviets, he thought he was leaving the winning side of the struggle to join with the losers.
In the light of what appears to be Donald Trump’s defeat in his bid for reelection, conservatives are now turning on Fox News, a channel where I once appeared with some frequency back in the 1990s, over its supposed ideological apostasy.
What nonsense. Fox was never an explicitly conservative organization but, as conceived by Rupert Murdoch and brought to life by Roger Ailes, it was successfully positioned as the counterpunch to the overtly liberal networks that dominated the media: CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN.
It was a needed, even necessary, addition to the nation’s information stream. The opinion side of the network leans heavily to the right but the newsgathering operation plays it mostly down the middle, remembering the need for balance because every story has at least two sides.
As a programming strategy, it works. The network is a financial and ratings juggernaut embraced by conservatives because Fox News gave their agenda and personalities a fair hearing. Now, because the network’s decision desk called Arizona — a state critical to Trump’s re-election prospects — for Joe Biden on election night, some so-called true believers are encouraging those of like mind to turn to other channels.
This is fratricidal and foolish. With Biden probably coming into the White House with a progressive to-do list that includes wiping out the gains made since the Reagan years, the plan to isolate Fox, one of the few places in the major media where conservative ideas can be discussed openly and without the anchors sniping at them, is silly, What other news outlet covers the deeds and misdeeds of national Democrats with the same enthusiasm that MSNBC, the New York Times, and the rest of the mainstream media go after the Republicans?
The liberal narrative has always been that Fox is the voice of the right. They’re still saying it, as David Brock’s Media Matters for America made clear in a recent email, saying:
As President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral vote margin and popular vote margin grew last weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted clips and quotes from Fox programs that were laced with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the election. Since that time Fox News propagandists have promoted a variety of conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud. Once again, Trump is amplifying the work of Fox to falsely claim that he won the election.
If the right turns its back on Fox, it would be an act of rank stupidity. The decision to put Arizona in the Biden camp did not, as some have claimed, affecting the voting in Nevada. It didn’t happen until the polls were closed and, anyway, it looks to have been the correct call – a potential recount and allegations of irregularity notwithstanding. As far as the alleged betrayal of conservative interests goes, has any other news channel given the kind of attention to the still-unfolding Hunter Biden scandal it has? Tucker Carlson’s hour-long interview with Tony Bobulinski, the whistleblower providing the goods on Hunter Biden and the Biden family’s alleged international corruption, was seen by more people than any other interview in recent memory.
The Bobulinski revelations wouldn’t be covered by “60 Minutes” or Rachel Maddow or Anderson Cooper. If anything, they’d be covered up, just as the debilitating consequences of the Democratic lockdowns and the real objectives of Black Lives Matter and antifa have been. The Big Tech progressives who got Biden elected don’t want conservative opinions appearing anywhere any more than they want the truth about the left to be aired. That’s what the cancel culture is about.
In a battle for all the marbles, conservatives can ill afford to limit their reach. Cutting off Fox in favor of small outlets – some of which I do appear on currently – is like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The right needs to build its network, not cut it back. The perfect should not be the enemy of the good. If anything, conservatives should be looking to expand their reach and finding ways to defeat the progressives. Energy spent on fighting the movement’s allies is energy wasted.
It’s not Trump supporters who are living in a fantasyland, but members of the corporate media who sense their power and influence waning.
With the end of Donald Trump’s presidency fast approaching, we’ve seen a surge of columns and posts asserting that Republicans and Trump supporters have lost touch with reality. After four years of marinating in “falsehoods” and “disinformation”—a term that really just means “information I don’t like”—Trump’s backers are all turned around, we’re told. They believe much that isn’t so.
David Brooks of The New York Times explains that these poor saps, most of whom, he says, are uneducated, uncredentialed people who don’t live in prosperous cities, have retreated to conspiracy theories to explain their misfortune and unhappiness. “People in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers,” he writes. Trump, QAnon, and Alex Jones “rose up to give them those stories and provide that community.”
Over at The New Yorker, editor David Remnick ponders the grave costs of Trump’s “assault on the press and the truth,” asking how many COVID-19 victims “died because they chose to believe the President’s dismissive accounts of the disease rather than what public-health officials were telling the press? Half of Republican voters believe Trump’s charge that the 2020 election was ‘rigged.’ What will be the lasting effects on American democracy of that disinformation campaign?”
These are just representative samples, but across the mainstream commentariat the gist is all the same: if you support Trump, you’re likely a poor person who believes conspiracy theories and is dangerously disconnected from reality, partly because you resent successful people like Messrs. Brooks and Remnick. You live in a fantasyland because it assuages your feelings of inferiority, which are mostly justified. You’re paranoid because you’re powerless, and the alternate reality you’ve constructed for yourself gives you a sense of power and agency in a confusing, unsettled world.
But here’s the thing. Everything these media elites say about Trump supporters can more properly be said about media elites themselves. Who really has been living in a fantasyland these last four years? Is it the ordinary Americans—including a lot of educated, white-collar professionals—who voted for a president they felt would shake up the sclerotic status quo in Washington, or a press corps that perpetuated an actual conspiracy about Trump-Russia collusion for years?
It was Remnick’s New Yorker, after all, that published a serious-seeming essay in September 2018 that claimed Facebook had been weaponized by “Russian agents who wanted to sow political chaos and help Trump win” in the 2016 election—an effort, the author said, that had an “astonishing impact.” Never mind the preposterousness of claiming that a couple hundred thousand dollars in Facebook advertising had an “astonishing impact” on the outcome of the 2016 election, there has never been a shred of evidence that “Russian interference” changed or altered even a single vote in 2016.
A New Yorker staff writer named Evan Osnos wrote that article. Osnos won the National Book Award in 2014 and in 2015 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s won many other prizes and worked all over the world, and, just before the election, published a flattering book about former Vice President Joe Biden. Osnos is the sort of fellow Brooks has in mind when he talks about “professional members” of the “epistemic regime”—the people who know what’s real and tell us so, a job for which they are richly rewarded.
What else has this supposedly enlightened member of the epistemic elite told us? In June, he compared Trump’s White House, which had a temporary fence around it after Black Lives Matter protests turned into riots, to the Zhongnanhai, the seat of China’s communist government in Beijing, where “people are more accustomed than Americans are to the notion of leaders who live and work secluded from the public.”
Earlier that month, Osnos dashed off a post that described—falsely, as it turned out—protests in Lafayette Square on June 1 as “peaceful.” We all know, even if the media refused to report it, that the protesters were not at all peaceful, and in fact were hurling “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at police.
This isn’t really about Osnos, his hackery notwithstanding, but about his professional class—a class that fervently believes much that isn’t so. Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, members of Osnos’ class still believe that Trump got substantial help from Russia in 2016. They believe, still, that Trump is a dangerous authoritarian who might just destroy the republic. They believe, still, that the only reason tens of millions of Americans would support Trump is that they are racists or rubes, or both.
Osnos and Remnick and the rest of our media elites believe these things for the same reason Brooks thinks Trump supporters are conspiracy theory-addled suckers: they are becoming irrelevant, they are losing power and influence, their status as members of the epistemic regime is uncertain—indeed, their entire regime seems to be collapsing, and they know it.
It’s not too much to say, quoting Brooks, that “people in this precarious state are going to demand stories that will both explain their distrust back to them and also enclose them within a safe community of believers.”
So we will continue to see stories and commentary from the epistemic regime that soothe men like Brooks, Remnick, and Osnos, assuring them all is well, that credulous, mendacious Trump supporters have been put in their place, and that after a harrowing four years, all is once again as it should be.
Heavy-handed bureaucracy is set for a comeback under Biden
Barack Obama had a nickname for the highly credentialed economists who surrounded him during his first term. He called them “propeller heads.” It was his way of joshing—and asserting superiority over—figures such as Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Austan Goolsbee, Jason Furman, and other wonks with impeccable CVs and intimidating confidence in their own opinions. The label reduced these résumé gods to propeller-beanie geeks. Like most Obama statements, it was also a self-flattering way for the president to demonstrate the value he places on intellection, data, and expert knowledge. He and his fellow progressives love the idea that reason, logic, and science legitimize the power they wield through law and bureaucratic diktat.
The public wasn’t so enamored. The weaknesses of the propeller heads became evident over time. No doubt because of their glorious self-image, the propeller heads assumed that government could easily implement their ambitious theories and complicated schemes. They assumed that human beings could be “nudged” into desired behaviors. They placed one set of values—efficiency, equality, safety, carbon or gender neutrality—ahead of others, especially individual freedom and religious liberty. They neglected or waved away unanticipated consequences. They treated disagreement or disobedience as irrational or pathological—a manifestation of racism or sexism or greed. They often went ahead with their plans regardless of disapproval or rejection.
The propeller-head mentality is “we know best.” It dominated the administration. It produced a stimulus that did not stimulate, an unpopular health care plan, a contraceptive mandate that inspired lawsuits against nuns, a cap-and-trade bill that never became law, a financial reform that squeezed community banks, a GM bailout that stiffed non-union pensioners, a series of coal and water regulations that put miners and farmers out of business, an immigration amnesty by fiat that set off a rush for the border, and a nuclear deal that rewarded Iran for its malign behavior. Perhaps the most significant consequence of the imperious and heavy-handed manner in which experts ruled during the Obama years was the political reaction it inspired. The propeller heads like to believe they are the stewards of a healthier, cleaner, safer, saner world. But they are really the midwives of national populism, the doulas of Donald Trump.
And now they are set for a comeback. When you read the Biden-Sanders unity task force recommendations, go over Biden’s potential cabinet picks, or examine the membership of Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, you see the outlines of an administration committed to the same technocratic principles and top-down, uniform, centralized style of governance as its Democratic precursor. In some cases—if Susan Rice becomes secretary of state, for example—the very same people will be in charge. In other cases, the personalities will be new, but the methods will be similar.
The center-left views of academic, media, and cultural and foreign-policy elites will be ratified as sacrosanct. Officials will attempt, not always successfully and with unpredictable effects, to turn these opinions into policy, through legislation if possible but through regulation mostly. Dissenting forces will be problematized as disingenuous, malevolent, or not entirely sane. The one place where the public will be able to register its opposition is the voting booth.
Many opinion leaders in Washington dispute the above scenario. They point to Biden’s reputation as a moderate, to his decades-long relationship with Mitch McConnell, to the constraints he will face with a narrow House majority and a potential Republican Senate. They hope that the establishment, restored to its former fading glory, will reassert its control and “turn down the temperature.” Biden, they add, will have a “caretaker presidency.” He and McConnell will work out some small-bore tax changes. Maybe an infrastructure plan will pass. Otherwise things will drift merrily along, with Trump tweeting furiously from the sidelines.
My pundit friends forget the nature of the propeller heads. The propeller heads know they are right—their degrees and titles and offices and accolades prove it. They know that government exists to perform the functions of social uplift and rational control. They are not about to sit back and let the Delaware gang and the apex predator of American politics run the show. There’s a virus to crush, a climate to save, a liberal international order to rebuild.
Two of Biden’s appointees to the COVID-19 transition advisory board, for instance, support another national lockdown. Will Biden overrule them as cases mount and the media call for something to be done?
Biden’s deputy campaign manager told Chuck Todd the other day that her boss “campaigned on an incredibly progressive and aggressive agenda” and that “he’s going to make good on those commitments,” including his “big, aggressive” climate plan. Will Biden stand aside as this agenda runs into the maw of Joe Manchin and the Senate Republicans? Or will he say that he, too, has “a pen and a phone” and instruct his EPA and Energy Departments to act accordingly?
It was recently disclosed that Iran has 12 times the nuclear material allowed under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and installed advanced centrifuges in its underground research facility. The theocratic government of Ayatollah Khamenei is isolated internationally. Its economy is under tremendous strain from American sanctions. And Biden and his team are ready to reenter the nuclear deal if Iran will have them, rewarding an authoritarian state sponsor of terrorism in order to demonstrate to Europe that “America is back.”
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a propeller head who doesn’t know his limitations,” David Brooks wrote in 2009. Today’s propeller heads are more ambitious than they were a decade ago. And far more moralistic. Come January, they will return to their old offices and resume their old games. Sure, a few of the names will be different. But the results will be the same.
We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine.
If Joe Biden walks away with a presidential victory, conservatives will have many reasons to despair. This would portend some terrifying realities about propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion, the acceptance of potential fraud, and the willingness to accept the curtailment of basic liberties.
But it need not. In fact, conservatives have reason to be quite hopeful. We might be in an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment, wherein striking Trump down will make his movement more powerful than anyone can possibly imagine. Beyond the typical takes on the election that give conservatives hope — we appear to have kept the Senate, and socialism and critical race theory lost — we have five long-term reasons to be hopeful.
At some level, the left has to be jealous. For any chance of defeating Donald Trump, look what they had to settle for: a dementia-addled, 78-year-old fossil who’s spent 47 years in the Senate as a pandering politician straight out of Central Casting. But the Democrat establishment pushed him because he polled best against Trump and, as Democrats are so quick to remind us, “science and data.”
Ah, I remember those days. I remember hearing the smart set tell us how a Herman Cain would be an abject failure as a candidate or president, so we’d better go with a traditional politician, such as John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Jeb Bush.
Then came Trump, dismantling the entire paradigm. One of the most beloved politicians in our history, he showed us how a successful American with a love for his country can do great things, things politicians have been promising for years, such as lowering unemployment for minorities, increasing wages for the working class, sticking it to communist China, creating peace in the Middle East, giving us energy independence, restructuring bad trade deals, withdrawing from foreign entanglements, and revolutionizing the federal judiciary.
Meanwhile, the Democrats get to watch a doddering hack grapple with the wily Sen. Mitch McConnell for four years, while trying to pick up the pieces of an economy they tanked to get Biden elected president and nothing else. Or maybe they’re looking forward to a President Kamala Harris doing her “Excuse me! Excuse me!” routine like that vice principal you mocked in high school.
You almost have to laugh. While they’re locked into “establishment mode” for four years, pantomiming gravitas with their whole “adults in the room” schtick to impress the seven remaining people watching CNN, the right will be having a blast retaking the House, nurturing a new generation of Trump-like candidates, and choosing another unconventional leader for president in 2024 that we actually like and don’t have to hold our noses to select. We’re done with the establishment, and it feels so liberating.
Let’s get into that new generation of conservatives. Trump brought in a significant swath of working-class voters. The Blexit movement continues, with obvious results in the increased turnout of black voters for Trump. With Trump’s Hispanic gains, can we say the whole “demography is destiny” theory officially ran out of juice at, of all places, the Rio Grande and southern Florida?
The last these demographic groups tasted of genuine Trumpism — prior to the Wuhan virus — they were doing outstanding. Now they got Biden to build his case that destroying the energy sector and subsidizing green energy will really get things going again.
Who better than an old, pandering white guy to convince young minority Americans that maybe it’s time for a second exodus from the Democrat plantation? And who will be on the sidelines with a megaphone the whole time saying, “I told you so. Remember what you had under me?”
That of course leads to our third reason for long-term hope: Trump isn’t going anywhere. This is a man who did five to six rallies a day, speaking an hour and a half at each one, for two weeks after recuperating from COVID-19. He’s also a man who hates losing, and his family is completely invested in the movement he started.
Who knows how this will translate. There’s talk of him beginning a right-leaning media outfit to compete with Fox News. Will he continue doing rallies to inspire support for a transformed Republican Party? Will he do a Grover Cleveland number and run for president again?
Whatever it is he chooses to do, he remains the same person uniquely suited to the task at hand, of disrupting the status quo in Washington. He clearly has the support of half the country. Many love him like they’ve never loved any other politician because of how he spoke up for them. That doesn’t end.
The left displayed a real logic problem this year. I became alert to this problem when I heard Biden and others blame Trump for the COVID-19 deaths. Huh? Do people really fall this easily for the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, the logic that “X is president during Y, therefore X caused Y”?
Of course they do. That defines the leftist mind, the hive mind, the belief that agency doesn’t reside in the individual but in collective systems. This is how they think. Consequently, they must run those systems. They must have power.
Their attraction to the swamp comes with an underlying presumption of incredible self-importance. They manage the economy. They keep peace in the world. They take care of us all, good people that they are.
So what do you suppose it means when precisely nothing happens 10 years from now, about the time the world is predicted to implode from climate change? If the left is in charge of things, you know exactly what that will mean: “Thanks to President Ocasio-Cortez’s extreme measures, we’ve saved the world from catastrophe.” We’ll get a preview of this propaganda when a President Biden announces the end of the pandemic due to his wise governance.
This is why they not only needed to win this year but win big, big enough to enact the Green New Deal. That, in turn, could only be sustained with court-packing and a few new states to ensure a friendly Senate for the foreseeable future. With each radical measure, they would use the COVID-19 response as a template. “We came together before to defeat coronavirus; let’s do the same to defeat climate change!”
Alas, this is not going to happen thanks to the GOP’s other 2020 election victories. Without new states and new senators, the midterms will remain seasons of GOP success. It’s difficult to imagine the next presidential election generating excitement for a second Harris or Biden term, at least enough to create coattails for a Democrat takeover of the Senate and House.
2030 will come with glorious weather, and the left will have had nothing to do with it. After a string of exposed lies — Russia, COVID-19 “science,” systemic racism, polls, climate change — how soon before the nation becomes wise to the fact that leftism is synonymous with lying?
The answer to that last question gets to the American DNA. Americans distrust power. The left does well appealing to that distrust, promoting a false narrative blaming the “powers that be” whenever they’re out of power. They milk that “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy for everything it’s worth. It comes more naturally to them than it does to the right.
How often, these past four years, did the leftist mind resort to “Orange Man Bad!” and a primal scream into the cosmos every time their car didn’t start, or they encountered a long line at McDonald’s, or they just felt blue? It’s their psychic makeup.
No more. The left is running their asylum now. They’re great at manufacturing fear about the bogeymen behind “the system,” but in actual governance, they do nothing but lose. Of course, the leftist answer to that conundrum is, “If we all just work together, nothing is impossible.” So they can continue to blame the Senate, disinformation, gridlock, those on “the wrong side of history,” and Trump.
The whole point of leftism is that it can’t succeed without total investment by everyone in its program. That’s why it’s “all hands on deck” from Big Tech, Big Media, Big Business, Hollywood, Wall Street, human resources departments, and the Washington swamp. That’s why cancel culture is integral to their success. Dissent, alternative information, and a muscular minority topples the whole house of cards.
We’re America. We left the tyrannies of the world to come here. We left our cultures and even families. We’re all just a few generations away from incredible risk-takers, fighters, and survivors. Rugged individualism is in our blood.
Add to that the brilliant system set up by the forefathers with its many checks and balances. The newly conservative federal courts, red state governments, and that troublesome right to free speech aren’t going anywhere for now. Meanwhile, the free market is begging for new social media platforms and a FBexit or Twexit movement.
The left tells Americans, “We’re all in this together,” but it won’t be too long before, well, 70 million people say, “Speak for yourself. We’ll speak for ourselves, thank you.” That 70 million isn’t going anywhere. It’s only growing.