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Kindly Old Bill Buckley: The Never-Ending Fairy Tale



Reacting to Donald Trump’s pending takeover of the Republican Party, Bret Stephens weaves a comically selective history of movement conservatism:

In the late 1950s, Bill Buckley decreed that nobody whose name appeared on the masthead of the American Mercury magazine would be published in the pages of National Review. The once-illustrious Mercury of H.L. Mencken had become a gutter of far-right anti-Semites. Buckley would not allow his magazine to be tainted by them.

The word for Buckley’s act is “lustration,” and for two generations it upheld the honor of the mainstream conservative movement. Liberals may have been fond of claiming that Republicans were all closet bigots and that tax cuts were a form of racial prejudice, but the accusation rang hollow because the evidence for it was so tendentious.

Not anymore. The candidacy of Donald Trump is the open sewer of American conservatism. This Super Tuesday, polls show a plurality of GOP voters intend to dive right into it, like the boy in the “Slumdog Millionaire” toilet scene. And they’re not even holding their noses.

I don’t think anyone would have accused William Buckley, at the time he was proudly refusing to publish former American Mercury editors, of being a closet bigot:

The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.

As Jon Chait observes, conservatives like Stephens are pretending to find fault with Trump’s aggressive anti-intellectualism, something they have no problem with as long as it accompnies orthodox conservative views:

As for Trump’s anti-intellectualism, he is certainly less cogent than figures like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. But he has no weaker a command of the issues than Sarah Palin, who blathered incoherently through the closing months of the 2008 campaign. At the time, Palin, a reliable conservative, enjoyed blanket support of the movement, including National Review and Bret Stephens. Even a year after the 2008 election, long after Palin’s lack of basic familiarity with American government had revealed itself, conservatives continued to defend her.

The Trump candidacy is, in a sense, a semi-controlled experiment to determine whether the Republican base cares more about tax cuts and “small government” on one had or ethnic resentment or worse on the other. Anyone familiar with public opinion data really shouldn’t be surprised by the answer.

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