Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

John Nichols on Buckley and Trump


The Cap Times’ associate editor and frequent Bernie Sanders apologist John Nichols took on an unusual role in his most recent column: defending conservatism, William F Buckley and National Review against Donald Trump. This is not the result of some Damascene conversion on Nichols’ part. It is more along the lines of Dr. Peter Venkman‘s famous summation, “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” Nonetheless, Nichols does a good job explaining how National Review and Buckley shaped conservatism by defending it from fringe elements on the right.

The point of National Review’s intervention is to suggest that there remains a mainstream and reasonably responsible conservative tradition in American politics — and that Trump is not a part of it.

National Review has intervened with this purpose before. The magazine’s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., challenged the far-right John Birch Society and its allies in the early 1960s, and he challenged anti-Semitism and crude nationalism in the early 1990s. I spent time with Buckley in that period, talking politics and ideology. We disagreed on issues, but I was always struck by Buckley’s sense of duty to defend conservatism as a clear and coherent ideology that did not bend too far to match the politics, or the fears, of any moment. He did not mind waging a losing battle that might clarify the ideals and goals of the movement, as he did with his 1965 New York City mayoral race on the Conservative Party line, and with his magazine’s decision on the cusp of the 1972 primary season to suspend support for Richard Nixon and endorse the insurgent primary challenge by Ohio Congressman John Ashbrook to the renomination of a sitting Republican president.

Buckley liked to take stands. And he was proud to challenge false prophets of conservatism.

Among the false prophets, as Nichols reminds us, is Donald Trump, whom Buckley criticized when Trump considered a run for president with the so-called Reform Party in 2000.

I would only add that Nichols missed a chance to take a cheap shot at devotees of Ayn Rand, and a certain congressman from Janesville, since Buckley had cast her out as well. Even Nichols nods, I suppose.

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