David French Unwittingly Demonstrates Why Conservatism Has Conserved So Little

Whether one considers Donald Trump a flawed partner or existential threat to conservatism depends largely on how one saw our situation before he came along. Most Trump voters were under no illusions about pre-Trump Republicans being honorable men or effective conservatives, while most NeverTrumpers cast 45 as deviating from a principled, competent—and fictitious—national GOP tradition.

National Review’s David French perfectly demonstrated that disconnect last month with a less-than-reassuring attempt to answer, “Before Trump, What Did Conservatism Conserve?” He opens by sharing a tweet he wrote the week before:

Scratch the surface, and this isn’t much of a comparison—the 2002 born-alive law sailed through Congress unopposed in a very different time, the partial-birth abortion ban stops less than 1% of annual abortions, Bush-appointed judges are hardly guaranteed to be originalists (Exhibit A: the disgraceful John Roberts), and Trump reinstated Mexico City too. Bush also made no serious effort to defund Planned Parenthood domestically.

Yes, state-level heroes have meaningfully reduced abortions. But national Republicans clearly don’t share their commitment, states can only do so much under Roe v. Wade, and for all our efforts, public opinion remains roughly tied between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” (with infanticide in the news, Marist did find an encouraging spike towards life, but whether it represents a lasting change remains to be seen).

Bush’s abortion record—delivering easy stuff, resisting some leftist extremes, but doing almost nothing to advance the main objective—is the same pattern we see on issue after issue, despite French’s efforts to convince us otherwise.

He shows impressive progress on gun laws, right to work, charter school attendance, homeschooling, judicial wins on free speech and religious liberty, and various leftist policies Barack Obama didn’t enact. But behind each example lies a deeper, unaddressed threat.

Policy wins can be reversed by a judiciary we’ve done nothing to rein in. Conservatives’ kids exiting public schools doesn’t address the indoctrination of the millions who stay, then go to even worse college (especially when people like French attack those conservatives who are working to expose fanatical leftist professors). The primary threat to free speech today isn’t government; it’s tech companies stacking debates and suppressing ideas. Preventing bad legislation is small comfort as Democrats increasingly turn to courts and bureaucracy to achieve their ends.

And looming over all of it is how little we’ve done to get immigration under control and stop Democrats from using it to permanently transform the electorate.

But foreign policy is where French’s straw-grasping is most obvious:

Has there ever been a great-power conflict whose end was handled as deftly as the Cold War’s? And as for all the hate piled on George W. Bush, his critics ignore two huge accomplishments: a foreign-aid program to combat AIDS in Africa that may be one of the most life-saving foreign-policy initiatives in all of human history, and an effective post-9/11 defense of America from large-scale jihadist attack.

I don’t know what’s sadder: French suggesting that most dissatisfied conservatives include Ronald Reagan (amnesty mistake aside) in their indictment of the GOP, or resorting to citing foreign-aid spending in what started out as a showcase of conservatism. (Whatever one thinks of Bush’s AIDS program, it’s no more indicative of a specifically-conservative agenda than presidents declaring holidays or dispatching disaster-relief efforts.)

More importantly, while French is right about post-9/11 terror prevention, that’s only half of Bush’s foreign policy legacy.

43 was right to topple Saddam Hussein, but by failing to clearly articulate the occupation’s purpose and refusing to commit enough troops until death tolls forced the 2007 surge (among other misjudgments), Bush did more than just preside over needless loss of life, provoke a Democrat congressional sweep, and pave Obama’s path to the White House. He left the Right more fractured and confused than on any other issue, torn between hawks putting too little thought into our “allies” and objectives in the Middle East, and reflexive non-interventionists echoing Code Pink-esque “warmonger” rhetoric.

We know the GOP isn’t a conservative party, but the problem runs so much deeper than that. By and large, conservative thought leaders and activists have neglected to hold Republicans accountable for failure and betrayal, treated candidate selection and vetting like a game, let countless maladies fester while doing little more than complaining in echo chambers, and repeatedly defined down expectations for what we can achieve.

Alas, Donald Trump isn’t the answer to those problems, but he’s not the source, either. Trump never would’ve become president if conservatism had been successfully conserving life, liberty, and prosperity, and until elites can be honest about that, the base will keep searching for champions beyond the “respectable” bench that swampcons keep asking us to settle for.

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Reminder: The ‘Respectable Right’s’ Civility-Policing Is 100% Insincere

Content Warning: This post quotes a range of crude, vulgar language.

Last night saw a dustup on political Twitter over conservative writer Denise McAllister’s responses to a swipe at her from HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali (the guy who the day before exposed pro-DNC bullying by NBC News political bigwig Dafna Linzer). It appears these tweets are where it started:

McAllister was understandably miffed at condescension being slung at her marriage over an innocuous, lighthearted, and personal tweet, but she responded in a, shall we say, less-than-productive way. In a pair of tweets that have since been deleted, she shot back:

I think @yashar has a crush on me. Maybe I’m making him doubt his love of penis.

Oh so sad. @yashar is lost. He doesn’t know his purpose as a man. He doesn’t know his purpose as a human being. He doesn’t know his purpose as an Individual. So he wallows and tries to find himself in another man’s asshole. Sad.

Pretty much everyone you’d expect to chime in promptly chimed in, culminating with the news that The Federalist and The Daily Wire were dropping McAllister in response:

McAllister apologized the next day. Ali has not, and doesn’t appear to be under any pressure to do so.

To get my reaction out of the way: I think responding by emphasizing Ali’s sexuality at all, let alone in such crude terms, was gross, vindictive, and distracted from the clear moral high ground she had held when the story was just him being an unprovoked jerk. That said, responding nastily to nastiness doesn’t strike me as an automatically-fireable offense (in fairness, I don’t presume to know what other history or behind-the-scenes discussions may have factored into The Federalist or Daily Wire’s decisions).

Regardless, my interest here is not the merits of the responses to McAllister, but what the rules are and the true motives of the people enforcing them. Among the rungs on the moral ladder, it’s not at all clear to me that mocking a man’s sexuality is lower than any of the following (a list that may be updated):

  • “The thing is, given his proclivities, [Roger] Stone would enjoy prison” —Commentary editor John Podhoretz (the above-quoted Mr. Goldberg dismissed objections to this one as “PC/snowflake arguments” that “make me laugh”)
  • Kimberly Guilfoyle left Fox News “to spend more time with her plastic surgeon” — Podhoretz again
  • “I still think ‘Uday and Qusay’ are perfectly good nicknames for the elder Trumpspawn” — National Review’s Kevin Williamson
  • “The Christian right was able to make its peace with Trump with relative ease, because it is moved almost exclusively by reactionary kulturkampf considerations. ‘But Hillary!’ is all that Falwell and company need to hear, and they won’t even hold out for 30 pieces of silver” — Williamson again
  • “Does Trump pay you more for anal?” — Republican consultant Rick Wilson to Ann Coulter
  • “The donor class […are] still going to have to go out and put a bullet in Donald Trump” — Wilson again
  • “Go on Amazon, order yourself a pointy white hat, head down to Home Depot and get the wood to build a burning cross […] you are a weak, impotent person who can’t handle the fact that there are people who don’t look like you […] your argument is based entirely on the fact that these people are brown” — Wilson yet again, to a Republican who had said nothing of the kind
  • “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her real father’s Janet Reno” — Sen. John McCain
  • “To stand up and take on the forces of evil, that’s my job, and I can’t steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence that they have on the party today. You’re supposed to tolerate evil in your party in the name of party unity?” — McCain again, referring to then-Religious Right leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson
  • Spreading the phone number of a politician’s attorney to incite harassment — Weekly Standard destroyer/The Bulwark founder Bill Kristol (Goldberg’s reaction: “Bill can defend himself quite ably. But on the major questions facing conservatism, I agree with him — if not with all of his tactics and techniques”)
  • Tucker Carlson “is close now to racism, white — I mean, I don’t know if it’s racism exactly — but ethno-nationalism of some kind, let’s call it” — Kristol again
  • “Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger […] If such monsters could find admirers among the highly educated, it is unsurprising that our infantile, ignorant leader has found an assortment of professors to sing his praises” — The Bulwark writer Gabriel Schoenfeld, accusing Victor Davis Hanson of “sophistry in the service of a genuine evil”
  • “The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court in David Souter’s retirement.” — The Resurgent editor Erick Erickson
  • Countless tweets deriding heartland conservative voters as “Gun Culture ‘Murica” and “Rube Nation,” complete with redneck stereotypes of missing teeth and racism — Twitter academic Tom Nichols

This list is far from comprehensive, and only covers a select few flavors of crudity and nastiness. It ignores countless examples of mistreating other conservatives in more mundane ways, or of these paragons of virtue misrepresenting or outright lying about the conservatives they criticize.

Some of the above apologized for, deleted, and/or got varying degrees of criticism for these examples. But none of them got fired, disavowed, or subjected to anything like the avalanche that fell on McAllister (in McCain’s case, it didn’t even stop him from being immortalized as some sort of ideal). Typically, the scolds never even mention offenses by like-minded offenders — not even when the target is a colleague at the same magazine.

I’ve harped on this before, and I’ll keep harping on it as long as it remains true: swampcons (my term for the pseudo-elite, establishmentarian, predominantly #NeverTrump clique of the Right that dominates her most prestigious publications and the consultant class) don’t actually give a damn about character, and their frequent lectures about “tribalism” are largely projection.

Their admonishments about bad behavior, meltdowns, debasing discourse, and “norms” are excuses to trash people they dislike anyway for crossing their tribe. If you’re in the tribe, you’re golden — you can be as coarse and as vicious as you want in advancing the tribe’s shared biases, and they’ll happily pretend not to notice.

Enough. These cretinous phonies who presume to set the standards for conservatism are in reality blights on the movement. We will never be able to truly heal conservatism or save America until we discredit the lie of their moral authority and shatter their claim to lead us to the victories they’ve so consistently failed to deliver in the past.

Mitt Romney and #NeverTrump’s Selective Regard for Presidential Character

As has been abundantly covered by now, freshman Senator Mitt Romney rang in the new year with a Washington Post op-ed lambasting Donald Trump’s character—you know, for the five people still unaware that Romney considers the “very not smart” Trump a “fraud” guilty of “dishonesty,” “greed,” and “bullying.”

He had a few valid criticisms and a lot of shameless pandering to the Left (pledging to condemn “racist” or “sexist” presidential statements, for instance, tacitly endorses the smear that Trump is not merely flawed, but bigoted). But while much has already been said of Romney’s reasoning and motives, the sympathetic reviews—and the broader debate on the subject—reveal much more we’ve yet to discuss.

David French insists Romney was merely “say[ing] things that are true and stak[ing] out a future” for a Trump-free conservatism and GOP. Jim Geraghty muses that after watching Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush, many conservatives decided “good character was no advantage in politics and possibly a liability.”

A few days before Romney, Jonah Goldberg wrote his own (but far from his first) declaration of Trump’s low character. He claims “most of the angry responses” he gets about it “are clearly rooted in the fact that they do not wish to be reminded,” and chides those who “assume that I am referencing the president’s style” rather than substance.

I grant that Trump’s character is abysmal, and must confess to finding most of his defenses unpersuasive on this particular point. But that’s an utterly banal observation, and #NeverTrumpers are disastrously wrong about everything preceding and inferred from it.

First, it’s one thing to (rationally and truthfully) criticize Trump offenses as they happen, and quite another to periodically repackage general diatribes about obvious propositions that have already been beaten to death. The former is about accountability; the latter is about you. How many of these pieces bring new information to the debate? What’s their purpose beyond signaling fealty to the #NeverTrump tribe? (Which is hardly necessary in Romney’s case, given his diligence in renewing his membership every few months.)

Second, the idea that it’s some unprecedented crisis or compromise to accept such a president—that voting for Trump is too high a price to defend 320 million Americans from a leftist administration—should be alien to any self-respecting student of the Founding or of human nature.

Given the option, of course a more upstanding president would be preferable. But while the Founders knew America needed a moral citizenry, they didn’t expect moral leaders to be the norm. That’s why we need a Constitution in the first place; it’s how checks and balances were expected to work—the Founders counted on officeholders’ ambition, not their altruism, being “made to counteract ambition.” The work of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because neither choice on the ballot is pure enough for our liking, and the difference between four years with an administration of flawed allies versus one full of enemies is bigger than any one person.

Finally, all of the above rests on the comforting-yet-poisonous fiction that Trump represents a moral decline from his Republican predecessors.

Never mind that Bush abandoned an innocent subordinate to a malicious prosecution, swore on a Bible to uphold the Constitution then signed a law he admitted might violate it, and considers a probable rapist his “brother from another mother.” Never mind McCain’s own marital history and Trumpian mean streak, his attack on Vietnam veterans who spoke out against John Kerry, or his judgment that Americans should’ve kept suffering under Obamacare just because Democrats weren’t given a chance to sabotage repeal. Never mind that expediency seems to change more than a few of Romney’s values.

Speaking of which, Mitt, perhaps someone who entered politics as a defender of abortion should consider a little humility on the subject of other Republicans’ character…

In 2016, a few months before writing that Trump’s “low character is disqualifying,” Kevin Williamson argued that Marco Rubio’s blatant lying about the contents of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill shouldn’t dissuade voters, because while others “demand that a president” be a “moral mascot for the country […] I just want to know what I can use him for.”

I don’t recall anyone at National Review, Weekly Standard (RIP), or Commentary challenging Williamson’s transactional case for ignoring Rubio’s dishonesty.

To Trump’s character critics, none of the above threatens membership in the pantheon of “good Republicans,” nor do countless other acts of deceit, promise-breaking, or moral compromise by these and other better-mannered leaders. That’s why the “#NeverTrump fixates on style” charge sticks—it’s not that there aren’t substantive Trump critiques, it’s that they’ve never minded poor character before as long as it came in sufficiently-civil wrapping.

To say that voters dropped character in 2016 ignores two simple truths: that Trump’s low character was still higher than Hillary Clinton’s, and that the GOP had already been defining character down for years. Many of us held no illusions that our pre-Trump votes were for good men either; we were backing the only options we had to advance conservatism and protect the country from leftism.

If those most troubled by Trump’s character really want a more principled future for conservatism, perhaps reflecting on how their own approach to immoral leaders—who generally didn’t even honor their ends of the bargain—helped pave the road to 2016 would be a bit more productive than “Isn’t Trump Awful, Nineteenth Edition.”

Fakery and Failure at the March for Life

The March for Life is always a fine source of powerful imagery, community, and inspiration. But it’s also always a source of false optimism, unwarranted confidence in our current leaders and strategies, and no meaningful talk about any of the severe problems pro-lifers face within the Republican Party.

This week, I wrote a LifeSiteNews piece about the vast majority of the professional pro-life movement’s scandalous disinterest in confronting the GOP’s last two years of failure and its disgraceful tendency to hype empty, impotent gestures as meaningful acts of heroism. Here’s a snippet:

As Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi fight over the southern border wall Trump promised voters he’d start building, more than a few people have understandably started wondering why the GOP has never drawn a similar line in the sand against abortion.

Far rarer, though, are acknowledgments of the obvious answer: because the pro-life movement has never forced Republicans to. The GOP wasn’t going to shut down the government over illegal immigration, either; Trump was prepared to once again sign one of the usual swamp budgets, but reversed course at the last minute when conservatives revolted loudly enough to make him fear the political consequences.

Enough Republicans finally started fearing conservatives enough to fight on something. Whether they’re fighting the right way or will keep their nerve is another question for another day, but the key takeaway for us is that the GOP doesn’t fear pro-lifers in the same way. And why should they? When’s the last time we’ve given them a reason to?

I wrote that piece before the Friday march, and everything I subsequently heard only intensified my revulsion. Numerous speakers offered variations of “stay the course, we’re winning” with little more evidence of progress then the fact Republicans have confirmed a bunch of judges (never mind it remains an open question whether the White House or the Senate is adequately vetting them).

Throughout the day, we saw other signs that our leaders were primarily interested theater, not results. Mitch McConnell, the man who did more damage to the pro-life legislative agenda over the last two years than every Democrat on the hill combined, dared to feign solidarity with pro-lifers.

Several lawmakers made a show of requesting that Trump pledge to veto any legislation that funded abortions with tax dollars, Trump responded in the affirmative, and the pro-life industry pretended something significant had happened.

Never mind that we’re only having this conversation because the abortion lobby won the House in the most recent election, that vetoing pro-abortion bills is the lowest bar to expect of any GOP president, that pro-abortion bills shouldn’t be reaching Trump’s desk anyway since the GOP has the Senate, or that if these politicians really wanted to do something meaningful, they would’ve challenged Trump to pledge not to sign any budgets that continue Planned Parenthood’s funding.

Also yesterday, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana announced the formation of a Senate pro-life caucus, to “so that the House and the Senate can work together on having a more strategic approach in how we’re going to move pro-life policies to the president’s desk.” This could have been significant if this caucus devoted itself to, say, the problem of the filibuster or better vetting of judicial nominees.

Alas, between Daines’ claim that confirming a lot of judges passes for the strongest pro-life legislative results in history and that his example of what the caucus would do is somehow get Democrats on board with banning late-term abortions, we shouldn’t expect much.

All of this is doubly tragic when one looks at the enormous crowd sizes the March for Life gets every year, throngs of people braving the cold because they truly want to do something to end the killing. If only more of the people who fundraise off of them for a living cared more about channeling all of that passion into anything that would actually make a difference.

 

 

 

 

A Belated Reply to Ramesh Ponnuru on Kavanaugh and Roe

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to my column last week at LifeSite, in which I take issue with his defense of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding Roe v. Wade. I appreciate the opportunity for a serious exchange on the subject; hopefully we can clarify some of the Right’s thinking on a tradition that’s caused so much trouble.

Ponnuru accurately summarizes my position; I think he can be fairly summarized as believing nominees shouldn’t commit to overruling specific precedents, but should be more willing to discuss a precedent’s strengths or flaws (from which senators and voters would obviously be able to draw more useful inferences).

Certainly, I agree that it would be improper for a judge to promise, for instance, “I’ll always rule however the National Right to Life Committee wants me to.” I also recognize the legitimacy of certain qualifiers, such as noting that a case involving abortion in some way doesn’t necessarily mean Roe’s legitimacy will be the question it hinges on.

Beyond that, though, I have never heard a persuasive reason why it would be improper for a nominee to commit to ruling certain ways on known legal questions. If a precedent is in fact illicit, I’ve never gotten a good answer why it’s wrong in principle to make reasonably sure that a nominee would overturn it.

Obviously, I can see potential danger in a judge agreeing to deliver a particular outcome in exchange for an appointment, but a bad ruling is hardly mitigated just because its signatories honestly believe in it. So shouldn’t the legitimacy of a pre-confirmation commitment depend entirely on whether the judgment being committed to is correct?

It seems perfectly straightforward to me that a judge’s explanation for his position would demonstrate to fair-minded observers whether it’s rooted in illicit partisanship or defensible legal philosophy, regardless of what conversations he and the president might have had beforehand as to whether they’re on the same page.

It also seems to me that consistently applying the no-commitment principle would take us to some pretty absurd places. Is anyone who’s ever openly criticized Roe, like William Pryor or Michael McConnell, automatically disqualified from joining SCOTUS? Sitting justices who’ve previously declared themselves for or against Roe in majority or dissenting opinions also have a “commitment” on the record that will telegraph their disposition in future abortion cases; how is that meaningfully different?

What’s the limiting principle to the no-commitment rule, and what do the above questions say about the rule’s merits for judicial nominees?

Finally, I’d like to make clear that despite my reservations about nominating Kavanaugh in the first place, I fully support confirming him in light of the Left’s vile campaign to destroy him.

It’s all-but inconceivable that withdrawing him at this stage would lead to confirming anyone better, his powerful testimony calling out “the Left” by name for its “calculated and orchestrated political hit” gives me some hope that he’s more of a movement conservative than he let on during the first round, and most importantly, the Left’s tactics of demonization and intimidation cannot be rewarded.

Jonah Goldberg Fires at Me, Somehow Shoots Own Foot

Last month, I called out Jonah Goldberg’s foolish Twitter declaration that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative” at LifeSiteNews, and reacted here to his subsequent tweetstorm about a LifeNews piece compiling unfavorable Twitter reactions to him. This was one of his follow-ups that most stood out to me:

The issue, of course, is that Goldberg has never been shy about touting National Review’s record of kicking out beyond-the-pale apostates.

So I replied:

Goldberg never responded, directly or indirectly, to my article or any of my rebuttal tweets. I don’t know whether he simply missed it or he decided to concentrate fire on the easier target, but given his Twitter habit of responding to softballs from anonymous fringe types while strenuously ignoring substantive counterpoints, I have my suspicions.

Anyway, he displayed his selective support for kicking out apostates once again with a recent G-File. Here are some key quotes:

  • From the very beginning, NR has stood against the ‘irresponsible Right.’
  • And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right.
  • Like water seeking its level, bogs claim whatever they are allowed to claim until stopped by nature or man. That “supposedly” is the rhetorical device that says, “Let the swamp grass grow, it’s not my responsibility to prune it.”
  • My view then, and now, is that everyone should not only be forced to choose between traditional conservatism and the alt-right but that they should force that choice on others.
  • Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
  • By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Huh. Apparently there is a “thing” apostates can be kicked out of after all.

As should be needless to say, I fully support excommunicating white nationalists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, etc. from conservatism (I’ve written plenty about that myself). Where I and Goldberg’s other critics differ is that we believe that defenders of violence against children deserve the same treatment, on both conservative dogma and human decency grounds.

So, in response to the G-File, I reminded Goldberg of his own words (again). This time finally got a response:

As funny as it was to see Jonah slap the “gibberish” label on a tweet that’s mostly one of his own quotes, the invocation of his podcast was more interesting. Had he finally confronted the meat of the issue? Did he put me in my place with a superior review of embryology, natural law theory, conservative history, or the Founders’ thinking?

After listening to the podcast he cited…not exactly. During the segment (starting at 50:40) devoted to complaining about the pushback he got with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (not exactly an authority on conservatism), Goldberg merely says that “a pro-life website went hammer and tongs after me” (presumably LifeNews) and mentions a couple writers at The Federalist. 

At no point do Goldberg or Douthat address, directly or indirectly, anything I said on the matter or any variation of the objections I raised (they don’t get specific about anything any of Goldberg’s other critics said, either). So how does he know I “made a fool of” myself? How does the podcast demonstrate it? Apparently Goldberg either (a) confused me with the LifeNews author, (b) didn’t know my reasoning but lazily assumed it was probably covered in the exchange, or (c) did know and was deflecting with simple ad hominem.

None of these possibilities are a great fit with the image of one of “serious” conservatism’s best and brightest.

As for the points Goldberg did make, none of them vindicated his original thesis. If anything, they reinforced my own observations at multiple points (you might even call it gibberish):

As a matter of political strategy it is insane to me for pro-lifers to say “you have to be a conservative to be a pro-lifer.” Because that way you’re basically telling every socialist, every good Catholic, every Nat Hentoff type, everyone who wants single-payer healthcare, that they also have to be pro-choice, right? You want to make it a separate track.

That would be insane…if any of Goldberg’s critics had said it. Maybe he heard it from some random troll (he does love his random trolls), but “pro-lifers must be conservatives” is a pretty glaring reversal of the actual proposition in dispute, “conservatives must be pro-life.” Of course pro-lifers should want non-conservatives to oppose abortion, but simply stressing that abortion is incompatible with American conservatism’s first principles hardly implies otherwise.

There are so many different kinds of conservatism, many of which I despise, right? I mean, read Friedrich Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” something the libertarians love to quote the title of, but never quote the essay […] He says that America is the one place in the world where you can call yourself a conservative and still be on the side of liberty, because we’re trying to conserve a fundamentally liberal institution, which is the American Founding […] a “conservative” in America means something profoundly different than a “conservative” in Portugal, you know? A conservative in Portugal might want to restore the throne; a conservative in America wants to uphold the principles that overthrew the crown. Very different things. Radicalism and conservatism are the two most contingent ideologies; they depend entirely on where and when you’re talking about.

In retrospect, I should have expected the Hayek tangent to make an appearance here. I enjoy a good chat about what conservatism conserves across different nations and eras, but…we’re not in Portugal. It’s not the seventeenth century. The “where and when [we’re] talking about” is 2018 America, where conservatism is generally understood to have something to do with conserving the principles of the American Founding.

So why rest his defense on some rambling about what conservatism might mean in other parts of the world? Why completely ignore the intellectual tradition and first principles that could shed light on the question? Perhaps because (as I showed) where American conservatism falls on the right to life is so utterly straightforward that Goldberg knew he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if he did anything other than obfuscate.

The reason abortion makes me uncomfortable at the second and third trimester is because I think it’s a moral horror. The reason why abortion makes me uncomfortable in the first two weeks of conception is, I don’t like the state being involved in the process of deciding who is and who is not a human being. So it’s a very libertarian point on the beginning of life. I cannot muster anything like the moral horror I have for things like partial-birth abortion for the aborting of blastocysts. The morning-after pill doesn’t shake me to my core and fill me with a sort of morally-generated disgust the way essentially infanticide does in the eighth or ninth month. And so I’m just willing to admit my intellectual weakness about the beginning of the argument.

Alternate headline: Jonah Goldberg admits he’s not qualified to be commenting on abortion in the first place.

This is pure emotion. There’s no appeal to evidence, no attempt at reasoning, and no serious application of conservative dogma…on one of the most fundamental, most straightforward natural-rights questions possible. Didn’t the Right use to pride itself on following reason over feelings, in contrast to the Left?

There are lots of people who came after me, including people I’m friends with, who see conservatism as a sort of industrial analogue to the Republican Party, that it’s a movement, that it’s a network of institutions. And so, to me what they were doing is they were replacing an intellectual, philosophical conception, with the Young America’s Foundation and the NRA, this network of institutions, right? And those are just different things to me.

First, conservatism quite obviously is a movement (whether specific organizations are effectively reflecting its first principles are a different story). Second, where does Goldberg get off claiming he sees conservatism as an “intellectual, philosophical conception” and his critics don’t, when his critics are the ones arguing philosophy and he hasn’t made a single philosophical counter-argument?

He strenuously avoided any exploration of any concept or work — purpose of government, natural-law theory, individual rights, constitutional interpretation, American conservative thought since the Founders, etc. — that would have produced a reviewable argument as to whether there can be a conservative case for legal abortion.

What an inspiring example of the intellectual caliber that apparently merits a slice of a $2.4 million grant for “reconciling individual freedom with cultural values that make freedom and progress possible” these days…

A lot of these outlets and institutions thought I was the better target of their ire than Tomi Lahren, because there is this unbelievable deference to clickbait warlords out there. And so I’m throwing her under the bus for saying something stupid, that is contrary to the strategic argument, that is contrary to the moral argument, and instead, because I made some rhetorical concession to something that they didn’t like, and because I’m in this anti-Trump box for a lot of these people, they’d rather attack me than attack her, even though they didn’t realize that I was actually carrying water for them. And that’s part of the weird moment that we’re in.

This is, to use one of Goldberg’s favorite terms, horseshit.

Sean Davis, Kimberly Ross, and Micaiah Bilger were among the voices to criticize both Goldberg and Lahren (I tweeted about her latest stupidity herehere, and here, and wrote about her here, here, and here last year). The conservative commentariat torched her Roe comments (for instance) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in countless tweets. So it’s not as if taking some time to slam Goldberg’s comments somehow detracted from holding her accountable.

As I said at LifeSite, in the grand scheme of things the stupidity of a provocateur pandering to the lowest common denominator is less concerning than someone who supposedly knows better, speaking with the perceived credibility of one of the Right’s most esteemed publications. If anything, the Right focused too much on Lahren’s poison and not enough on Goldberg’s.

So what’s the root cause of all this nonsense? Why is Jonah Goldberg so hellbent on carving out space for pro-aborts under the conservative umbrella, and why is he so abysmal at backing it up?

Like I’ve acknowledged in the past, I appreciate that he has written insightful pieces on abortion, and that he takes his uncertainty as a call to err on the side of caution rather than a license to kill. But between the above, his April admission that he disagrees “to some extent” with the “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” for thinking “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and his suggestion last year that there’s some substantive moral difference between Doug Jones supporting abortion-on-demand and Roy Moore being “the more evil man in his personal conduct” for his alleged crimes, it all paints a distinctly squishy picture.

I believe there are ultimately two things going on here, neither of which are intellectual. The first is that Goldberg simply doesn’t want to give up any of his own claim to the conservative label (not that his stance makes him not a conservative, but it does make him less conservative). The second is that he doesn’t want to admit that more than a few of his personal friends in this industry hold a position every bit as repugnant as the worst the John Birch Society peddled at its height.

This whole affair is another example of what so many of Cruise-Ship Conservatism’s lectures to the Results-Oriented Right boil down to: double-standards. None of it is about upholding first principles or wiping clean parasites. It’s about tearing down competitors for the soul of the movement by any means necessary, while insulating themselves and their allies from criticism for the exact same offenses.

New at LifeSite: In Defense of Religious Conservatives’ Alliance with Trump

Last week, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf launched a vicious attack on Vice President Mike Pence, Hillsdale College, its president Larry Arnn, and by extension every conservative and religious American who supports Donald Trump. The attack echoed a slur we’ve heard far too much from the “respectable” wing of the Right, so I took the opportunity to respond at LifeSiteNews.

You can read the whole thing at LifeSite, but here’s the gist:

[B]ut while justifying [Trump’s] sins would be a moral compromise, neither Christianity nor conservatism has ever held that a man must be perpetually shunned or endlessly condemned for what he did or was in his past. We’re all sinners, and all capable of redemption […]

Yes, we’re supposed to seek the most virtuous leaders we can. But the Founders also taught, as in Federalist 51, that if “angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

This was one of first lessons drilled into me at Hillsdale: human nature is fallen. The Founders knew self-serving leaders would be such a constant of American history that they baked it into the Constitution, balancing the various parts of government so that ambition would be “made to counteract ambition.” They expected checks and balances to work through officeholders’ self-interest, not their high-mindedness.

In other words, they never expected selfless moral exemplars to be the norm, and understood that the task of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because we dislike the finite choices the democratic process has given us. The question remains whether to attempt to do good through a flawed vehicle, or accept an administration committed to massive evil.

Again, please read the rest at LifeSiteNews. For related reading in which I elaborate on all the above, you can check out my 2016 assessment of all the reasons for and against voting for Trump in the general election, my 2016 Stream article on what casting a vote is and isn’t about, and my Federalist Papers Project response to the attacks on pro-Trump Christians in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Roger Kimball also wrote a great response to Friedersdorf at American Greatness. A snippet:

Conor Friedersdorf’s real objection is that Larry Arnn should engage in “moral compromises in order to achieve political outcomes.” But what is the “moral compromise” he has in mind? Is inviting the vice president of the United States to campus such a compromise? Is taking pride in seeing graduates of the college one presides over work for the president such a compromise? For no other institution or administration in history would this be true.

Friedersdorf, meanwhile, followed up his first two pieces of the subject with a compilation of messages he got from anonymous Hillsdale alumni — most of which just happen to mindlessly parrot his central attack. I suspect (and desperately hope, for the sake of Hillsdale’s intellectual seriousness) that either they were cherry-picked, or that #NeverTrump students were disproportionately likely to respond to his feedback request in the first place.