Whom to root for when the Dallas Cowboys play the New England Patriots? The most obnoxious franchise in all of American professional sports versus the most rancidly cheatingest (and I mean really—read this; if this is all true, they should have their franchise license revoked and Belichick should be thrown out of the game). As the old joke has it, you root for a plane crash (relax, it’s a joke).
This is kind of where I am as I watch this blood feud erupt between the National Review Online and the Trump loyalists who started the #NRORevolt hashtag over the weekend. If you missed it, here’s the sitch. Last Friday, subscribers to Jonah Goldberg’s NR newsletter, the G-file, found his latest in their in-boxes, a protracted jeremiad that ran under the title “No Movement That Embraces Trump Can Call Itself Conservative.”
“If this is the conservative movement now,” he wrote, “I guess you’re going to have to count me out.”
So Trump partisans started doing exactly that, and in droves. Commenters on the article were venomous: Go ahead, you RINO-quisling-sellout (or, occasionally, you dastardly Jew), who needs you anyway? This comment was representative, and even a little quasi-poetic: “So Blow and Rage, Jonah, Blow into the winter night, strut and fret your rabid slobber onto the stage, idiot-like until you are flattened by the Trump steamroller—of course we will be forced to hear more of your shout and flabberting, but it won’t mean a thing. I hope the Republican Party collapses so we can get on with partnering with something that is not so diseased that its internal organs are melting into a pus-fulled [sic] syrup that is oozing out of every…whatever.”
In short order, the now-famous hashtag arose as a venue for kindred sentiments. It seems safe to say that not many National Review subscribers are probably involved in this effort. As near as these things can be determined, it may have been launched by a guy named Ricky Vaughn, who describes himself on Twitter as a “right-wing nativist.” You see the word “cuckservative” tossed around a lot in these tweets, a word that the Southern Poverty Law Center says has roots in white nationalist and anti-Semitic circles. And of course the word sounds the way it sounds for a reason, evoking both “cock” and “suck” in a way that is definitely not intended as a compliment.
Well, for people like me, this is definitely pass-the-popcorn time. What better entertainment could there possibly be than watching American conservatism being wrecked by a bunch of white nationalists?
American conservatism has spent decades winking at these kinds of groups and voters—denouncing them very occasionally when caught red-handed playing in the same sandbox, as when a white Southern Republican is forced to explain that gosh, he didn’t know the local citizens’ council was a white supremacist group; but for the most part courting these voters and stoking their anxieties through means sometimes subtle, sometimes not. So, let them tear each other apart.
The amusing thing is, Goldberg actually makes some good points in his newsletter piece, mainly that Trump isn’t much of a conservative on a number of issues. About that, he is correct.
But if he can’t instantly grasp how modern conservatism made Trump—and not only Trump, but even more important, the people who are now his rabid supporters—then I doubt it can be explained at a level of remediation that will sink in. But it’s pretty simple. When Steve King jokes about people crossing the border with their cantaloupe-sized calves full of bags of weed, he’s creating Trump and Trump’s backers. And multiply that times 300 for every crazy-borderline racist comment in recent years by Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh and all the rest of them, and you get a party and a movement whose nudges at that kind of thing have done far more to create Trump and his supporters than the occasional faux-solemn and perfunctory denunciations have done to thwart them. So this problem of white nationalism bubbling uncomfortably close to the surface is one the Republican Party and the conservative movement have deserved to have for a long time now.
Mind you I don’t think liberals should be gloating too much about this yet. It’s way too hard to predict what all this will mean for the election. In all likelihood, Trump won’t have the votes to win the nomination, John Kasich or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush will, and the Trump voters will mostly start getting themselves worked up about the looming menace of President Hillary and come out and vote for the sellout RINOs they’re now repudiating at #NRORevolt.
But let’s say that at some point, we do see a real civil war in the Republican Party over all this, and the time comes when GOP leaders need to own up to a Joe McCarthy kind of moment—that is, a moment when they are finally forced to step forward and say, Donald, we don’t want you or your more extreme supporters. The National Review itself did a version of this, of course, back in the old days under Bill Buckley, when it said much the same to John Birch Society types.
But the Review was just a magazine. It lost some subscribers, I’m sure, but not the White House. For a political party the stakes are a little higher, and I don’t think today’s GOP would have the stones to do it. The party is stuck with Trump and his backers. It created them.