Anti-Trump National Review has forgotten Buckley's rule
William F. Buckley, Jr., in refereeing the internecine political fights within his beloved National Review magazine, laid down a rule, suggested by senior editor James Burnham, that N.R. would support the most rightward viable or electable candidate in presidential elections. In 2016 and 2020, under the editorship of Rich Lowry, N.R. broke Buckley's rule by refusing to support Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. And two years ahead of the 2024 presidential election, N.R. has begun to publish its anti-Trump screeds. We can expect that this will grow into a chorus of N.R.'s voices opposing Trump during the next two years, even if he gains the GOP nomination in 2024.
Over the last three days, N.R. has run anti-Trump pieces by Charles Cooke, Philip Klein, and Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy claims that Trump "cannot win the presidency again" because though "popular in a number of places," he is "poison in most others." Klein argues that Trump's candidacy in the 2024 GOP primaries will benefit the party but only if Trump loses to a GOP challenger. Cooke writes that Trump's presence in the GOP primaries will be "disastrous" to the party's chances to win back the presidency because he will "undermine the process itself" and will "spread pernicious lies about the American electoral system."
In the past, N.R.'s writers jousted with each other over, for example, whether to support Eisenhower for president in 1956; Nixon in 1960; Goldwater, Rockefeller, or Scranton in 1964; Nixon, George Romney, or Reagan in 1968, and on and on through many elections. After the primaries, however, N.R. supported the most rightward viable GOP candidate in the general election against the always more liberal Democratic candidate — until 2016 and 2020 with Donald Trump.
In 1964, establishment Republicans derided N.R.'s support of Goldwater, who lost to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide in the general election. Back then, N.R.'s editors sensed that the Goldwater movement would capture the GOP — which it eventually did when Ronald Reagan was elected president in two landslide elections. In 2016 and 2020, under Lowry's leadership, N.R. returned to the GOP establishment by rejecting the nationalist-populist movement that coalesced around Trump. It did this despite polls that clearly showed that Trump had become the national leader of the GOP and remains the leader of the GOP.
Lowry and his team at N.R. have become increasingly irrelevant to the Republican Party and to the modern American conservative movement. And they have betrayed the legacy of William F. Buckley, Jr.
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