National Review's Kevin Williamson redefines conservatism

National Review's Kevin Williamson is urging conservatives to divorce, or at least separate, for a time, from the Republican Party — that is, from the Donald Trump-led Republican Party.

In a recent column, Williamson claims that what he calls "sensible conservatives" twenty years ago or so "could take a realistic, instrumental view of the GOP and find it reasonably useful for our ends."  But not today.  Not when the Republican Party consists of "vulgar" populists and "infantile" nationalists who loathe free trade, free speech, the U.S. military, and libertarians. 

Williamson apparently pines for the GOP of George W. Bush, which fought a "global war on terror" for 20 years, expending American blood and treasure in a doomed effort to spread democracy to the Middle East, of all places; that raised budget deficits to new heights in an effort to be seen as "compassionate" conservatives; that promoted "engagement" with China and thereby helped fuel its rise to economic and military superpower status while benefiting its Wall Street supporters; that promoted immigration "reform" which served as a magnet for illegal aliens to cross the southern border; and that sat idly by while China and Russia grew closer and formed a real "Axis of Evil" that threatens to dominate the Eurasian landmass.

What's worse, Williamson expresses general agreement with the William Kristols and Joe Scarboroughs of the "old" and more "sensible" GOP.  Anyone who thinks Joe Scarborough is conservative, let alone sensible, has never watched Morning Joe on MSNBC.  The sum and substance of their supposed "sensible conservatism" is "Orange Man Bad."  If Donald Trump is for it, they are against it.  Williamson's "sensible conservatives" are Republicans (or former Republicans) who voted for and support Joe Biden and other Democrats.

Williamson suggests that the current GOP "is not the only instrument available" to sensible conservatives.  Ideas, he correctly notes, are more important than political parties, and he floats the idea of supporting a "third party."

In the early days of National Review, writers and editors occasionally suggested to, and sometimes persuaded, NR's founder and editor, William F. Buckley, Jr., to withhold support for GOP candidates who did not fully agree with NR's brand of conservatism.  Fortunately, most of the time, Buckley listened to the sage advice of senior editor James Burnham, who counseled that the magazine should support the most "rightward" electable GOP candidate.  In 2016 and 2020, that was Donald Trump.  But in both elections, Williamson's "sensible conservatives," including National Review's editors, chose to oppose Trump.

And every time I read an NR piece criticizing the Biden administration for one or more of its policies — and there are many such articles — I think, "But you helped put these people in power.  What are you complaining about?  You reap what you sow."

Image: National Archives via Picryl, public domain.

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