A new anti-Trump publication is the last thing conservative media needs
What if we had a center-right publication, broadly in favor of globalized free trade and deregulation and hawkish on foreign policy, whose columnists really hated President Trump, even when he does things they otherwise agree with, like spit in Vladimir Putin's face?
But The Washington Post already exists, you say. Exactly. Which is why I cannot figure who the audience for Steve Hayes and Jonah Goldberg's new journalism project is supposed to be. According to Axios, the former editor of The Weekly Standard and the founder of National Review Online are "seeking investors" for "a reporting-driven, Trump-skeptical" conservative periodical.
Of course they are. "Generic white #NeverTrump conservative" is already the most overrepresented type in American media. There are approximately 200 of these people in the United States, and every single one of them has a column in a major newspaper and a book about why Drumpf is the logical and polar opposite of certain ideals supposedly embodied in whatever Tocqueville quotes their research assistants have just pulled up for them. They are the same people who have spent the last two decades insisting that all the things that actually keep people voting for the GOP against their own economics interests — opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage — are yucky. They are often referred to as "neocons," but this appellation is insulting to the legacy of Irving Kristol and Christopher Lasch. A better one is "metro-conservatives," i.e., think-tank grifters.
#NeverTrump types are desperate to convince readers that clichés about "entrepreneurship," endless war, and moaning about the Founding Fathers are still cool. But nobody listens. They had their shot with roughly 15 other candidates in 2016, and the American people rejected all of them, one by one. If your ideas are so bad that social conservatives would rather vote for a twice-divorced serial philanderer than pull the lever for any of the indistinguishable blue-blazered frat boys who are mouthpieces for them, maybe you should rethink what you're doing. If the Never Trumpers had gotten the candidate they wanted, Hillary Clinton would have won Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
They know this. They also couldn't care less. Why should they, when the paychecks continue to cash? They have been insulated from the badness of their ideas for decades; this isn't going to change, probably ever.
Oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, even the microscopic niche that this new publication hopes to occupy is already filled by The Bulwark, a website originally founded as a #NeverTrump newsletter of sorts. Imagine a handful of former Weekly Standard staffers and John McCain campaign veterans banding together to explain why the only thing more dangerous than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's imminent hamburger ban is Trump's latest mean tweet. A few liberals will offer them the usual deceitful clemency because they too dislike the mean orange man — and because they have already given up on all the gross causes that actually keep people in Kansas voting for the GOP.
The worst thing about The Bulwark and the unnamed Goldberg-Hayes project, though, is that they are both coming along in the middle of what would otherwise be a kind of renaissance for conservative media. Even though Trump's meaningful departures from GOP orthodoxy on economic and other issues have been all-too-infrequent, his presidency has changed the conversation on the American right. Conservatives have never been less deferential toward the free market or less satisfied with the proceduralist arguments that have lost them every major argument in the Supreme Court in the last 60 years.
American Affairs, which first appeared in the fall of 2016, is one of the most interesting magazines in the country, a place where populist nationalists, post-libertarians, Marxists, and Catholic integralists argue about every question imaginable. The new American edition of The Spectator brings an old-fashioned Fleet Street irreverence to its coverage of our politics that we certainly could have used during the Bush and Obama administrations. And The American Conservative, a publication in whose pages every major development on the American right of the last 15 or so years has been prophesied, is as good as ever. Under its new editor-in-chief, Jim Antle, an old comrade of Buchananism and contributor to The Week, it would be the in-flight reading of Air Force One if anyone still read things on Air Force One. These and many other conservative publications are interesting in ways that the Bulwarks of the world not only aren't but willfully refuse to be.
Among the many topics that Goldberg-style conservatives love to bang on about is the importance of what they call "charity" — not the religious virtue, mind you, but tax-deductible philanthropy, which they define as the opposite of government intervention in the economy. Why don't they take their own advice and retreat with their enormous earnings into quiet good works? If charter schools are really the best way to fix American public education, maybe they should go teach English or journalism at one. If private health-care nonprofits are a better idea than the guaranteed universal coverage available in virtually every other industrialized country, perhaps they should volunteer at one of them in a secretarial capacity. If they are so het up on the merits of fracking, why not go west? (I would suggest that these armchair warriors pay a visit to their local Marine recruiters, but it's too late for that, alas.)
The rise of NeverTrump publications that will be read by nobody reinforces the long-standing view that conservative media is a form of welfare. Here are people who are not clever enough to be academics, not disciplined enough to practice law or any other useful profession, with no particular skills except writing things that no one agrees with who have still ended up rich. No wonder they all believe in "charity."