The Conservative Rout by Richard J. Bishirjian
Audience: The reading public, Liberal and Conservative, teachers and college professors.
Competition: Sam Tanenhaus, The Death of Conservatism (Random House, 2009).
Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump (Oxford, 2011)
Gianno Caldwell, Taken for Granted: How Conservatism Can Win Back the Americans That Liberalism Failed (Crown Forum, 2019)
Timothy Carney, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse (HarperCollins 2019).
Introduction: Why be concerned that the Conservative Movement died? Begun as a very hopeful conservative (with a Capital “C”) “Movement” in the mid-1950s, conservatism has been routed by the usual afflictions: old age, death, greed and loss of interest by an increasing radicalization of Millennials and Generation Z.
Even to call what Russell Kirk, Bill Bucklley and Friedrich Hayek espoused a “Movement,” however, goes far beyond their intent. But, they lit a spark that sustained the influence of classical liberalism, oriented traditional scholars to the theological and philosophic principles of a conservative (small “C”) tradition and gave those who agreed with them a voice in print (National Review), student organizations that were easily the equal of the Young Socialists, and gave prominence to the few remaining scholars willing to challenge Marxism, Keynesianism, Liberalism and Atheism. They were overwhelmed beginning in 1968 through the anti-Vietnam protests of 1973, and conservatives in Academe never recovered.
Their loss, here in the United States our loss, as well as the loss of traditionalists in every country that Napoleon invaded in 1805, defines the modern era as an era in which every ideology and political religion to which intellectuals in the West are prone is now dominant.
We conservatives in the United States encountered some successes in electoral politics, of course, but only after hard won battles with “Big Government” Republicans and the Progressive Left were fought and lost.
The Conservative Rout examines this history of loss, success and loss again from the perspective of a once young Conservative who joined the “Movement” when it began to take root and stayed the course through destruction of the “brand” of the Republican Party by President George W. Bush and the Movement itself by conservatives who ought to have known better.
The transformation of the “Movement” from being zealous in defense of principle to becoming Republican cheer leaders began when Ronald Reagan became President.
The former conservative movement expanded from a small elite who stood by Ronald Reagan when he sought the GOP nomination three times into an immense cheering section of persons who, the day before Reagan’s election, had given not a thought to conservative ideas, had not read an important conservative book, nor ever thought they might work for a Reagan Presidential Administration. I stopped going to Reagan Alumni reunions when more faux conservatives showed up than had worked for President Reagan.
Chapter 1: In the Beginning: Buckley and Russell Kirk:
I consider myself fortunate for entering the University of Pittsburgh when I did in 1961. Russell Kirk had published The Conservative Mind in 1954 and William F. Buckley, Jr. had started National Review in 1955.
That was too long ago for me to remember anything aboutour first meeting, except for Buckley’s accent. It wasn’t British English, but it sounded what we called “high falutin,” enunciated with high and low intonations marked by raised eyebrows. Buckley, compared to my friends and neighbors from Pittsburgh, was exotic. After his lecture, we crossed the street and took lunch at an expensive restaurant–where Buckley picked up the tab and ordered a wine. I will never forget that French Pomerol, as blissfully light red in color as a watermelon! Buckley’s conservative views well-suited a wine regarded for its quality even in Roman times.
Avid reading of National Review improved my vocabulary, but not perfectly. In 1963 I arranged for Bill Buckley to give another lecture at Pitt and drove to Pittsburgh’s airport to pick him up in my 1951 Dodge. The ride from the airport takes travelers through a tunnel and suddenly Pittsburgh’s impressive skyline is revealed. Buckley was astonished by the grandeur of that view and he made me proud of my city.
At the lecture, I introduced Buckley as editor of National Review which I described as the “conscience of America.” The large audience responded by hoots and the sound of feet stomping on the floor. It was a set-up. Liberal friends came to the lecture intending to jeer. As we walked back to my car, Buckley said he had never experienced a response to an introduction such as I gave, and suggested that it was due to my hyperbole. Later that day, I looked up “hyperbole” in a dictionary.
I read many of the books authored by NR correspondents, or cited in the pages of NR. James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution, Frank Meyer’s In Defense of Freedom, Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom are four that come to mind. One that made the greatest impact was cited several times and I purchased Eric Voegelin’s New Science of Politics. Before that book arrived, I had read with interest essays by Stanley Parry, a Catholic priest who was chairman of the Department of Government at the University of Notre Dame and made application for admission to Notre Dame’s graduate school.
If I had not read National Review, my life would have been radically different.
Two other persons I invited to speak, in addition to Bill Buckley, were William Rusher and Frank Meyer. Bill Rusher was publisher of National Review and known for his meticulous attire and orderly office. I was impressed by a simile he used to describe Liberalism. Like a diamond prepared for cutting into a precious jewel, Liberalism cannot be destroyed, only broken into parts.
A former colleague who had worked at National Review told me that one day NR’s staff decided to tease him and rearranged the names on his filing cabinets. He immediately noticed the changes, and told them “Put things back by the time I return” and left the office. Frank Meyer was a more friendly personality. When I met him he had formulated a theory of “Fusionism,” a way to weaponize “conservatism” as a marketable ideology.
Fusing the philosophic principles of Western order with Libertarian ideology was an attempt that Mario Pei, who was a scholar in residence at Pitt, considered “solipsistic.” Solipsism is based on the projection of oneself as the source of reality.
Frank Meyer was given to ideological constructions and had joined the Communist Party. Once he saw the error of his ways, he left the Party but was paranoid in the belief that he was a target for assassination. He reversed his style of life by sleeping during the day and remaining awake during the night. His wife and two sons were subjected to this inverse style of life and after Frank’s death, his wife Elsie committed suicide.
Despite his unconventional life history, the Frank Meyer I met was likeable. When he talked, he drew you in to his confidence and I appreciated that since I was a pariah at Pitt for advocating a conservative political philosophy and working on the 1964 Goldwater campaign for President.
Chapter 2: Classical Liberalism: Frederick Hayek to Art Laffer.
Every political conservative in America was and is committed to free markets, but for decades Republicans railed against deficits. Once elected they would raise taxes in order to reduce deficits and then were defeated for reelection. Not trained as an economist, my knowledge was limited to a summer course at Grove City College on economics taught by Hans Sennholz and my reading of Frederick Hayek’s Road to Serfdom. I knew something about the marginal theory of labor of the Austrian School and taught a two semester course on Communist Ideology. I can claim to have read Marx’s book on Capitalism. But an economist, I was not.
When they Supply-side Economists became prominent when Howard Jarvis utilized California’s initiative process in 1911 by which voters are given power to enact legislation. In 1078 “Prop 13” amended the Constitution of California by placing a ceiling on valuation of property taxes. Proposition 13 limited tax increases to 1% of the purchase price of property.
The economic theory behind limiting tax increases is associated with a school of Economics called “Supply-side” Economics. The School of Supply side Economics was represented by economists Robert Mundell, Arthur Laffer, Norman Ture, Allan Reynolds and members of the professional staff of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate including Richard Rahn, Paul Craig Roberts, Bruce Bartlett and members of Congress, Jack Kemp (R-NY) and William Steiger (R-WI). They were assisted by Bob Bartley and Jude Wanniski at the Wall Street Journal.
The Supply-siders offered a counter to the “demand” orientation of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes; idea of the managed state offered a revolutionary perspective that quickly dominated economic thought when first propounded in two books: The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919) and General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).
John Maynard Keynes’s political economy was based on the assumption that limits on government supported by the 19th century free market theories of classical liberalism were simply inadequate to modern conditions.
Keynes was an advocate for empowering national government with “new managerial duties” to supplant free exchange of goods and limited state power with “a system of capitalism in which large business, not for profits and the government operated to promote the public interest.” Diminished in influence, if not superseded by the state, were the unfettered actions of “banks, the wealthy and investment houses.”
Piereson observes that to accomplish this, Keynes rejected “three postulates of classical economics.”
1) Says Law, which holds that supply creates demand;
2) Rejection of widespread unemployment as a consequence of business cycles;
3) Rejection of the practice of “saving,” which Keynes considered to be “leakage” from demand (30) or withdrawal of consumption.
Prosperity lay in consumption and debt, not thrift and saving.
Those assumptions were present in a second stage of New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, called the “Second New Deal,” that made significant changes in the administration and purpose of the American economy. For political conservatives who came of age with the growth of the conservative movement, the great bane of our lives were New Deal programs and agencies that limited our ability to save for retirement and whose popularity led to new government programs and agencies proposed by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Finally, however, we were given a well thought out justification for lowering taxes. In the second year of my organizing an Internet University I asked for a meeting with economist Arthur Laffer.
I met Art Laffer in the offices of Laffer Associates in DelMar, California and Laffer expressed his willingness to create a course on Supply-side Economics thus returning to public life after retreating from public commentary when Chilean secret agents attacked his compound.
Laffer was an advocate of the policies of Chilean president Augusto Pinochet from 1973 to 1981. Pinochet replaced radical Marxist minority President of Chile, Salvador Allende, who was killed in a coup attempt by dissident right wing Chileans. Pinochet introduced policies designed to recover from the destruction of the Chilean economy by seeking counsel of what was known as the “Chicago School” of Economics. Art Laffer has taught in the University of Chicago business school at the same time as Milton Friedman presided over the Economics Department.
Prominent among the “Chicago School” economists are Gary Becker, Ronald Coase, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Frank Knight and George Stigler. Stigler was Art Laffer’s dissertation director.
Art Laffer and others gave counsel to Pinochet and Laffer published frequent commentaries about the application of Supply-side principals in Chile. The Chilean secret police are known for assassinating opponents of the Chilean regime and some dissident members who opposed to Pinochet decided to take out Art Laffer.
Laffer’s family multi-acre estate in DelMar contained Art Laffer’s home, a conference center for clients of Laffer Associates and a game park replete with exotic animals. Agents from Chile entered the compound, slaughtered a horse, and left the body on Laffer’s front door. Efforts made by the U.S. Secret Service and local police to apprehend the perpetrators came to nothing and security of his compound was improved by a wire fence and lighting that illuminated the grounds. A second successful attack was made, a slaughtered animal placed at Laffer’s doorstep.
He took the only action that was available to him and withdrew from the public.
In late 2001, he told me that he was now willing to “go public” and do a course on Supply-side Economics for my Internet university. Appendix G contains the Syllabus for that course submitted on March 19, 2002.
Unfortunately, I was ahead of myself. I did not learn how to develop effective online courses for another eight years and knew nothing about economics. So Arthur Laffer’s course never made it into our curriculum.
I was frustrated and Art Laffer was disappointed, but he graciously invited me to one of his conference at his conference center. And in 2009 we awarded him an honorary degree. I presented the degree at his office in Tennessee where he had moved his company because of lower taxes in that state. A copy is found at Appendix H and accompanied by a photo of that event.
Though I failed Art Laffer, I promoted Supply-side Economics at two events at FreedomFest and recorded lectures by Richard Rahn, Steve Entin, Mark Skousen, Allan Reynolds and Steve Moore. Art Laffer gave a graduation speech. The reader may visit http://www.academydl.com/archive where we have archived some of those lectures.
Chapter 3. Loss of the Academy
Chapter 4: Conservative associations: Philadelphia Society and Mt. Pelerin.
Chapter 5. The Conservative battle for college youth: Young Americans for Freedom and Intercollegiate Society of Individualists.
Chapter 6. “Think Tanks” and their leaders: Paul Weyrich, Edwin Feulner, Leonard Read
Chapter 7. Goldwater
Twelve years after Bob Taft’s defeat at the GOP convention, conservatives struggled to retake the Presidency that had fallen to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater and JFK agreed to debate one another in 1964, if Goldwater were the Republican nominee. Tragically, President Kennedy was assassinated by a Communist sympathizer in Dallas in November 1963. Goldwater wisely understood that JFK’s Vice President and successor, Lyndon Johnson, would be elected in his own right in 1964 and parked his ambition to run for President.
Barry Goldwater was the heir to the Goldwater Department Store fortune in Arizona. His hobbies were photography and ham radio and a “leave us alone” attitude toward the federal government. The “Right to Life” movement had not yet arisen, and like many wives of Republican office holders, Goldwater’s wife, Peggy, supported Planned Parenthood. Goldwater’s taciturn political views later in his Senate career led him to lose support of the conservative faithful and his second wife, a political liberal, took offense at the conservative political stance of Arizona’s Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater, essentially, was a small time “local” politician and organized his political career around a small group of Arizonans whom he trusted, including Dennison Kitchel and Dean Burch. With little appreciation for persons he did not know personally and a deficient college education, Goldwater lacked the character needed to reach out to national conservative leaders . While Bill Buckley shaped the conservative movement from his journal, and Russell Kirk led an intellectual revival in the principles of the culture of the West, Barry Goldwater simply symbolized an anti-big government attitude sharpened by his personal disdain for President Lyndon Johnson.
But, he was a member of the United States Senate and an avowed conservative.
Bill Buckley’s brother in law persuaded the Senator to approve his ghost-writing a political testament of what the Senator believed had he been taught anything that could be called a political philosophy.
The Conscience of a Conservative, published in 1960, revolutionized the standing of Senator Goldwater and gave the conservative movement one book that articulated a political philosophy of a growing political “movement.”
So popular has The Conscience of a Conservative become that political commentator Paul Krugman, political activists Wayne Root and Gary Chartier and politicians Zell Miller and Jeff Flake, have published books with variations of that title.
Richard Mellon Scaife had become active as a political conservative and hired a communications profession at U.S. Steel, R. Daniel McMichael, to manage his political interests. Dan McMichael and F. Clifton White were friends and McMichael encouraged White’s efforts to promote the candidacy of Barry Goldwater for President. I became acquainted with Dan McMichael and got to know Cliff White The efforts of White’s “Draft Goldwater Committee” were not well tied to the Senator’s ambitions and, especially, after the assassination of President Kennedy, Goldwater had no interest in running in 1964. But, the clamor for a champion to lead the faithful into the Promised Land reached hysterical levels.
Why Goldwater decided to run when he knew he would lose was due solely to his patriotism. At the very least, by accepting the GOP nomination for President Goldwater could express his disdain for big government, his belief that LBJ was engaged in a war in Vietnam with no commitment to victory and, had he not run, the nomination would have fallen to Liberal Internationalist, Nelson Rockefeller. The outcome was disastrous with losses of GOP members in the U.S. House of Representatives exceeded only by losses in 2016.
I attended the first Draft Goldwater rally in Madison Square Gardens organized by Cliff White in 1962 and was appointed “Youth for Goldwater” chairman for Pennsylvania. But, Barry Goldwater like Ronald Reagan represented the World War II generation that had no interest in developing younger successors. The “youth” campaign was a top down affair run from Washington by a budding political operative, James Harff, and nothing was done on the ground level to support the “Youth for Goldwater” in the States appointees and consisted of dropping down when convenient to hold large rallies.
Thanks to Dick Scaife, one rally was held on the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh, but the national campaign gave us no other support.
Jim Harff later became a DC lobbyist, but was largely unknown for the principles of tens of thousands of young people attracted to his part of the Goldwater campaign. Cliff White was rejected for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. Goldwater’s buddy, Dean Burch, took that role and White nearly bankrupt found work in Venezuela where he used American campaign techniques to win election of a socialist, Carlos Andres Perez, head of the Democratic Action Party. Once elected President Perez he gave diplomatic recognition to the government of Cuba, facilitated transfer of the Panama Canal to Panama, nationalized the iron and petroleum industries, invested in large state-owned industrial projects for the production of aluminum and hydroelectric energy, and the funding of social welfare and scholarship programs that involved massive government spending. The problems of Venezuela today can be traced to Cliff White.
Ever since November 1964, the phrase “Goldwater Cycle” is used to portray the dilemma of the GOP as it faces Presidential elections where exuberant ideology takes precedence over the pracitcaliities of winning. . While in college, I worked on both the 1960 Nixon and the 1964 Goldwater campaigns and have some understanding about the way it was back.
According to the “Goldwater Cycle” theory, if the GOP nominates a true believer, the Party will go down to defeat.
In 1963 campaign manager F. Clifton White ramped up a campaign, begun in 1961, to draft Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater for President. On November 22nd of that year, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The outpouring of emotion that was the result of that crime covered over the weaknesses of JFK as he entered the 1964 campaign for re-election. We will never know if a reprise of the Nixon campaign, or even a Goldwater candidacy, would have been successful if JFK had lived, but we do know what did happen.
Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded to the Presidency and committed himself to continuation of the Kennedy legacy and then, upon being elected in his own right, jumped his Administration into overdrive. Sen. Barry Goldwater knew that LBJ was not just a “crook,” but that he was a New Deal Democrat who would revive the attack on limited government begun by FDR in 1933. Against his best judgment that he couldn’t win
Goldwater sought the GOP nomination and went down to colossal defeat in November 1964.
The GOP lost 36 House seats giving Johnson a two-thirds majority in the House and the 2 seats gained in the U.S. Senate gave Johnson a two-thirds majority in the Senate. That control of Congress in 1965, not unlike the control of Congress won in 2016, enabled LBJ to enact a bevy of “Great Society” programs and to escalate a ground war in Asia–something he denied he would do during the 1964 campaign. As a result of what LBJ called “that bitch Vietnam” more than 50,000 Americans lost their lives and war weariness assured the election of Richard Nixon in 1968.
There was no assassinated President in 2014 and the Democrats nominated a woman, but the GOP had been controlled by centrists since the mantle of Ronald Reagan was passed to George. H. W. Bush. The Republican Party’s grass roots activists, energized by a conservative rebellion by “Tea Party” activists, were straining to move the GOP away from control of the moderate faction that controlled the GOP.
According to “the Goldwater cycle” theory, if a real outsider won the GOP Presidential nomination the Party would suffer a colossal defeat.
The cumulative impact of eight years of George “W” Bush as “decider,” however, had created a weariness with imperial wars in the American public that drove the candidacy of Barack Obama and drove the appeal of Rand Paul and Donald Trump.
The United States’ entry into World War I was intended by President Wilson to destroy “balance of power” politics and replace it with democratic idealism. George “W” Bush did not articulate his democratic idealism when he committed American troops in 2003 to an invasion of Iraq, but, by 2005, “W”‘ was confident that, in his Second Inaugural, he could reveal his desire to return to a form of idealism associated with Woodrow Wilson. I argue in The Conservative Rebellion that by hiring speechwriter Michael Gerson, “W” signaled, before he ran for GOP nomination in 2000, that he was motivated by religious ideas that would control the foreign policies of his Administration.
“The best hope for peace in our world,” the President said, in his Second Inaugural, “is the expansion of democracy in all the world” with the ultimate goal “of ending tyranny in our world.” That extreme idea led to decisions by the “decider” that destroyed the balance of power in the Middle East. A collateral casualty was the GOP limited government brand.
Rand Paul and Donald Trump signaled opposition to “imperial” foreign policies of the United States by declaring that only Congress has the power to declare war. Rand Paul opposed the excesses of the Patriot Act and the killing of American citizens suspected of terrorist ties without due process of law.
The campaigns of Ted Cruz, like that of Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Scott Walker, however, emphasize the opposite–active use of military power to destroy ISIS and support Israel, if necessary, in military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Their rhetorical appeal to “American exceptionalism” signaled their sympathy with “W”s revival of Woodrow Wilson’s democratic idealism and his advocacy of war to make the world democratic
If there is such a thing as a Goldwater “cycle,” that could be reprised only by a true outsider who, like Barry Goldwater, advocates a realist policy in foreign affairs and limited, Constitution-based, domestic policies. That excluded Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Rick Santorum and Marco Rubio who appear to have fallen into a “time warp” aligned with George “W” Bush who broke the GOP limited government brand and revived Wilsonian idealism.
Donald Trump understood that, if he rallied the Republican voters, he could not be defeated because he rejected the policies of President George W. Bush. The 2016 election was an “Anti George W. Bush” election.
“Time warps” are not frequent, but they do occur. We last faced a time warp in 1991 when the Soviet Union fell. Secretary of State James Baker couldn’t think out of the box and desperately wanted to secure relations with now-former Communist leaders of the Soviet Union. That Administration couldn’t adjust to dramatic circumstances that changed the balance of power overnight. Despite Secretary of State James Baker’s reputation as a “realist,” so content with relations with the Soviet Union before 1991, he couldn’t adjust his thinking to a new balance of power that had occurred with the collapse of Soviet communism. An opportunity was lost to restructure NATO, release responsibility for the defense of Western Europe to the Western Europeans, and pare back the administrative state with tax cuts and reduced government spending.
Time warps tend to block our vision of new and powerful forces which, in the American electorate today, include new generations of young voters who feel that the system is rigged against them, that their votes are useless, and programs enacted since the New Deal and Great Society will deprive them of the middle class comforts enjoyed by their parents and deny them a secure retirement.
Chapter 8. Lack of leadership and the rise of celebrity politics:
“Lack of Will” on the part of elected leaders is part of the problem of American political culture, and a serious one. Had the men at Lexington and Concord lacked a will to fight, we would not have pursued “independence” from King George III. Had Union troops at Gettysburg buckled before Gen. Pickett’s charge, it’s likely that the finale of our Civil War would not have occurred when and the same result as it did. So, too, at Belleau Wood and Omaha Beach in France and the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, the will of Americans was tested and not found wanting.
Time, however, has changed American character.
“American Carnage,” a recent book by “Politico” writer, Tim Alberta, explores the inability of Republican leaders in Congress to organize and agree upon a set of priorities that would counter the initiatives of the Obama Administration. Revising the debt limit led some members of Congress to challenge Republican leaders. In the Trump administration raising the debt limit was agreed upon without a murmur.
American politicians are elected from local communities and bring with them attitudes, beliefs and values which they do not subject to self-scrutiny. When elected, few have previous legislative experience and few assert themselves.
That has not always been the case.
The leaders of our War of Independence and the Philadelphia Convention had read the history of Rome and Greece and works by Cicero, Polybius, Solon, Aristotle and Plato. Today such men are exceptions who studied American government, the Treatises of John Locker or have deep religious or political commitments.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are the exceptions.
Most others are indistinguishable one from another and do not seek to become national leaders nor do they seek to lead other members of their Party in Congress. For them “To get along, go along” is a first principle.
In 1831 when Alexis de Tocqueville toured America, unlike native-born Americans, as a visitor to America Tocqueville could say some things about America that were distasteful. There was, for example, the “singular paucity of distinguished political characters” which he attributed “to the ever-increasing activity of the despotism of the majority in the United States.”
Tocqueville found “…very few men who displayed any of that manly candor and that masculine independence of opinion which frequently distinguished the Americans in former times….” President Andrew Jackson, whom he met and described as “a man of violent temper and mediocre talents,” was a prime example.
Tocqueville writes: …no one circumstance in the whole course of his career ever proved that he is qualified to govern a free people, and indeed the majority of the enlightened classes of the Union has alway been opposed to him.
Tocqueville believed that the American statesmen of 1831 “were very inferior to those who stood at the head of affairs” fifty years prior. There is so little distinguished talent among the heads of Government, he wrote. “,,,the most able men in the United States are very rarely placed at the head of affairs….
Our elected officials are mediocre for the most part because, since the late 1960s when mass education flooded American colleges with undergraduates, college administrators removed curricular requirements from undergraduate degree programs. No longer were students required to study American government, Economics, nor the History of Western Civilization, even fewer were required to learn a foreign language.. For close to half a century–since the anti-Vietnam campus protests, we have dumbed-down our college educated citizens. The results may be seen in the faces reflecting vacant minds of elected officials and fearful educators.
Our First Amendment also protects the press from exposing details of the personal lives of persons seeking elective office. As a result, few qualified citizens are willing to subject their personal lives to press scrutiny. Thus, unlike the United Kingdom which has strict laws against libel, nothing is easier in the United States than to defame an elected official or candidate for office. The effects are magnified by the decline of journalistic standards.
Chapter 9. After Trump. During the thirty-six years between 1980 and 2017, the worst that could happen did happen: the “Movement” changed and became a “business.” Policy organizations hedged their criticism, even when the Reagan White House staff, National Security Council and Department of State were co-opted by Nixon/Ford Republicans. Though President Reagan read Human Events, the wise guys in the White House struggled to keep copies from reaching the President’s desk.
There were other anomalies in the President’s behavior: he defended SDI against Gorbachev, but not his own Party. Today, we have no space-based ballistic missile defense systems.
Bill Buckley, inattentive to his own death, ignored choosing a conservative successor as editor of National Review. Irving Kristol is dead and politically astute Neocons are taking Neoconservatism far Leftward. John Podhoretz is a panelist on MSNBC, a radical Leftist cable “news” television network controlled by Brian L. Roberts. One wonders why Podhoretz gives cover to MSNBC when the better approach is to rein in the biased news content that is MSNBC’s regular fare?
For a time, Fox News under the assertive leadership of Roger Ailes, played an important role in introducing a refreshing form of advocacy journalism. But, the dynasty of Rupert Murdoch is now in transition to his sons, James and Lachlan Murdock, who instinctively bow to the claims of sexism by feminists and race discrimination by Black Lives Matter. While the mainline, Leftist, media is invigorated by opposition to Trump, Sinclair Broadcasting merely thinks about going toe to toe with MSNBC and CNN.
Too many policy organizations–given the ludicrous name of “Think Tanks,” as if there was any thinking conducted in their well-appointed HQs–fall over themselves to find ways not to jeopardize their income streams. Other organizations that movement conservatives depended on to hold the feet of the powerful to the flames of principle fall very short.
Even today, many conservative leaders act as if George W. Bush was a conservative President. Only Rand Paul and Donald Trump knew better.
“Successful” conservatives now focus on fundraising, not conservative ideas.
One of the most important and oldest organizations supporting students on campuses dominated by Liberals–ISI–believe that President George W. Bush was “conservative,” ran into financial difficulties, cut programs, and abandoned or dumbed-down or shut down publication of intellectual journals (Intercollegiate Review, Continuity, Political Science Reviewer).
I criticized them privately, but it did no good. As a result, efforts that started in the 1950s by a libertarian, Frank Chodorov, to sustain young conservatives on college campuses–now firmly dominated by a “Left university” system–are neglected.
And, last, but not least, even though Grove City and Hillsdale College do their best in a sea of Liberal academics in control of academia, only two or three recent attempts were made to create new ones including Shimer College, Yorktown University and Wyoming Catholic.
The one successful launch was Delaware School of Law in the 1970s that joined forces with Widener University in 1983. A graduate of Widener is legal counsel to President Trump.
Our lackluster efforts to educate our own was a sign that what had begun in the 1950s as an intellectual “movement” by 2016 was very weakened and now appears to be on its deathbed.
That is to be regretted because “movements” that can affect the course of nations by challenging corrupt elites occur very infrequently and, after their demise, they cannot be revived.
That explains why the populism of Steve Bannon, for a short while, took front and center place and was a sign that conservatives are still a social force. None, however, has answered the call to form a national conservative party to replace–or contest–a somnolent GOP.
What will follow the Trump Administration?
Nothing good comes to mind and, in fact, we may want to think about purchasing some of those dry foods now being advertised that can last twenty-five years.
About the Author
Richard J, Bishirjian was Founding President and Professor of Government at Yorktown University from 2000-2016. He earned a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Bishirjian was Gerhart Niemeyer’s teaching assistant at Notre Dame, assistant professor at the University of Dallas, and chairman of the Political Science Department at the College of New Rochelle in New York. He is the editor of A Public Philosophy Reader, The Development of Political Theory, The Conservative Rebellion and author of The Coming Death and Future Resurrection of American Higher Education. Dr. Bishirjian’s essays have been published in The Political Science Reviewer, Modern Age, Review of Politics, Anamnesis, Chronicles, the American Spectator and The Imaginative Conservative.
 David Frisk, If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2011).
 James Piereson, Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order (Encounter Books, New York, 2015).
 Ibid., pp. 22-23.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal (2007), Zell Miller A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat (2003),Wayne Allyn Root The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling & Tax Cuts. (2009), Gary Chartier The Conscience of an Anarchist: Why It’s Time to Say Good-Bye to the State and Build a Free Society (2011), Jeff Flake, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle (2017).
 Tim Alberta, American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump (New York: HarperCollins, 2019)
 Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Doubleday, 1983), p. 151.
 Ibid., 152.
 Ibid., 163.
 Ibid., 115.
 Ibid., 115.