American Greatness publisher Chris Buskirk joined John Hinderaker on the Laura Ingraham Show to discuss his new book, co-authored with Seth Liebsohn.
John Hinderaker: Welcome back to the Laura Ingraham Show, your healthy radio addiction. I’m John Hinderaker from Power Line filling in for Laura today. We are joined now by Chris Buskirk. Chris is the author of American Greatness: How Conservatism Inc. Missed the 2016 Election and What the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn. Chris, thanks for being on the program.
Chris Buskirk: Oh, it’s my pleasure, John. Good to talk to you.
John Hinderaker: I see that you co-authored this book with Seth Leibsohn who’s a good friend of mine, radio host now down in Arizona. Tell our listeners about the book. What’s the theme of American Greatness?
Chris Buskirk: The theme is simple. It’s really broken up into two parts. The big theme of the book is this, which is that we had, in this country at one time in the not too distant past, we had an intellectual movement on the political right, conservatism, that was vibrant, that was energetic, and that was electorally successful. Once it won elections, it was also successful in governing. It was successful running government. We look back to the ’60s and ’70s, and we see this intellectual movement being born around National Review, which was started in 1955, and then we see Reagan becoming governor in the ’60s in California, and eventually the blossom of this movement was Ronald Reagan being elected President in 1980 and winning the Cold War in the process, and redefining what it meant to be conservative in this country.
One of the frustrations that Seth and I had was that the movement that we grew up with, that gave the country Ronald Reagan seemed to have become moribund. It had become somewhat successful politically, but way less successful in actually governing, and actually making . . . and actually turning some of the ideas that had powered electoral victories into substantive change in Washington, but conservatives, I think, have been very effective at the state level, but much less so at the national level, and so we wondered, well, why? We hear this from people on our radio show all the time, people we talk to, and there was just something that was just being self-evident to us, and then in 2016 … and this really was the jumping off point for the book, John, is that in 2016, we were looking at the editorial stance of some of what the flagship conservative publications in this country, National Review, The Weekly Standard, even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and you couldn’t really tell the difference between their view of the presidential election and those of some of the magazines on the left, The New Republic, or The Nation.
We thought, what has happened in this country where we have this huge disparity between the electorate, the conservative base, and what we call in the book Conservatism Inc. this archipelago of journals and think tanks that were very skeptical if not outright hostile to Donald Trump, meanwhile Donald Trump was very popular with . . .
John Hinderaker: Chris let me just pause here. Let me just pause you there for a second, Chris, because I just want to comment on what you’re saying there and second it. Donald Trump was not my first choice during the primary season. He was not my second choice during the primary season, but it was obvious as the primaries went on that there was something going on there, and that he was overwhelmingly the choice of republican voters, and as it became apparent that he was going to get the nomination, and then once the general election campaign actually started, it was obvious to me that while Trump, he did not have a lifelong history as a conservative, and he was not exactly an orthodox conservative in his views, he was a million times better than Barack Obama, and a million times better than Hillary Clinton, and I supported him enthusiastically when he became the nominee, and when it became apparent he was going to be the nominee.
It just puzzled me. I was astonished at the extent to which many people who are influential on the right, particularly more intellectual conservatives seemed oblivious to the fact that we got two choices here, and one of them is Hillary Clinton. The other one’s Donald Trump. This whole never Trump attitude, which continues, which persists in some quarters, I just find almost inexplicable.
Chris Buskirk: Right, and this was the thing that Seth and I found inexplicable too, is this is not an accident, right? This isn’t just chance. There’s something going on here that needs explanation. That’s why we dove into it in the book, and said, “Well, where does this come from?” Because obviously there is, we think, and we argue that there is a well of common sense, what we call Americanism that exists in the country, and that is what propelled Donald Trump to victory. Meanwhile, we’ve got . . . It’s a relatively small group of people, but very influential on the intellectual right who mostly reside in Washington, some in New York, but who talk to each other . . . but these are people who just didn’t seem to get it.
When we identified the major platforms in Donald Trump’s agenda, you talk about an America first foreign policy, or a pro-worker trade policy, or pro-citizen immigration and border policy, when he started talking about these things, people who weren’t beholden to some of these intellectual fads on the right, IE meaning voters, looked at those and said, “Yeah, that seems about right. That seems like what the American president should be doing, and should be talking about. That’s the duty that the government owes to its citizens, and somehow the conservative intellectuals couldn’t get their minds around it. Seth and I argue in the book that this actually is … This is an intellectual problem.
If we want to have a really effective political movement, not just at the ballot box, because we’ve been pretty effective at the ballot box, but if we want to be effective as conservatives, as an American right, in actually governing, we need to get these things resolved. We need to have the debates internally the way that was done frankly from 1955 through 1960s, ’70s, ’80s in order to give Ronald Reagan a platform to govern, and in order to have those intramural debates before the elections and outside of the electoral process so that once our candidates get elected, they get to Washington, they already agree. We know that the libertarians are going to disagree with, say, the social conservatives on certain issues. Fine, but we’ve hashed those things out, and we know the things that where we can stand shoulder to shoulder, and the things that where we could put together a platform, and actual legislative platform, and get those things through.”
Get the new book by American Greatness editor and publisher Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn.