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You might have heard about the #WalkAway Movement, in which disaffected Democrats say farewell to their party due to its hard-left turn. But you might not have heard much about an identical movement of disaffected Republicans leaving their party, though it’s not because it isn’t happening.
It’s just that nobody cares.
Nobody cares about recent pieces in The Atlantic, Washington Post, and other liberal papers detailing former Republicans’ disaffection with their party, even if they were published in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s highly contentious nomination to the Supreme Court. Indeed, very few people cared about the exodus of other, more prominent conservatives from the party, among them campaign strategist Steve Schmidt and columnist George Will.
This isn’t to say Schmidt or Will or others—Bill Kristol, David French, and Jonah Goldberg among them—are not intelligent figures who sincerely believe that they are defending the principles of “true conservatism.” They can be mistaken without being insincere. All due respect for their work on behalf of a cause we once thought we shared in common.
Now, however, we have to be honest. Many of them are cashing in on their Trump Derangement Syndrome, bigly.
Kristol says he’s still a Republican, but he no longer appears on Fox News as he did in the past. He now lives on MSNBC and CNN. The same goes for Republican strategist Rick Wilson.
Does any thoughtful Republican, looking over Jennifer Rubin ’s numerous daily tweets, actually think she’s expressing a sincere or honest opinion?
with him screaming and interrupting senators I could imagine him putting his hand over someone’s mouth.
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) September 28, 2018
Or is it safe to say that Rubin is in all likelihood catering to her base of Trump-hating liberals and neoconservatives at the Washington Post, and on Twitter, MSNBC, and CNN?
No one—or hardly anyone—takes comments like those of Rubin seriously precisely because most of them are not uttered in good faith. These outlandish, hyperbolic statements about Trump, Kavanaugh, and his supporters are clickbait, pure and simple. Rubin is looking for likes and retweets which she can translate into status after having lost it with the Republican base.
The same goes for other erstwhile “Republicans.” Take Max Boot. (Please.) A graduate of UC Berkeley (my alma mater), a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, and another writer for the Washington Post, Boot is currently hawking his new book, The Corrosion of Conservatism. In an op-ed, Boot insists “the Republican Party must suffer repeated and devastating defeats beginning in November. It must pay a heavy price for its embrace of white nationalism and know-nothingism.”
Who is Boot attempting to convince here? Your average Republican on the fence concerned about Trump, his rhetoric, his tweets, and his foreign policy? Does this person imagine he is lending support to a guy who embraces these awful things? Or is Boot calibrating to win the accolades of the committed leftist who hates Trump with a passion, who truly and sincerely believes Trump has embraced “white nationalism” and “know-nothing-ism”? It’s clearly the latter whom Boot seeks to impress.
Even when it comes to the more respectable of the NeverTrumpers, most of them are just mistaken when it comes to the popularity of Trump and the beneficial nature of his policies. And this can be shown empirically. Making a solid case for these opinions has proven difficult, so they’ve retreated to strutting about online and in studio lavishing their hatred on the president and his supporters.
The imaginary “liberal Republican” (as David Frum recently put it in The Atlantic) who can be persuaded courageously to reform the conservatism of the Republican Party along the lines palatable to these grandees simply doesn’t exist—he’s a fiction created as a pretext for pure posturing. Their audience is a left-wing one, now. And it shows.
All of this posturing reveals two things, one uninteresting and the other interesting. First, NeverTrumpers like Rubin and Boot are cynically attempting to preserve their foundering careers by embracing progressives and, with them, progressivism. Conservatism isn’t working for them anymore.
Second, they were never especially conservative to begin with.
How do we know this? Straight from the horse’s mouth:
To clarify: I became a conservative because of the GOP’s anti-communism and Reagan’s moral clarity in standing up to the USSR. I see that as moral leadership not imperialism. And I espoused other generic conservative views, eg on gun control & judicial activism. Read my book. https://t.co/zD9pt8HNcZ
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) October 13, 2018
It is no coincidence that the most virulent anti-Trumpers are also the most likely to be described as “neoconservatives,” or those former liberals who moved to the right out a shared hatred for Communism and tyranny abroad. As Boot himself freely admits, he only adopted other conservative positions on “gun control” and “judicial activism”—words he would never have used in the past when he was in the conservative movement’s good graces—because he became disillusioned with the Left’s perceived weakness on points of foreign policy.
In a word, the shedding of “conservatives” like Boot and Rubin is akin to a snake sloughing off its skin: they were hangers-on and fellow travellers out of coincidence and convenience rather than because of a true and abiding conservative temperament and attitude. (Heaven forbid all there is to conservatism is anti-communism and endless foreign entanglements!)
Their last hurrah was, if not Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” at the end of the Cold War, then the beginning of the Iraq War, when foreign policy superseded domestic affairs. In the Bush era they received their poisoned chalice, the “war on terror”—a perpetual war because it’s a war on an idea.
Now that foreign interventionism and the exporting of democracy is no longer politically popular, neoconservatives such as Boot have no reason to hitch their wagon to the Republican elephant. The Democratic donkey awaits.
Photo Credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images