David Horowitz and the ‘Principled Conservatives’

When I read Ronald Radosh and Sol Stern’s May 5 cover story in The New Republic, “Our Friend, the Trump Propagandist,” I thought at once of the novelist Martin Amis and the late critic Christopher Hitchens. They were best buddies, but on at least one occasion they reviewed each other’s work scathingly. In his 2002 book, Koba the Dread, Amis excoriated Hitchens, a longtime self-styled Trotskyite, for soft-pedaling Stalin’s atrocities; in reply, Hitchens savaged Amis’ book in The Atlantic. You might expect that disagreement on such a topic would have led to an incurable rift, yet Amis and Hitchens remained close, and the former ended up delivering the eulogy at the latter’s funeral. 

No such spirit animates the article by Radosh and Stern, both of whom have been friends with David Horowitz since the world was young. (Radosh met him in high school; Stern, in grad school.) Whereas Amis and Hitchens carefully framed their criticism of each other in a way that made clear their enduring feeling of mutual respect and amity, Radosh and Stern go in for the kill from the start, calling Horowitz a “Trump propagandist” who has betrayed “decent conservatism” by joining the “MAGA movement,” which, they claim, is “far more destructive” than “radical leftism in the 1960s.” Shamefully—unforgivably—they even compare their old pal to Mao, suggesting that by naming his Freedom Center after himself he was being something of a “Chairman Horowitz.” 

Perhaps needless to say, their newfound hostility to Horowitz is plainly rooted in their contempt for Donald Trump, which, in turn, as in the case of many NeverTrumpers, is largely aesthetic (they refer to him as “the politically inexperienced, vulgar billionaire”). They accuse Trump of “going AWOL during the country’s greatest health crisis in a century,” when in fact it was Trump’s Operation Warp Speed that made it possible for me, all the way over here in Norway, to get a Pfizer vaccination the other day. Like many others, Radosh and Stern speak of “the MAGA cult,” which misunderstands the Trump phenomenon entirely. Even Trump’s staunchest supporters are capable of joking about his tics and foibles; the ardently pro-Trump podcasters Anthony Cumia and Steven Crowder do hilarious imitations of him. Cultists don’t behave like that. 

Whether Radosh and Stern like it or not, Trump’s voters support him not because they think he’s perfect or godlike (check your Obama fans for that), but because, unlike other politicians who are the tools of lobbyists or foreign powers or simply impelled by their own greed, he has proven himself again and again to be on their side, and willing to deplete hundreds of millions of his own fortune to serve their interests.

So deranged are Radosh and Stern by their hatred for Trump that they sneer about Horowitz’s annual Restoration Weekends being held at a Palm Beach hotel “not too far from Donald Trump’s lair at Mar-a-Lago”—a pretty silly line of attack, especially given that Radosh was a participant in Restoration Weekend in 2010. Oh, and in 2011. And 2012. And 2013, 2014, and 2015. (Stern, for his part, appeared at a Horowitz event in Santa Barbara in 2010.)

The “Big Lie” Again

The chief accusation that Radosh and Stern level at Horowitz is that he has been involved in “spreading the big lie that the [2020] election was stolen”; this, they maintain, makes him “a danger to American democracy.” 

Do they really think that Horowitz—after enduring decades of vicious public abuse for having quit the Left to fight for truth and freedom—has now become a mendacious enemy of liberty? What’s really going on here? Do they resent the fact that a nonpolitician stepped onto their turf, got himself elected president, and rendered them and their journals and think tanks and conferences irrelevant? Do Radosh and Stern, in particular, envy Horowitz’s income, his recent bestsellers, his organization? Sure sounds like it. 

In any event, as Horowitz points out in his reply to Radosh and Stern, he has never stated categorically that the 2020 election was stolen. After all, owing to “concerted efforts by Democrats across the country and the timidity of ‘weak Republicans,’ virtually no audits of the actual voting process were conducted”; hence, “no one can say with authority that the 2020 election was or was not decided by fraud.” How can any well-informed person honestly argue with that?

The very lowest thing about Radosh and Stern’s article is that, at the end of it, they suggest that the Freedom Center is even worse than the nefarious Southern Poverty Law Center and call on the IRS to investigate its finances. 

On top of that—as if their assault on Horowitz weren’t repulsive enough—they manage to work in a swipe at “the Dutch ethno-nationalist politician (some would say white supremacist) Geert Wilders”—an exceedingly shabby dig (and how pusillanimous to use that “some would say” formulation!) at a courageous man who has had to live in hiding for years, with round-the-clock bodyguards, simply because, like Horowitz, he has dared to stand up for his country’s freedom against the monstrous tyranny of Islam. 

A Principled Gesture

In their article, Radosh and Stern contrast David Horowitz to what they call “principled conservatives.” This is a term we see often these days. It is used by NeverTrumpers to describe their own wonderful selves. It is premised on the idea that before Trump came along, the GOP was a party of perfect dignity and decorum, seemliness and respectability, ethics, and honor. 

Well, let me put in my own two cents here. Nearly four decades ago, I began my career writing for conservative publications—mostly about cultural topics (novels, poetry, movies), rarely if ever about politics per se. At first, it didn’t matter that I was gay. Homosexuality wasn’t a frequent topic in political magazines in those days. A few years later, however, as gay-rights issues heated up, it began to matter quite a bit. 

Even back then, there were many gay writers at conservative publications. But some weren’t out to their editors, fearing that they would be fired if they revealed themselves. (One of them told me at the time that his editor looked upon him as a son, but if he knew he was gay, “I’d be dead to him.”) Many others were out to their editors, but, knowing the unwritten rules, didn’t mention their sexual orientation in print. 

One friend of mine was an exception: not understanding those unwritten rules, he published a book in the early 1990s in which he referred in passing to his homosexuality. As a result, he was given the boot by the editor of the conservative magazine to which he was a frequent contributor. His offense, the editor made clear, wasn’t being gay—the editor had never had a problem with that—but mentioning it in print. Anywhere. 

It was a different time. 

In 1993, it was my turn. That year I published a book, A Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society, that argued for the full inclusion of openly gay people in American society while also criticizing the “queer” Left for its radicalism, hatred of America, and love of its own marginality. I saw it as a deeply conservative book. But it made many conservatives, especially members of the pre-Boomer generation who still held the reins at the magazines and journals, uncomfortable. 

Over the course of a year or two, I found myself estranged from all my conservative outlets—an estrangement that would last two decades, until (in most cases) a younger generation of editors took over. Some of those publications closed their doors to me; others I walked away from, recognizing that, for the time being at least, my continued presence there made both me and my editors uneasy.

And it was at precisely that point that David Horowitz—a virtual stranger to me, but aware of what I was going through—reached out, inviting me to write for his magazine Heterodoxy. It was a gesture—dare I say a principled gesture?—that I have never forgotten. 

Nothing Less Than Noble

My feelings about David Horowitz are in many ways mirrored by my feelings about Donald Trump. As noted, self-regarding conservative veterans like Radosh and Stern tend to write about the pre-Trump GOP as if its leading figures were amalgams of Edmund Burke and St. Francis of Assisi. For my part, I cast my first presidential vote ever for Gerald Ford and my second for Ronald Reagan. But after that, the party’s presidential candidates, whether they won or lost, held little appeal for me. (This is not to say that their Democratic counterparts were any better.) They all used ugly, malevolent gay-bashing to win votes, implying that gay people were the greatest threat of all to American values. Trump—“vulgar” Trump—never stooped that low. He never came close. During the 2016 campaign, I kept holding my breath waiting for it to happen—it had to happen; he was a Republican—and it never happened.

Vulgar? Nasty? No, in thunder. He was nothing less than noble. Not just in the way he talked to gays, but also in the way he addressed blacks, women, Latinos, Asians, Appalachian coal miners, Midwestern farmers, the military, the police. There was not a hint of Democratic identity-group pandering, and none of the awkwardness of a George H.W. Bush, say, trying desperately to pretend to relate to people about whose lives he was utterly clueless. 

Yes, Trump was a billionaire, but he had spent his adult life on construction sites rubbing shoulders with plumbers, carpenters, welders, roofers, glaziers, electricians, and other working stiffs; and he had hired and promoted—and fired—on the basis of excellence and nothing else. 

And that was only a small part of what he did. He effected changes in the GOP that I had been dreaming of my whole adult life. His love for America, and respect for Americans, were palpable. He made most of the GOP presidential hopefuls before him, and most of the Republicans in Congress during his own tenure, look like wimps, hacks, careerists, phonies, cowards. 

Unlike all those “principled conservatives” whom Radosh and Stern celebrate, Trump was a Republican presidential candidate whom I could cheer without serious reservation. He knew what the real issues were. He knew who the real enemies were. He knew the real America, and was fully on its side. And through it all, he was never afraid to speak the truth, loud and clear. 

Just like—yes—a certain American hero named David Horowitz.  


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