What is the most important think tank in America circa 2021? I’d say that a good case could be made in support of the Claremont Institute, the California-based organization that is home to the Claremont Review of Books—perhaps our single most incisive quarterly devoted to high politics and the vocation of statesmanship—and a number of world-class scholars. Their statement of purpose says that “The mission of the Claremont Institute is to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life.” Through the CRB and the writings of their scholars and fellows, the institute lives up to that high calling.
What is the single most disgusting and mendacious article published this year? The competition for that title is stiff, I know, but I’d like to propose Daniel Drezner’s mephitic eructation in the Washington Post abusing the Claremont Institute and some of the scholars associated with that organization. Mary McCarthy once noted that every word that Lillian Hellman wrote was a lie, including the words “and” and “the.” Hellman had nothing on Drezner, whose hysterical (I do not mean “funny”) effort at demolition is as embarrassing as it is tendentious.
The one amusing passage (inadvertently amusing, I hasten to add) is the bit toward the end where Drezner invokes the late, great Samuel Huntington for support in his vendetta against Claremont. “The connection between democracy and political science has been a close and continuing one,” Huntington said in a late 1980s speech for the American Political Science Association. “Where democracy is strong, political science is strong; where democracy is weak, political science is weak.” Drezner offers this gloss: “Make no mistake, whatever it was in the past, the 2021 version of the Claremont Institute explicitly wants to weaken democracy.” That rumbling sound you hear is Huntington turning over in his grave. The author of The Clash of Civilizations and Who Are We? would not have been amused to be enlisted in this attempted character assassination.
As it happens, abusing the Claremont Institute has become a favorite pastime of our would-be masters. The occasion for Drezner’s flaccid fusillade was the American Political Science Association’s decision to ostracize Claremont from its annual conference, taking place this weekend in Seattle. In July, The Bulwark, Bill Kristol’s current squeaky megaphone, published a fevered attack called “What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute?” That piece is a runner-up for my prize of most deceitful article of the year.
What is it about the Claremont Institute that drives the snotty establishment to distraction? In a word, Trump. They hate Donald Trump and they hate anyone who doesn’t share their hatred. They especially hate anyone who questions the legitimacy of the deeply problematic 2020 election or raises questions about the FBI-sponsored protest at the Capitol on January 6.
Claremont stands out in the way it has been the poster child for the devolution of conservative thought into simple-minded racism, immature oppositional thinking and reactionary authoritarianism. In the past decade, Claremont has invited controversial speakers such as torture memo author John Yoo. This year, Claremont had scheduled coup-plotter John Eastman to appear on two panels. Lest you think that is hyperbole, I would encourage you to read what Eastman wanted Vice President Mike Pence to do on Jan. 6 and find more accurate words to use. Eastman is also a member of the Claremont Institute’s board of directors and the director of its Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. This is in keeping with Claremont’s overt support for the attempted putsch.
Where to start? It would be pointless to say much about the great constitutional scholar John Yoo since he has already exploded the whole “torture memo” meme in the most delightful fashion. Last fall, a couple of weeks before the flawed 2020 presidential election, Yoo, writing with Claremont fellow Robert Delahunty, also thoughtfully weighed in on some chief constitutional and legal issues that devil an election in which there is no clear winner. The essay was both prescient and, as things turned out, understated.
But as the passage I quoted indicates, Drezner’s paramount villain is the pro-Trump lawyer and constitutional scholar John Eastman. Drezner invites us to read a memo that supposedly outlines what “Eastman wanted Vice President Mike Pence to do on Jan. 6” and then asks if there are “more accurate words” than “coup plotter” to describe the alleged advice. Not to be outdone, the New York Times weighed in Saturday with essentially the same complaint: the Post and the Times get their marching orders from the same sources. Unfortunately for the credibility of both, their accounts of Eastman’s activities are wildly inaccurate.
Both maintain that Eastman presented Vice President Pence with a memo and both argue that Eastman (in the Times’s words) “counseled [Trump] on how to retain power after losing the election.” But of course, the still-unanswered question is: Did Trump lose the election?
The centerpiece of Drezner’s and the Times’ narrative is Eastman’s memo for Vice President Mike Pence. But the memo they link to is a bowdlerized fragment of Eastman’s original memo, the purpose of which was to explain the constitutional issues the 2020 election presented and to outline possible alternative responses for the vice president. Eastman’s main point was that if the slates of electors presented by certain states were invalid, then the vice president was authorized under the 12th Amendment to pause the count of the electoral votes and return the slate to the state legislatures in question for recertification.
Did you know that legislators in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan sent letters to Pence in early January outlining illegal manipulation of the election laws and asking (in the words of legislators from Pennsylvania) that Pence “delay certification of the Electoral College to allow due process as we pursue election integrity”? Somehow, that news doesn’t get mentioned by people perpetrating the big lie that anyone who questions the legitimacy of the 2020 election is a partisan of “the Big Lie.”
According to The Narrative, Donald Trump asked Mike Pence to reject the electoral votes. In fact, as Eastman shows in a thoughtful essay from late January:
the vice president was not being asked to decide the matter himself, but to pause the proceedings long enough to give the couple of states whose legislators had asked for more time to assess whether the illegal conduct by their state election officials—illegal conduct that Pence himself twice acknowledged in his statement—was sufficient to warrant revoking the existing certification and submitting a new one that accurately reflected the state’s vote.
Does that sound like the ravings of a “coup-plotter” aiming at a “putsch”?
It is said that if you are taking flak then you know you are over the target. The Claremont Institute and insightful patriots like John Eastman and John Yoo have been taking lots of flak. That is one measure of their effectiveness. The rabid efforts of our new cancel culture to silence them will ultimately fail.
But as more and more questions accumulate about the 2020 election, and as John Durham’s investigation, glacial in speed, but also glacial in penetrating depth, begins to produce indictments, expect the fury of the attacks on entities like the Claremont Institute and scholars like Eastman and Yoo to increase. The putrid reality of the elite rejection of Donald Trump and the populist sentiment he represented is a story we are just beginning to glimpse.