Conservative Matthew Continetti Says GOP Must Dump Trump. Does History Show they Can (or Want To)?Breaking News
tags: Republican Party, political history, Donald Trump
In “The Right,” author Matthew Continetti warns that Republicans must wean themselves off the personality cult of Trump and fealty to his 2020 lies in order for conservatism to remain a viable ideological project. The 2024 election is a big test.
“Untangling the Republican Party and conservative movement from Donald Trump won’t be easy,” writes Continetti, who has held various positions inside conservative journalism and think tanks over the years.
But this gives rise to a question: Why are so few Republican lawmakers inclined to undertake this project of disentangling from Trump in the first place? Here’s where Continetti’s history of modern conservatism is illuminating.
In the book, Trump’s efforts to overturn the election through extraordinary procedural corruption and then the incitement of mob violence occupy a more prominent place in the story of conservatism’s evolution than movement thinkers usually ascribe it.
That’s because, in Continetti’s telling, those events partly represented long-festering tendencies inside the movement and the GOP. When racist, white supremacist and alt-right elements sought to violently overturn democracy, he writes, “all of the unreason and hatred that had been slowly growing in the body of the Right burst into the open.”
To illuminate these tendencies, Continetti tells a story of conservatism that has often been marked by an elite inability or unwillingness to police extremism, and at times an active embrace of it.
For instance: The right’s noninterventionist streak during the lead-up to World War II too easily collapsed into Charles Lindbergh’s antisemitism and flirtation with Nazism. The anti-communism of the 1950s too easily shaded into support for Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts.
Then in the 1960s, conservative elites were slow to purge John Birch conspiracism. And for too long they humored “states rights” as a smokescreen for opposing the dismantling of legally enforced white supremacy.
More recently, when Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush tried to edge the GOP in a pro-immigrant, facially aspirational direction, the base lurched the other way. It embraced right-wing populism, the angry anti-immigrant demagoguery of paleoconservative Pat Buchanan and the resentment-soaked “Own the Libs” theater of Sarah Palin.
The through line here is that conservative elites have perpetually kept fuzzy the boundary between elite conservatism and right-wing mass politics, to mobilize large popular constituencies. As John Ganz notes, again and again conservative intellectuals have “fastened themselves like barnacles onto demagogic movements.”
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