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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Weekly Standard demise a lesson for Trump on what NOT to do on wall

Bill Kristol











It’s never pleasant to watch a business fail but it’s sometimes satisfying to recognize the reasons why it did and pity those who went down with the ship when it could’ve been salvaged with a little common sense, sound decision-making and listening to their peers.

Speaking of the recent demise of the neoconservative mouthpiece The Weekly Standard, the stomping grounds for a number of prominent establishment Republican-supporting writers, most notably Bill Kristol, the publication’s founder and former editor-at-large. Three years ago Kristol joined with a small band of anti-Trump “conservative” commentators to form the nebulous #NeverTrump faction, mostly longtime establishment Republicans (and a few principled objectors such as Erick Erickson and Jonah Goldberg) who swore they’d rather not vote -- or even support Hillary Clinton -- than back a bombastic non-politician celebrity for president.

Donald Trump represented everything these people despised, namely a self-funding candidate who wouldn’t be bought or influenced. Trump immediately disdained the DC consulting class and operated mostly on instinct. Trump didn’t buy expensive media or pay experts, instead relying on his celebrity and unconventional manner to “earn” hundreds of millions in free coverage (a good portion of it negative, but that’s another story).

Trump used his own plane to travel to campaign rallies, too. He hired outsiders to work the logistics and kept a very small but tight circle of family and friends to serve as advisors. Trump’s campaign was like nothing Washington had ever witnessed and many couldn’t stomach the helpless feeling from being unable to control him.

No one ever claimed Donald Trump would win a charm contest, but when the Republican grassroots settled on the New Yorker to battle the Democrats, it wasn’t hard for most right-thinking folks to get behind him. The choice was either fall in line, work like heck to get Trump elected and take our chances that his solid group of conservative counselors (such as Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon) would push the mostly non-political presidential nominee onto the right path -- or accept the certainty of degenerative Democrat leadership under the female alpha dog in the Clinton dynasty.

Despite all predictions to the contrary, Trump won the election and #NeverTrumpers were forced to eat crow. Some consumed it with gusto and humility, admitted they were at least partially mistaken and offered Trump (somewhat) of a chance to work things out. Kristol took the opposite path. Today, his once proud magazine is comatose and won’t be revived.

Is this a positive for conservatism? As would be expected, opinions are mixed. Chris Buskirk wrote at American Greatness, “The political movement whose vanguard Donald Trump has led, is still developing a new generation of cultural and political leaders. Leaving the Bushes, Paul Ryan, and The Weekly Standard behind is just part of a natural and felicitous reset.

“The Republicans and independents who supported Reagan and now support Trump want their country back. And they’re tired of being lied to and misled by people who claim to speak for them but who don’t know them, don’t care about them, and not so secretly despise them. The struggle with the Left for the future of the country is ongoing, but part of that battle is unifying the Right around a common set of historic American principles.

“Neoconservatism discredited itself as a political movement in Iraq just as much as the individuals behind its current incarnation have demonstrated their pride, pettiness, and political and emotional immaturity in the Age of Trump. In short, the people who claimed a natural right to rule, have proven that they can’t be trusted with power. But that knowledge strengthens the American Right and makes a restoration of the liberty and tranquility protected by American constitutionalism more likely.”

Neoconservatism is just another term for Bushism or big government Republicanism, a line of thought now thoroughly discredited within true conservative circles. Establishment Republicans believe they manage the federal leviathan better than Democrats; they also think America has a mystic obligation to spread freedom and democracy to every corner of the earth. They completely misinterpreted Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” mantle and used American military power as a plaything to deploy to hotspots around the globe, break a lot of stuff, kill a lot of people (bad guys and otherwise) and plant the American flag next to any leader or group who claimed oppression and begged for help.

Instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick they shouted loudly and used their big sticks to bludgeon easy targets. Neocons then declared victory, indefinitely stationed U.S. troops to guard the spoils and spoke like they were the ones making the world a better and safer place.

If neocons sound like liberals and Democrats it’s because that’s essentially what they are. George W. Bush not only launched the interminable Iraq War, he also agreed to massive new federal domestic programs and imposed an open borders immigration policy that was completely attenuated from the wishes of his voters.

Neoconservatism, Bushism, whatever you call it -- was roundly rejected by Republican primary voters in 2016. “Jeb!” Bush blew tens of millions in establishment donor cash and ended up winning only three delegates (at roughly $50 million apiece). Jeb’s was one of the most glaring epic failures in U.S. political history and signaled the end of big government Republicanism as a viable governing philosophy -- at least in the presidential campaign.

Fellow establishment Republicans Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and John Kasich shared similar fates. Conservative outsider Ted Cruz battled Trump to a solid second place but even he (with the backing of most prominent conservatives) couldn’t overcome Trump’s appeal to the “forgotten” Americans. Bill Kristol and his neocon cohorts never recovered from the people’s snub and continued sniping at Trump from the flanks. A few remained in Congress and some are still around causing trouble at CNN and MSNBC -- but mostly they’re on the outside looking in now.

One could oppose Trump -- or at least constructively criticize him -- without going to extremes. Longtime (formerly) respected “conservative” voices like George Will and Max Boot lost their marbles somewhere along the way. Not only did these men continue their inane personal vendettas against Trump, they also began encouraging Republicans and conservatives to vote for Democrats this year to “stop” the duly elected president.

Some, like Kristol, accepted money from left-wingers to lend an aura of “insider” opposition to Trump and the MAGA agenda. This will be Kristol’s -- and The Weekly Standard’s unfortunate legacy. It may be years before we know why this formerly distinguished group of commentators went so completely off the rails. Maybe we’ll never understand. For his part, Trump just knocks them to the side when they crop up the same way he does all his pesky opponents.

It’s hard to remember now (two years into the Trump presidency) but Kristol personally led the #NeverTrumpers’ search for a replacement candidate for Trump at the 2016 Republican convention. They first tried to convince Mitt Romney to mount an 11th hour challenge, then appeared to find their man in National Review’s David French (who?), and then many of them dredged up Evan McMullin (who?) to run as an “independent” conservative.

Anyone possessing common sense at the time recognized the efforts were fruitless and doomed to fail. Still there are those who rue the passing of The Weekly Standard. Jim Geraghty wrote at National Review, “Kristol stopped editing The Weekly Standard back in December 2016, and he was always only one of many voices over there. If you’re cheering the demise of The Weekly Standard as a way of “getting” Kristol . . . one way or another, Kristol is going to be fine. Shutting down the Standard doesn’t punish Kristol. It punishes the John McCormacks, the Mark Hemingways, the Haley Byrds, the Rachel Larimores, all the folks in the art department, running the website, copy editors, the fresh-faced editorial assistants, ad-sales folks, and so on...

“...[T]here are claims that the owners of The Weekly Standard rebuffed inquiries from those interested in buying the magazine. They didn’t just want the financial loss taken off their hands; they allegedly wanted to eliminate a potential competitor for the relaunched Washington Examiner magazine. They closed it and laid off the entire staff, with little warning but plenty of ominous rumors, about a week before Christmas…

“The urge to see publications you disagree with fail is one step removed from censoriousness.”

There’s truth in Geraghty’s words, but there are also plenty of anti-Trump publications already (it’s called the mainstream establishment media) to offer contrarian views of the president, his administration and his policies. It’s just not necessary to claim you’re a “conservative” and then go out of your way to insult not only Trump the person, but also the people who support him.

Geraghty’s own National Review still features several prominent and outspoken anti-Trumpers including Will, Goldberg, French and Kevin Williamson (among others). The tone of the publication isn’t exactly anti-Trump but remains deeply skeptical of the man three-plus years into the political phase of his life. Noted historian Victor Davis Hanson appears to be an exception at NRO; in the beginning Hanson was suspicious of Trump (as most of us were) yet now has become one of the president’s biggest defenders (though it should be noted Hanson mostly confines himself to picking apart the deep state and ruling class rather than outright cheerleading for Trump).

Kristol went to great lengths to not only put vast distance between himself and Trump supporters, he fired the bridge after setting foot on the other side. Publishers and writers who work long and hard to insult the intelligence of their would-be readers and fans deserve what they get (there are others in Kristol’s league…they know who they are).

Business owners shouldn’t call their customers stupid for shopping at their establishments. That’s what Kristol did when he repeatedly questioned the wisdom and loyalty of Republicans who backed Trump -- and now he’s a favorite only among liberal cable news personalities on shows where there’s a single point-of-view and not much substance is debated.

Acting against one’s own interests isn’t a wise survival strategy. Sadly, it looks as though President Trump is doing much the same thing in regards to the badly needed U.S./Mexico border wall.

Alexander Bolton and Jordan Fabian reported at The Hill, “In a swift reversal, the White House on Tuesday dropped its demand that a government funding measure include $5 billion for President Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. Trump’s concession paves the way for lawmakers to reach a compromise and end the Congress without a partial government shutdown. It also raises questions over whether Trump will ever get full funding for his wall now that Democrats are poised to take control of the House in a few weeks…

“Regardless, the GOP-led Congress will end soon without delivering on Trump’s wall, which was one of his top campaign promises in 2016. Trump vowed Mexico would pay for the wall and the White House continues to say that could still occur, pointing without specifics to the recently renegotiated deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Usually it’s the job of the House, where spending bills traditionally originate, to get the ball rolling by sending appropriations bills to the Senate. But dispirited House Republicans are picking up the pieces from losing 40 seats last month and are in the midst of a leadership vacuum as Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) winds down his congressional career. The House wasn’t even close to having the votes to pass Trump’s $5 billion wall bill.”

This is indeed a shocking development, but it isn’t surprising. It’s shocking Trump would relent so easily on wall funding when he made it clear last week he was willing to stake everything on the importance of ensuring border security (polls suggest voters would back him up, too). But it’s not surprising the Paul Ryan-led House would once again disappoint in its stated mission to advance the Republican agenda.

Pure and simple, everything Paul Ryan and the House GOP leadership ever said about securing the border and protecting the American people is bunk. In complete control of the House calendar, Ryan could’ve easily scheduled votes on various proposals. But he didn’t. Instead, Ryan’s playing out his last few pathetic days in Congress doing nothing, allowing Pelosi and creepy “Chucky” to dominate the narrative with nary a peep in retort.

GOP senate leaders aren’t any better. Where’s the will to brawl for the wall? Most Republicans fought admirably during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation debate but whenever it comes to forming battle lines over the budget they wilt like dead roses in a dry vase.

If it turns out to be true and Trump allows Democrats to dominate budget talks, he’ll certainly regret it later. If people lose faith in Trump’s fighting spirit it’ll mark the beginning of the end for him. Some conservatives, such as Ann Coulter, have already said it’s too late.

Few conservatives will miss Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard now that it’s gone. The defunct publication was a glaring example of how not to conduct a successful enterprise; by alienating those inclined to support them, the magazine guaranteed its own demise. Let’s hope the same fate doesn’t befall Trump.

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