Although I rarely agree with National Review columnist and conservative author Jonah Goldberg on social issues, foreign policy, or the nature of fascism—a topic on which both of us have written—I do enjoy his pleasantly glib style. But then he inevitably goes and says something that causes me to scratch my head in wonder.
The most recent example of this comes from a column in which Jonah expresses astonishment that anyone would consider Luther Strange’s victorious opponent in the Alabama Republican primary, Judge Roy Moore, to be the more “conservative” of the two candidates. According to Goldberg, “Strange was more conservative than Moore but less bombastic.” The only proof we’re given for such a counterintuitive statement is this: Moore opposed the president’s proposal to repeal Obamacare, while Strange, we are led to believe, was a big fan of that bill.
There are two important qualifications here. First, Strange was initially opposed to the repeal bill and only changed his mind after Trump leaned on him in a much-publicized telephone call. Trump mentioned this incident during his pre-election endorsement of Strange, in which he reportedly thanked Strange for coming around as a result of his call. Second, while Judge Moore opposed the repeal, he did so because it didn’t go far enough in removing the government from the health care system. He was praised for this stand not by Chuck Schumer, but by Rand Paul, who extolled Moore for taking his own position.
So why the attack on Moore? There is a more fundamental reason that Goldberg might not consider the “bombastic” Moore to be his kind of conservative: Goldberg has no sympathy for the social issues that define Moore’s public persona. For example, the Judge’s biblically based views on homosexuality and by extension his rejection of gay marriage. Like other fashionable conservatives, Goldberg was an advocate of gay marriage even before it became the Supreme Court’s “law of the land.”
The attitude of the Republican establishment on this matter was summarized recently by Chris Stirewalt on Fox News when he cast Moore as some kind of Neanderthal for not affirming what presumably all right-thinking anthropoids must accept: that gay marriage is here to stay. For several years, Fox personalities Dana Perino and Greg Gutfeld have boasted about how well ahead of Obama they were in supporting gay marriage as a human right. Presumably only reactionaries, like just about every politician in both national parties until a few years ago, would have opposed Perino’s and Gutfeld’s advocacy of marriage equality. (Gay marriage’s opponents even included Dana’s much-beloved boss George W. Bush.)
Clearly a veritable gulf exists between Never-Trumper Goldberg and his like-minded friends, and Judge Moore and his supporters. Save for varying degrees of loyalty to the GOP and the continued use of the “conservative” label, less and less holds these two sides together. One of them is extremely flexible on social issues, but high on deregulating commerce, lowering marginal tax rates, and pursuing a foreign policy predicated on exporting our democratic values and confronting foreign dictators depicted as Hitler look-alikes. The other side prioritizes social initiatives, like preserving traditional marriage, countering the offensives of the LGBT lobby, and restricting immigration. It is also less missionary towards the rest of the world than its rivals, partly because it is far more concerned with social decay at home. Although there are undoubtedly Fox News viewers and subscribers to conservative magazines who hold views characteristic of both camps, one can easily recognize the difference between them. And it’s not likely that either will go away in the foreseeable future.
One side dominates the Republican media and enjoys the patronage of such benefactors as Rupert Murdoch, who clearly represents the pro-corporate, socially liberal, pro-interventionist side of the conservative spectrum. Among its organs are the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and National Review. The other side is found among the Trump constituency, which, as in the case of Judge Moore’s victory, is willing to act against the wishes of its leader in order to advance what is rightly or wrongly assumed to be his cause.
Lest I be accused of drawing overly stark contrasts, let me state the obvious. I’m fully aware that most organs of Conservatism, Inc. try to represent in some fashion both sides of the ideological divide. I know that Fox News features such celebrities as Ben Carson and Laura Ingraham who campaigned for Moore in Alabama, while National Review still publishes authors who voted for Trump along with its Never-Trump editors. Yet the divide is real and will likely continue to grow. The defection of prominent neoconservatives from what they perceive as the Trump-influenced right, and the fact that a growing army of defectors is now making common cause with the left, suggests that the wounds won’t heal.
Moreover, it may be harder for Conservatism, Inc. to deal with defections from their left flank than with cutting off and denouncing those from their right. The right-wingers have nowhere to go in our present media and academic culture. But leftist defectors who wish to combine liberal social politics with calls for a militant foreign policy against the “fascist” Putin will be happily absorbed into the world of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Depending on what they’re offered and how distasteful they find the company of the Deplorables, that defection may occur sooner rather than later.
Although not an ideal solution, this split will inevitably come. It will also end the illusion of a big tent, which in reality is already full of holes and continuing to shrink.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.