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The Nationalist House Divided

Republicans are on the swift ascent, and what they will do with renewed power is a jump ball, with intrigue galore behind the scenes.

WEST HOLLYWOOD—To read about it, quite a show was put on back in Washington.

“Trump Conservatives” had slapped together an “emergency meeting,” reported my old boss, Jacob Heilbrunn, in Politico. Stripped of the American political context, the maneuver sounded like a panicked, bureaucratic assembly out of Mother Russia—given the news, the entendre surely being our author’s intention. But it turns out he was telegramming from none other than the symposium convened by this magazine and others.

As this writer has moved West, it seems the world has been borne back ceaselessly East, with the purblind prospect of the Iraq War for Democrats on offer. Heilbrunn’s reportage is colorful (on brand). The American Conservative contributing editor Sohrab Ahmari, Hillsdale College lecturer and Claremont Institute bigwig Michael Anton, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and others on hand were “realist royalty” (Romanovs?) with the temerity to ask, as former Trump admin wonk Russ Vought did at the scene, “Why haven’t we brought our troops home from Europe? These are the questions that leaders should be considering.”

Surely, this is blackballed stuff from America’s headlines (harder to get than ketamine), for the moment anyway. Anyone getting into an Uber on Hollywood Boulevard (or Hagerstown) with mask mandate still enforced for a still-unexplained virus from China, will just have to take the word of the “adults” who now mercifully rule Washington once more.

Of course, actual Americans disagree, with President Biden at a nadir and middle class Joe now plausibly, finally, at the end of the road. The wizards in the White House cooked up some pungent, primaveral war fever, but it—sort of stunningly—failed to move the needle. Biden stands at a re-election losing 40.8 percent on the Real Clear Politics trackers, and “at the lowest point in his presidency” per NBC. The best case you can make for Biden’s men is that Russophobia has been a hard times tourniquet, with the bleeding mostly stopped (these stats look similar enough to the eve of the invasion).

The subtext, then, to any Trump or “Trumpist” Tocqueville-treatment is threefold: the Georgetown set of the writer should be scared; the subject is interesting; and these guys might actually be close enough to where “real Americans” are.

What this piece doesn’t add (and it adds much) is there isn’t one “Trumpist” wing, or nationalist wing (it will outlive the man), but rather three.

You’ve got the “primacists”—these are hawkish both about Russia and China. In that set you have former Trump administration officials and plausible future presidents Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, among others, as well as old-school conservative policy shops, like the Heritage Foundation and, in particular, the Hudson Institute.

But then you’ve got the “prioritizers”—realists on Russia, and more hawkish on China. Examples: Tucker Carlson, defense wiz Elbridge Colby, Steve Bannon, and (at least by rhetoric) Donald Trump himself. This was the grounding influence of the “Up From Chaos” conference put on by TAC and American Moment.

Paid attention to, though, are the “postliberals,” whose heart is not really in either fight, a camp represented most clearly at the conference by Ahmari. Though the postliberals are colleagues today with prioritizers and primacists in opposition to the Russia fever, there will be differences of opinion in the inevitable battle with Beijing.

Orbiting the solar system are the curious libertarians—well represented in the Washington confab—who, it should be said, are rock solid votes for the nationalist perspective in Congress at the moment on anything stemming the tide of war. Of course, others in their flock are wondering who could ever oppose a more atomized society? This definitely rules.

For now, though, when it comes to foreign policy, American nationalism is a house divided. It looks as though it is also a house that is going to win again.

about the author

Curt Mills is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, where he previously served as senior reporter. He specializes in foreign policy and campaign coverage and has worked at The National Interest, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Examiner, and the Spectator, and his work has appeared in UnHerd and Newsweek. He was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism fellow.

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