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‘The Dispatch’ is Warmed-Over Neoconservative News

They're just reaching leftward to glean support for their war policies without forfeiting membership in Conservative Inc.

The Dispatch was launched as a digital media creation this month by what have been described as “two of the most important names in conservative journalism,” Stephen F. Hayes and Jonah Goldberg. These unabashed Never Trumpers, together with their new senior editor David French, whom they brought along from National Review, are seeking to rectify what they characterize as a “worrisome trend in conservative journalism.” 

What these editors claim to resist is slavish support on the right for the current occupant of the White House and devotion “to a single party,” namely the GOP. Although neither of these positions need raise eyebrows, given the known politics of those who are expressing them, one may be justified in probing deeper. 

Hayes lost it on Fox News in 2016 when he came out against the “orange guy,” then running for president. He, French, and Goldberg avoided expressing even the slightest sympathy for Trump during the Mueller probe, and have even enthusiastically backed liberal Democrats, like Doug Jones in the Alabama senatorial race in 2018, against the Trumpian right. 

These editors claim to be true conservatives, as opposed to the bigots supposedly represented by Trump and his devotees. Yet David French likely alienated most of the socially traditional Right when, in a recent interview with the New Yorker, he rose to the defense of drag queens who were invited to tell stories to children at New York public libraries. French, who has flailed away at his fellow evangelicals for voting for Trump, declared that “the fact that a person can get a room in a library and hold a Drag Queen Story Hour and get people to come? That’s one of the blessings of liberty.”

French has also assured us more than once that unlike Trump supporters like Steve Bannon, “white progressives” are admirable people driven by a “sincere abhorrence of racism.” One can, of course, extrapolate from such statements to prove the obvious: The Dispatch is hardly an ingathering of the Old Right rebelling against an insufficiently conservative establishment Right. If we are witnessing a secessionist venture, then it’s coming from somewhere left of the conservative movement. 

Even more obvious, at least from the little that I’ve seen of it, The Dispatch is unmistakably neoconservative. It promises to continue the foreign policy of the Weekly Standard, where Hayes was an editor and contributor. Its “news reports” have been predictably anti-Putin, in favor of overseas interventions, and predictably supportive of the Israeli Right. One shouldn’t be surprised to see Bill Kristol and Max Boot making frequent guest appearances there, in the company of the Never Trumpers associated with Commentary. 

Significantly, older neocons like Bill Bennett, Roger Kimball, Michael Ledeen, and Norman Podhoretz all declared unambiguously for Trump in 2016, while the younger generation, exemplified by John Podhoretz, Steve Hayes, and Bill Kristol, went into opposition. Like the Weekly Standard, The Dispatch speaks for those neocon epigones who have remained hostile to Trump but who wish to pursue more of the same in foreign policy. One suspects that they would attach themselves to political candidates of either party so long as they could obtain the kind of supervisory role over the chief executive that they enjoyed during the George W. Bush presidency.  

Despite the appearance of secession, The Dispatch’s editorial board remains well within the confines of the present conservative establishment. Several days after it was launched, Steve Hayes popped up among the Fox News All-Stars to attack Trump for, among other sins, trying to pull out of Syria. In taking this position, he was joined by Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute and Mara Liasson of NPR, who seemed exceedingly pleased by the return of an old friend. That very day, Jonah Goldberg published a syndicated column on “Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds.” 

So while The Dispatch looks like a left-wing secession, it’s very different even from that. It’s an effort by neoconservatives to reach leftward and pick up bipartisan support for their interventionist foreign policy without forfeiting any of their customary contacts in Conservatism Inc.

Allow me to repeat a premise that has guided my studies of the present conservative movement. Conservative celebrities will never be excommunicated for moving too far to the Left, provided they don’t repudiate their erstwhile allies and (like Max Boot) relocate themselves to the media Left, and provided they don’t turn against a neoconservative foreign policy. The Dispatch has wisely refrained from either. Pardon me for not taking it seriously. Hayes’ justification for his new website is to offer an alternative to “the increasingly boorish journalism on the right.” But in that, he fits right in with those he belittles.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.