Can Conservatives Stop Their Movement’s Descent Into Madness?
One of the modern conservative movement’s greatest leaders, the late William F. Buckley Jr., retold a fascinating story from the run-up to the 1964 presidential election. As he explained in The Wall Street Journal in 2008, Buckley and his allies convinced Barry Goldwater to distance himself from the John Birch Society—a conspiracy-minded group that touted his candidacy.
Buckley noted that the society’s president, Robert Welch, had at the time a “near-hypnotic” influence on the Right, despite his “wild” ideas: “(Welch) said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a ‘dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy,’ and that the government of the United States was ‘under operational control of the Communist Party.'”
Buckley realized that Welch’s fixations did a disservice to the anti-communist cause. So he convinced Goldwater to reject the core fallacy—”the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the communists, therefore the president of the United States and the secretary of state wished China to go to the communists.”
Goldwater, of course, gained the GOP nomination and lost the general-election vote by 23 percentage points. Thanks to Buckley’s efforts, however, the GOP vanquished various fringe groups. The Goldwater candidacy built the foundation for the GOP’s future and set the stage for a movement that helped topple the Evil Empire. Sometimes, losing is better than winning.
In recent years, conspiracy-mongers and kooks have gained a similar foothold in the GOP. It’s a huge problem on the Left, but as a non-leftist that’s not my battle. My goal is to support a functioning right-of-center movement that has the credibility to thwart the utopian dreams of the progressive movement. At this time, the Right needs more self-analysis and less whataboutism.
The explanations are complex and subject to debate, but it’s impossible to ignore that a portion of the Right has descended, quite frankly, into madness. I partly blame a president who has advocated “birtherism” and given a pass to supporters of QAnon, who embrace some inchoate theory involving Satan, politicians, and pedophiles.
Trump will soon exit the White House unless he chains himself to his desk. But the conservative movement will need to chart a path forward—and decide whether it is primarily about airing a list of Festivus-like grievances, or whether it is tethered to important and mostly good ideas centered on promoting markets and limited government. So far, the prognosis isn’t good.
My view is that if Trump had actually won the election, he would have been able to prove systemic voter fraud in one of the 58 lawsuits that his supporters have lost. I believe in the rule of law, and the legal system has rendered its verdict. It’s crazy to go deeper into this rabbit hole, yet the con
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