Blogs: The Skeptics

Pulling Back Now Won’t Absolve American Involvement in Yemen

Is Russia Really 'Winning'?

Who Will Win the Contest for Trump's Iran Policy?

What Trump Means for the Future of Conservative Publications

The Skeptics

Third—relationships with successful presidential candidates. The most influential conservative publications have appealed to competitive presidential candidates. Ronald Reagan, for example, had been a subscriber of Human Events since 1961 and later credited the publication for helping him to “stop being a liberal Democrat.” Once in office, Reagan regularly consulted Human Events and invited its editors for policy briefings, sometimes against the counsel of his more moderate advisers. In the post-Reagan era, however, Human Events suffered a precipitous decline. Breitbart’s outsized influence is largely due to the fact that the publication doubled down behind Trump’s candidacy before much of the conservative media even took him seriously. Unlike its predecessor publications, however, which endured William Knowland’s unrealized presidential ambitions, Barry Goldwater’s humiliating 1964 defeat and Reagan’s unsuccessful primary challenge in 1976, Trump’s overnight victory has thrust Breitbart into the spotlight without giving it the time to lay deeper roots.

Breitbart’s newfound influence, then, could be quite fleeting. It is, as literary critic Alfred Kazin once wrote of influential magazines, “a date, ‘an issue,’ a moment; it is created out of an exacting sense of time and is about time.” The historical backdrop that propelled Breitbart will pass, but Breitbart’s path to notoriety offers a playbook that could be replicated with relative ease.

The conservatives who comprised the #NeverTrump movement are precisely the type of elite defectors who could establish rival publications­—and do so without the stigma of aligning with Trump. If the Trump administration betrays conservatives, the opportunity will be ripe for a primary challenger in 2020 à la Reagan in 1976 or Pat Buchanan in 1992 that will give new life to alternative conservative publications.

Trump’s political fortunes, in any case, may be beside the point. Even if the Trump administration enacts its agenda and wins the support of the American people, fundamental challenges will remain that call for conservative solutions. There are few signs that the Trump administration will try to curtail the growth of government or tackle entitlement reform. The country’s divisions along racial and socioeconomic lines were many years in the making, and will not be solved by renegotiating “horrible” trade deals. And the breakdown of the traditional family—a consequence of the establishment’s indulgent attitude toward no-fault divorce and out-of-wedlock birth—will manifest in an array of social pathologies whether or not political leaders care to acknowledge the issue today.

Indeed, conservative reformers with an intimate understanding of Trumpism, but who maintain independence from the Trump administration, may be best positioned over the long run. They can find appeal among Trump supporters without ideological contortions, yet, unlike Breitbart, they will be free from day-to-day White House political pressures.

The costs of running conservative publications have never been lower. Buckley had to raise $550,000 in 1950s dollars just to ensure that National Review could reach a “small, but crucial group” of 150 thousand people, and he may not have had a choice given that contemporaries such as The Freeman or American Mercury were too tarnished to revive conservatism. But the familiar path from obscurity to prominence among other conservative voices, combined with the opportunities of online media, suggest that today’s obscure publications could exploit an opening.

Pratik Chougule is the managing editor of The National Interest.

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Both Republicans and Democrats Are Endangering the Two-Party System

The Skeptics

Third—relationships with successful presidential candidates. The most influential conservative publications have appealed to competitive presidential candidates. Ronald Reagan, for example, had been a subscriber of Human Events since 1961 and later credited the publication for helping him to “stop being a liberal Democrat.” Once in office, Reagan regularly consulted Human Events and invited its editors for policy briefings, sometimes against the counsel of his more moderate advisers. In the post-Reagan era, however, Human Events suffered a precipitous decline. Breitbart’s outsized influence is largely due to the fact that the publication doubled down behind Trump’s candidacy before much of the conservative media even took him seriously. Unlike its predecessor publications, however, which endured William Knowland’s unrealized presidential ambitions, Barry Goldwater’s humiliating 1964 defeat and Reagan’s unsuccessful primary challenge in 1976, Trump’s overnight victory has thrust Breitbart into the spotlight without giving it the time to lay deeper roots.

Breitbart’s newfound influence, then, could be quite fleeting. It is, as literary critic Alfred Kazin once wrote of influential magazines, “a date, ‘an issue,’ a moment; it is created out of an exacting sense of time and is about time.” The historical backdrop that propelled Breitbart will pass, but Breitbart’s path to notoriety offers a playbook that could be replicated with relative ease.

The conservatives who comprised the #NeverTrump movement are precisely the type of elite defectors who could establish rival publications­—and do so without the stigma of aligning with Trump. If the Trump administration betrays conservatives, the opportunity will be ripe for a primary challenger in 2020 à la Reagan in 1976 or Pat Buchanan in 1992 that will give new life to alternative conservative publications.

Trump’s political fortunes, in any case, may be beside the point. Even if the Trump administration enacts its agenda and wins the support of the American people, fundamental challenges will remain that call for conservative solutions. There are few signs that the Trump administration will try to curtail the growth of government or tackle entitlement reform. The country’s divisions along racial and socioeconomic lines were many years in the making, and will not be solved by renegotiating “horrible” trade deals. And the breakdown of the traditional family—a consequence of the establishment’s indulgent attitude toward no-fault divorce and out-of-wedlock birth—will manifest in an array of social pathologies whether or not political leaders care to acknowledge the issue today.

Indeed, conservative reformers with an intimate understanding of Trumpism, but who maintain independence from the Trump administration, may be best positioned over the long run. They can find appeal among Trump supporters without ideological contortions, yet, unlike Breitbart, they will be free from day-to-day White House political pressures.

The costs of running conservative publications have never been lower. Buckley had to raise $550,000 in 1950s dollars just to ensure that National Review could reach a “small, but crucial group” of 150 thousand people, and he may not have had a choice given that contemporaries such as The Freeman or American Mercury were too tarnished to revive conservatism. But the familiar path from obscurity to prominence among other conservative voices, combined with the opportunities of online media, suggest that today’s obscure publications could exploit an opening.

Pratik Chougule is the managing editor of The National Interest.

Pages

Pages