The TAC Presidential Symposium - It’s a Muddled Mess

I recently wrote an article suggesting that The American Conservative (TAC) magazine, for better or worse the closest thing to a policy journal paleoconservatism has, should be more visibly on board the Trump Train. I realize that TAC is a non-profit and is not able to officially endorse a candidate. What I had in mind was that the magazine and its stable of writers should make it clearer that Trump is actually running on and advancing, to a greater or lesser degree, our cluster of issues – immigration restriction, rejection of free trade ideology and a more restrained America first foreign policy. National Review (NR) is also a non-profit, but it is abundantly clear that its editorial position is anti-Trump. (Some have suggested that their anti-Trump issue violated their non-profit status.)

Trump is certainly not without his flaws, both personal and policy wise, and I don’t really expect TAC to be as pro-Trump as NR is anti-Trump, but the entirety of the mainstream media and much of the mainstream conservative press have been openly and vehemently anti-Trump, so I don’t believe it is asking too much for an outlet that is generally on his side on the issues to stick up for the guy against this hysterical onslaught. I greatly appreciate their help, but it’s a bit sad that a group of scholars associated with the Claremont Institute, an organization and intellectual orientation that has historically had an antagonistic relationship with paleos, is doing significantly more to make the case for Trump than is what should be the relatively friendly confines of TAC.

So on Friday TAC published a “symposium” of 26 writers associated with the magazine discussing their choices for this election. With regard to any hope that the TAC crew might be getting on board the Trump Train, the symposium is an utter disaster. I was informed it was pending after my article was published. I wasn’t hopeful. It’s worse than I imagined.

I encourage everyone to read the entire symposium to get a better sense of the nuance involved in some of these endorsements, but for the sake of brevity I will list the endorsements below in the order they appear in the article. Those with official positions with the magazine are so noted.

Helen Andrews – Donald Trump

James Antle -  Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party)

Andrew Bacevich – unspecified third party

Gene Callahan – Jill Stein (Green Party)

Donald Devine – Donald Trump

Rob Dreher (Senior Editor) – abstaining for President

Bruce Fein – Gary Johnson

Michael Fumento – abstaining for President

Philip Giraldi – Donald Trump

Paul Gottfried – Donald Trump

Leon Hadar – Donald Trump

Jack Hunter – Gary Johnson

Carole Iannone – Donald Trump

Daniel Larison (Senior Editor) - Michael Maturen (American Solidarity Party)

Chase Madar – Hillary Clinton

Thomas Mallon – write-in Sen. Susan Collins

Daniel McCarthy (Editor) – Donald Trump

Scott McConnell (a Founding Editor) – Donald Trump

Noah Millman (Senior Editor) – Hillary Clinton

Daniel Oliver – Donald Trump

Gracy Olmstead – Evan McMullin (Independent “NeverTrump” Candidate)

Gerald Russello – abstaining

Jason Sorens – Gary Johnson

Michael Tracey – abstaining

Eve Tushnet – she doesn’t explicitly say. Presumably abstaining. Does seem to indicate that a vote for Clinton, Johnson or McMullin is more justified than a vote for Trump.

Robert VerBruggen (Managing Editor) – write-in David French (one time potential Independent NeverTrump Candidate)

TAC describes the panel as made up of “conservatives, libertarians, and independently minded progressives,” so this should be kept in mind, although it does raise the question of why a magazine called The American Conservative chose to include independent minded progressives.

Were to begin? First of all, in the credit where credit is due department, Carol Ianonne’s, Daniel McCarthy’s and Scott McConnell’s entries are particularly sound. The rest of the Trump endorsements are largely unobjectionable.

Second, Hillary Clinton times two? Hillary Clinton is a corrupt, lying, self-interested, hawkish defender of the current post-national, neoliberal world order. Her track record demonstrates that she is politically pliable and not particularly personally committed to a genuinely liberal agenda, but she has proven that she is vindictive, and conservatives are right to be concerned that she will push a liberal agenda if for no other reason than spite and will not hesitate to use the power of the state to quash her opposition. Just ask Bill Clinton’s many alleged mistresses about Hillary’s ruthlessness in suppressing “bimbo eruptions.”

Particularly concerning is Hillary’s hawkishness toward Syria and Russia, which legitimately threatens to plunge us into a major war. Her expressed support for a “hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders,” which we only know about because of Wikileaks, should frighten the bejesus out of everyone except the most committed globalist ideologue. Her promise not to deport any illegal aliens except violent criminals and terrorists is incredibly radical. This is de facto amnesty that will encourage more illegal immigration in anticipation of an actual amnesty. Once amnestied, all these folks will be eligible for family reunification. We are potentially talking about enormous numbers of new immigrants in a very short period of time. The demographic die that dooms the GOP and any semblance of a conservative agenda has likely already been caste, but what kind of fool wants to speed it up exponentially? Hillary is a disaster on foreign policy, immigration and trade, the three things that are supposed to make TAC unique. I must ask, “Why are Chase Madar and Noah MIllman affiliated with TAC, and Millman is even an editor and blogger at the site?”

Even though I think the Hillary endorsements are shameful, they are at least understandable to the extent that some people simply refuse to consider voting third party, so they’re deciding that Hillary is preferable to Trump. (Was HuffPo or Salon or Slate not hiring?) The third party endorsements are a muddled mess.

For the record, I am sympathetic to third party voting. The last time I voted for the Republican nominee was for George Bush the Elder in ‘92, a vote I regret to this day. I wish I had written in the Constitution Party (CP) nominee, Howard Phillips, but he was not on the ballot in my state, and I was not familiar with my state rules regarding write-ins. I was afraid if I wrote him in I would spoil my whole ballot. In every Presidential election since then I have supported the CP nominee until this year.

I have long been theoretically a constitutiuonalist and remain one, but I realize that actually following the Constitution as intended (particularly enumerated powers) and downsizing the federal government to its legitimate constitutionally authorized size (maybe 20% of its current size) is a radical idea that is supported by only a very small minority of people. I did not oppose the Republican nominees because they weren’t pristine Constitutionalists. I opposed them because they were all stand pat globalists opposing Democrat stand pat globalists. They were wrong on the essential questions of immigration, trade and foreign policy and did not represent a genuine change in direction or challenge to the post-national, neoliberal world order.

I think the most disappointing thing about the whole symposium is that not one person endorsed the CP nominee, Darrell Castle. In fact, only James Antle even mentioned him, saying the CP is too small and decreasing in significance. As I have written before, if a conservative ostensibly can’t vote for Trump because of his persona and character and/or because he isn’t conservative enough on policy issues, then a vote for Darrell Castle is the only vote that makes sense. The CP, despite Antle’s correct observations about its current size and influence, is the most prominent “more conservative” party, and is the logical vehicle for people who believe that the Republican nominee is not conservative enough or is in some other way objectionable, just as the Green Party is the logical vehicle for anyone who believes that Hillary isn’t liberal enough. (You hear me Bernie Bros?)

I can understand a vote for Gary Johnson if someone is actually a libertarian and not a dissident conservative of some sort, but dissident conservatives who support Johnson are fooling themselves. (James Antle, I’m talking to you.) Johnson is not particularly libertarian and has not run a particularly libertarian campaign. Johnson has clearly run more as the “sensible” alternative candidate who holds all the approved opinions. If the purpose of third party voting is to send a presumably directional message, I’m not so sure that a vote for Johnson will send a libertarian message this year. Given the character of his campaign, and his choice of running mates, it’s more likely to send the message that you are a centrist who is too froufrou to vote for either of the major party candidates which is why Johnson seems to be pulling more votes from Hillary than Trump.  

I can also see a sort of conservative case for the American Solidarity Party (ASP) nominee, Maturen, depending on how you conceptualize your conservatism. The ASP is essentially a distributist party that is based on Catholic social teaching. Larison endorsed the ASP nominee and Gracy Olmstead mentioned the party. (That’s one more mention than the CP got, and the ASP is brand new.) Larison describes them as socially conservative and economically populist. Populist in some sense perhaps, but there is a difference between being rhetorically anti-Establishment, against the donor class and for the working class, and endorsing the welfare state, something that conservatives have generally viewed as illegitimate and harmful. The ASP is also bad on immigration, endorsing the current policy of refugee resettlement.

Gene Callaghan’s endorsement of Jill Stein is based on the single issue of who is the least interventionist, and is understandable on those grounds, although Castle is arguably as non-interventionist as Stein. I’m curious if Callaghan considered him.

Olmstead’s Evan McMullin endorsement is utterly baffling. Evan McMullin is pro-immigration, pro-TPP and hawkishly interventionist. He is a globalist stooge whose sole purpose in this race is to deny Donald Trump the Presidency while carrying the banner of intact movement conservative orthodoxy, a rigid orthodoxy that Trump was able to exploit to win the nomination. Evan McMullin and the forces behind him exemplify everything that is wrong with modern movement conservatism and what TAC is supposed to oppose.

Likewise, Ver Bruggen’s endorsement of David French? Are you kidding me? And from the managing editor? Does he think he’s the managing editor of National Review? Like McMullin, French personifies all that is wrong with modern so-called conservatism that TAC is supposed to stand against. He is hawkishly pro-intervention, pro-TPP and a shameless PC grandstander. McMullin and French are proof that the real objective of the conservative NeverTrumpers has always been to keep conservatism and the Republican Party safe for globalism against Trump’s off script populist nationalism. Why are people associated with TAC endorsing either one of these globo shills?

And Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)? Is this supposed to be a joke? Collins is a moderate RINO - weak on immigration, a mixed bag on trade and fairly conventional on foreign policy – who has been a prominent anti-Trump grandstander.

In the business I’m in I have observed a phenomenon that I formulate as “we are all our own gold standard,” meaning we tend to judge things by our own experiences and perceptions. I realize that I am my own gold standard here, but I really cannot help but believe that much of the anti-Trump hysteria of the people opining against him is posturing and intended to signal and is not genuine. If your complaint about Trump includes the words “bigot,” “racist,” “misogynist,” etc. especially if it contains more than one of those words strung together, than I can simply not take your complaints intellectually seriously. Those are virtually meaningless Cultural Marxist slur words. They are intended to thoughtstop, not add to a conversation. I could elaborate on all of the PC slur words employed against Trump, but take misogynist for example. What the heck does that even mean? Does Trump “dislike” women? A traditionalist conservative might criticize Trump’s behavior toward women as un-Christian, ungentlemanly and/or unchivalrous, but tossing around words like misogynist is accepting and advancing the leftist PC narrative.

Also, the idea that somehow Trump imperils our republic is similarly hysterical. We can’t trust him with the nuclear codes, we are told. Someone please work that out for me. Present for me a plausible scenario whereby Trump, because of his temperament, recklessly launches nukes. If Trump wins, no thanks to anti-Trump ostensible conservatives, he will be the most handled/advised President in history. Presumably one of those advisors is likely to be Stephen Miller which is reason enough to support Trump. Actually there is a significantly greater risk that he will be handled out of doing much good, rather than he will recklessly act in a detrimental manner.

If your objection to Trump includes some concern about the Constitution or the constitutional process, unless you supported Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012 and support Darrell Castle this year in the general (none of the TAC endorsers), then don’t expect me to take your alleged concerns about the sanctity of the Constitution seriously.

Some of these endorsements defy explanation and likely reflect the eccentric perspectives of the endorser, like the antiwar Evan McMullin endorser, but the endorsements of people who really ought to know better, like Larison, Antle and Hunter, are disappointing. What is generally missing from the write-ups, bogged down in all the kvetching about Trump’s supposed deficiencies, is recognition of the truly momentous nature of this election. The symposium’s contributors largely neglected the globalism vs. nationalism meta narrative that is at stake in this election. This is a dynamic that exists precisely because Trump has endorsed two and a half of the three issues that are supposed to make us paleos distinct.  

As Thomas Fleming recently wrote:

“…it is Trump's opposition to free trade, open borders, globalization, and American imperialism that makes him the candidate of counter-revolution.  That is the issue, the only issue on the table.  Defeating Hillary is only incidental, because the proper object of any counter-revolutionary is to defeat both wings of the party state.”

Dr. Fleming is right. The dynamic of this election has made it a referendum on globalism vs. nationalism, and that is all it is. Apparently the majority of the TAC crew were too busy signaling their anti-Trump bona fides to recognize this, or else they are on the wrong side.

This article also published at The Paleo-Populist and Intellectual Conservative