The civil war within conservative media

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Though it’s not been well analyzed by mainstream reporters, the so-called conservative media have been split down the middle by the Donald Trump phenomenon. Outlets like the Drudge Report, Breitbart and The Washington Times have been in loud and consistent support, while National Review, The Weekly Standard and Commentary (the last two the leading journals of neoconservatism) have been in full-throated opposition.

{mosads}Conservative commentators with other media are also divided, with such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and Ross Douthat on the anti-Trump side, while Pat Buchanan, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Goodwin are pro-Trump.

Other right-leaning journals, like The American Spectator and The Daily Caller, also appear to be in Trump’s corner.

Falling somewhere in the middle of all this have been opinion writers like the erudite Victor Davis Hanson and the always-astute Peggy Noonan, both of whom seem likely to part company with those conservatives and neoconservatives who are looking for ways to undermine Trump even if it means the election of likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

It will be interesting to see how some of the conservative “NeverTrump” commentators handle the blowback in the days and months ahead. This soon after the last of his challengers threw in the towel, it looks like Trump is going to be supported by the vast majority of GOP elected officials and a large number of PACs and major party contributors.

If, as expected, Clinton is the Democratic nominee and the race tightens, the pressure on those elements of the conservative intelligentsia who are pledging not to support Trump will be immense. So immense, in fact, that it’s not clear whether their futures would look better if Trump subsequently wins or loses. If he wins, they lose access to the White House (and the Republican Party), and if he loses (and particularly should he lose narrowly), they will be held responsible for every objectionable thing subsequently done by President Hillary Clinton.

Still, the guess here is that many of Trump’s most vocal critics will persevere in their opposition, though their rhetoric and tactics will undoubtedly be molded somewhat by the opinion polls as Election Day approaches. After all, many of the conservative outlets of news and opinion, funded as they are by wealthy benefactors like Philip Anschutz (The Weekly Standard), are not dependent financially on marketplace factors like advertising or subscription revenue.

And those anti-Trump conservatives who are not employed by conservative media — Will, Gerson, Krauthammer, Douthat and David Brooks, for instance — are employed by such outlets as The Washington Post and The New York Times, both of which are foaming at the mouth in their editorial denunciations of Trump and therefore not the kind of employers who are going to give their conservative writers a hard time if they too disparage the gentleman.

The posture of The Wall Street Journal in this civil war is a little more complex. Home to perhaps the best collection of conservative opinion writers in the country, the Journal’s editorial page has been very hard on Trump, but as mentioned earlier, the paper’s most prominent writer, Noonan, appears to be going her own way. Frustrated by some of Trump’s obvious flaws, but with a clear understanding of the GOP’s many policy and political failures since the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Noonan is deeply critical of the conservative schemes designed to deny Trump the White House.

So put it this way: Whatever else may become of them, the conservative “NeverTrumpers” are not going to lose their jobs no matter what happens in the general election, and beyond that, can and will continue to lay claim to the argument that they are true conservatives and Trump is not. And it’s this point that resonates with people whose political views have been shaped since at least 1980 by conservative thought in the areas of economics, law, and social and foreign policy.

Still, one wonders if there isn’t a bit of hubris in that stand, and whether it’s even directly relevant given the country’s current angst. We have clearly not come, as the liberals of another era used to say, to the end of history, but we may have come, at least for the moment, to the end of ideology.

Maines is president of the Media Institute and was, in the 1970s, an assistant publisher of National Review. The opinions expressed are his alone and not those of the Media Institute, its board, advisory councils or contributors.

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