In the spring of 2016, National Review published its “Against Trump” issue.Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency, most visibly the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and the National Rifle Association’s Dana Loesch.
As a survival strategy, this is viable enough in the short term. But let’s understand what is driving it.
The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson. With reason. The same day that Cooke launched himself into Jennifer Rubin, another contributor to the National Review special issue, Erick W. Erickson, announced that he had lost his Fox News contract. Erickson had precisely followed Cooke’s advice, conscientiously seeking opportunities to praise Trump where he could. That halfway support did not suffice for his producers.
[Jennifer] Rubin stands on that embattled center-right. She is not quite alone. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations stands there, as does the true-hearted remainder of the National Review 21: Mona Charen, Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz. You’ll find others at the Niskanen Center (Jerry Taylor, Brink Lindsey), and holding the faith from the Evan McMullin–Mindy Finn independent presidential ticket. A few brave the adverse comments on social media: Tom Nichols from the academic world; Seth Mandel at the New York Post’s editorial page; veteran broadcaster Charles Sykes. Joe Scarborough keeps the faith on morning TV. There are more, and I do not mean to slight anyone by omission. Others would wish to stand there if they economically could.