CRF Blog

Intellectuals for Trump

by Bill Hayes

In Intellectuals for Trump for the New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh profiles the conservative intellectuals who support President Trump.

The most cogent argument for electing Donald Trump was made not by Trump, or by his campaign, but by a writer who, unlike Trump, betrayed no eagerness to attach his name to his creations. He called himself Publius Decius Mus, after the Roman consul known for sacrificing himself in battle, although the author used a pseudonym precisely because he hoped not to suffer any repercussions. In September, on the Web site of the Claremont Review of Books, Decius published “The Flight 93 Election,” which likened the country to a hijacked airplane, and argued that voting for Trump was like charging the cockpit: the consequences were possibly dire, but the consequences of inaction were surely so. Decius sought to be clear-eyed about the candidate he was endorsing. “Only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise,” he wrote. But he argued that this corruption was also evidence of a national crisis, one that could be addressed only by a politician untethered to political piety. The author hailed Trump for his willingness to defend American workers and America’s borders. “Trump,” he wrote, “alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live.” By holding the line on unauthorized immigration and rethinking free trade, Decius argued, Trump could help foster “solidarity among the working, lower-middle, and middle classes of all races and ethnicities.” Decius identified himself as a conservative, but he saved much of his criticism for “house-broken conservatives,” who warned of the perils of progressivism while doing nothing in particular to stop it. Electing Trump was a way to take a stand against both ambitious liberalism and insufficiently ambitious conservatism.

The essay was meant to provoke conservatives, and it succeeded. Ross Douthat, of the Times, responded that Decius had underestimated the likelihood that a Trump Presidency would damage both the country and the movement. On Twitter, Douthat wrote, “I’d rather risk defeat at my enemies’ hands than turn my own cause over to a incompetent tyrant.” The Web site of National Review, the eminent conservative magazine, published a series of critiques, including one by Jonah Goldberg, who called Decius’s central metaphor “grotesquely irresponsible.” No doubt Goldberg expected that, before long, he would be able to reminisce about that strange week, near the end of an endless campaign, when a blogger using a pen name was the most talked-about conservative columnist in America.

But for conservative intellectuals, as for so many others, November 8th did not mark a return to normalcy. A day and a half after Donald Trump was elected President, he flew from New York to Washington to meet with President Obama at the White House. Afterward, Obama expressed his hope, however faint, that Trump’s Presidency would be “successful.” In response, Trump expressed his belief, previously undisclosed, that Obama was “a very good man.” At the same time, about two miles east, in an auditorium at the headquarters of the Heritage Foundation, the well-connected conservative think tank, a handful of prominent conservatives gathered onstage to try to figure out their place in this new political order. [more]