CRF Blog

The Academic Home of Trumpism

by Bill Hayes

In The Academic Home of Trumpism for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jon Baskin reports on professor Charles R. Kesler, the Claremont Institute, and the Claremont Review of Books [CRB], which have turned into intellectual backers of the Trump administration.

With about 14,000 subscribers, Kesler’s CRB has long received plaudits from conservative intellectuals like George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and Yuval Levin, and it achieved wider notoriety during the George W. Bush administration, when the editors made a conservative case against the war in Iraq. But until recently, says John B. Kienker, the managing editor, it could still be spoken of as an “underground hit.”

That changed on September 7, 2016, when Rush Limbaugh returned from a commercial break with the words, “I have here a column that I would love to read to you in its entirety and I can’t because it is 10 pages long.” The column was called “The Flight 93 Election,” and it was written under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus. Its muscular opening sentence — “2016 is the Flight 93 election: Charge the cockpit or you die” — gives some sense of why the piece might have appealed to the shock jock, but not of what made it truly scandalous: Here was a conservative intellectual not merely supporting Trump but offering, as Decius put it, “reasons for doing so.”

Now recognized as one of the founding documents of Trumpism, the essay argued that the corruption of our times — “out-of-control government, politically correct McCarthyism,” and “a disastrously awful educational system,” to name a few of the telltales — accounted for both the emergence of Trump and the necessity of electing him; that the conservative establishment was Googling in its think tanks while the Republic burned; and that “America first” represented a sensible call for the country to come to its (common) senses. Limbaugh read nearly half of the essay’s 4,300 words on the air, pausing only to remind his listeners that he’d been telling them all this for years.

The digital stampede quickly crashed the Claremont Institute’s website, registering 255,000 page views in its first week online (at the time, the magazine had been averaging about 40,000 per month). But for those paying attention, the CRB had already distinguished itself by the diversity of its offerings on Trump’s ascendancy. In May 2016, at a time when most conservative elites were still fantasizing about a convention coup, Kesler issued a qualified endorsement of the Republican nominee’s “late-blooming political talents.” John Marini, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada at Reno, praised Trump in July for having grasped that neither political party any longer provided a “meaningful link between the people and the government.” And the senior editor, William Voegeli, explained why he was “anti-anti-Trump.” Two weeks after the publication of “Flight 93,” Voegeli countered Decius’ “heroic” case for Trump with a “merely prudent” one. [more]