Matthew Continetti of The Spectator World writes how conservatism’s anti-elitists defeated the establishment. He continues (abridged):
In February 2021 the FBI indicted L. Brent Bozell IV for crimes committed during the Capitol riot. The significance of Bozell’s presence in the rabble that broke into the Senate chamber was not lost on the media. “Mr. Bozell’s father is a high-profile right-wing activist known for infusing his politics with Christian values,” the New York Times mentioned in its write-up of the arrest. And Bozell’s grandfather, L. Brent Bozell Jr., had been William F. Buckley Jr.’s debate partner, Joseph McCarthy’s and Barry Goldwater’s ghostwriter, the founder of Triumph and organizer of the first anti-abortion protest in the United States. Liberal critics traced the arc of the American right from Bozell Jr.’s anti-communism, to Bozell III’s institution-building, to Bozell IV’s lawbreaking in the name of Donald Trump. “The floundering conservative movement, as it bids adieu to Rush Limbaugh, seems also to be seeing the last of the Bozell dynasty,” wrote Timothy Noah of the New Republic. (Limbaugh had died on February 17, 2021.) If one looked at the American right only as a post-war phenomenon, one would be forced to conclude that, by the spring of 2021, the movement Bozell Jr. had helped Buckley and Goldwater launch had reached an impasse. The Republican Party, while maintaining its strength in state capitals, was frozen out of power in Washington, DC. The National Rifle Association declared bankruptcy after it found itself under investigation for corruption by the attorney general of New York. Jerry Falwell Jr., one of Donald Trump’s most devoted supporters, resigned as president of Liberty University after salacious images and stories appeared on social media.
Facebook and Twitter banned Trump for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Living on the grounds of his private clubs in Florida and New Jersey, he sent out tweet-like press releases often several times a day, relitigating his election loss and insulting the Republicans who had voted to impeach him for incitement. GOP leaders hoped that by ignoring the former president, they could unite their party around opposition to President Joe Biden. They must have forgotten that they had tried the same strategy in 2015, when they blithely assumed that Trump would fade as the first caucuses and primaries came into view. Trump hadn’t faded then. Nor was there reason to assume that he would do so now.
The tension between populism and elitism that persisted throughout the history of the American right between 1920 and 2020 was not going anywhere. At the beginning of the Biden presidency, the populists had the upper hand. In 1993 Irving Kristol had written in the Wall Street Journal that the “three pillars” of conservatism were “religion, nationalism and economic growth.” Some thirty years later, a fourth pillar had been raised beneath the conservative roof: populism.
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