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Only a ‘sincere reflection’ can ‘salvage the American right’ from its ‘sins and blind spots’: historian

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore

The conservative movement has had more than its share of ideological battles over the years, from the late National Review founder William F. Buckley’s war with the John Birch Society in the 1950s and 1960s to the Christian Right and libertarians hurling insults at one another during the Reagan years even though both of them were part of President Ronald Reagan’s fragile 1980s coalition. And 2020 is no different, with President Donald Trump’s MAGA movement furiously raging against Never Trump conservatives. Historian Joshua Tait, known for his writing on the history of U.S. conservatism, examines the battle between Trumpistas and Never Trumpers in a May 22 article for The Bulwark — and he stresses that the American right is going to need a great deal of soul-searching and “sincere reflection” in order to recover from the damage that Trumpism has inflicted on the conservative movement in the United States.


Tait’s article is pro-conservative but definitely not pro-Trump, which is to be expected since it was published in The Bulwark — a website that was founded in late 2018 and has become the go-to destination for anti-Trump commentary on the right. And Tait draws heavily on the analysis of Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Teles, authors of the book “Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites.”

Tait describes Never Trumpers as “conservative intellectuals” who have “understood themselves as belonging to a conservative tradition that attempted to maintain conservative respectability dating back to William F. Buckley’s disciplining of the John Birch Society.” And they have found themselves at odds with right-wingers who, according to Tait, “quickly went Trumpist” in 2016 — a group that includes “talk radio and Fox News” and media figures such as “Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin.”

Never Trumpers have been largely banished from pro-Trump media outlets, although they are prominently featured in mainstream media — from CNN and liberal-leaning MSNBC to the Washington Post. And when Democratic leadership returns to the White House, Tait predicts, Trumpistas and Never Trumpers will be debating the future of the Republican Party.

“Without a serious reckoning with conservatism’s sins and blind spots, the great temptation of Never Trump will be to reconcile with Trump’s enablers when the Democrats inevitably retake the White House,” Tait asserts. “It is by no means guaranteed, but it is quite plausible there will be a rapprochement on the right united in opposition to Joe Biden or whoever is the next Democrat to sit in the Oval Office, especially once Trump leaves the political scene.”

Tait adds, “A sincere reflection on the dark sides of conservatism — including those that some Never Trumpers failed to counter, or even facilitated — is necessary to salvage the American right from Trump so it can perform the vital democratic task of keeping the monsters at bay.”

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