I was a devotee of National Review long before I had the privilege of appearing on its pages. Never, though, have I been more proud of being part of what we do here than in these last months of this most contentious campaign season in almost half a century.
We work in a political environment. Politicians strive to win elections. Political parties maneuver to consolidate their gains and minimize their losses. But National Review exists to uphold principles — conservative principles — that endure through the thick and thin of political expedience. This is no hermitage. To the contrary, our point has always been that a vibrant movement must engage modern challenges and political reality; that practical problems are best navigated with principle, tradition, and the lessons of history as our compass. Still, our mission is less short-term tactical success — much as we’d like to have that — than it is prosperity over the long haul.
That still means what it meant when William F. Buckley Jr. founded National Review in 1955: Standing athwart; being a rock-solid beacon even when history’s currents take us off course.
And are we ever off course! For over seven years, President Obama has labored to consummate the transformational change he promised upon winning the White House. The result has been relentless pressure on our constitutional system, eroding its careful checks and balances, amassing power in the executive to surge the Left’s agenda forward. The pressure has been all the more intense because our system of separated powers depends on a vigorous congressional opposition to keep a rogue executive in check. The Obama-era Congress has too often been AWOL on this front.
With justification, a critical mass of the public, very much including grass-roots conservatives who form the backbone of the Republican base, has come to see the challenge we face as not merely the activist, post-American Left but also the bipartisan Beltway ruling establishment. And when a constituency’s nominal political leadership is unresponsive to its core concerns, those concerns do not evaporate. Instead, the constituency looks elsewhere for leaders willing to champion them.
Thus has 2016 become the insurgency election.
Washington is very good at only one thing: taking care of its own — the safe-seat incumbents, the lobbyists, the public-sector unions, the sprawling bureaucracies, the corporate cronies, the revolving door of political-operatives-turned-media-pundits. But this self-dealing political class has abysmally failed the rest of the nation. The people who make the country work are in a state of increasingly high anxiety: economic growth is meager, debt is astronomical, employment prospects are dim, health coverage is increasingly expensive and illusory, jihadist terror lurks, suffocating regulation intensifies while the laws against real crime go unenforced, and America retreats on the world stage — courting Islamist rogues, spiting long time allies, and feckless before the aggressions of hostile powers on the rise.
The answer to what ails the country is obvious. We need a conservative rebirth: a reaffirmation of constitutional norms, limited government that lives within its means, a confident culture of liberty that respects everyone’s freedom (including their freedom of conscience), free expression that throws off the shackles of political correctness, deregulation, peace through strength. In sum, we need Washington shaken up and pared down: a government that represents but does not try to rule us, that does a few vital things well rather than managing too many things poorly.
In its rage against politicians who campaign for office on just this platform only to be seduced upon arrival at Gomorrah on the Potomac, the public has turned to “outsiders” — self-proclaimed insurgents who vow to purge the capital and dramatically reverse course. In such an atmosphere, populism is a temptress at her most alluring. Sure enough, millions in the Republican base have found their champion in Donald Trump.
Trump is a shrewd showman who has read the public mood better than the political pros. Notwithstanding decades spent advocating abortion extremism, single-payer healthcare, and immigration amnesty, all the while filling the coffers of left-wing Democrats (not least, Hillary Clinton and the sulphurous Clinton Foundation), the New York real estate mogul realized he could ride middle-class unrest over unsecure borders, rampant illegal immigration, shrinking job prospects, and rigged trade deals, into a serious White House bid. Claiming a late-life conservative conversion while raging against the Washington establishment, he is within striking distance of the GOP nomination.
But does he fit the bill for a country in need of reaffirming its constitutional, conservative principles and traditions? I don’t think so and, more importantly, neither does National Review. Consequently, NR has undertaken to do what is in the best of its tradition, whether the Republican leaders of the moment have been named Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Rockefeller, Dole, or Bush: We have made the principled case for conservative solutions to the nation’s challenges, which in this instance means the case against the Trump candidacy.
We are under no illusions, of course. Mr. Trump is a formidable candidate. We believe Senator Ted Cruz (whom I endorsed several months ago, and on whose advisory team I serve) is the better choice: a true conservative, far better suited to undo the Obama damage, far more reliable to face down the Washington establishment. But the point here is the same as it has always been: We are in it for the cause, and the country. That is bigger and more enduring than any individual candidate.
The outcome is uncertain. Trump has taken major leaps toward securing the nomination, but Cruz’s discipline, eloquence and superior organization give him a fighting chance, especially if the GOP convention in Cleveland is contested. And waiting in the wings, of course, is Mrs. Clinton, promising the third Obama term — if she is not indicted — and holding a commanding lead over Trump in every major poll.
No matter what happens, the country will still be in crisis. The answer will still be conservatism, and that remedy will still have to be fought for. National Review will be here, as we have for 60 years, leading the fight — whether it is to support President Cruz, oppose President Clinton, or persuade President Trump. We are here for the long haul, and here to do the hard work — the work that really can make America great again.
But we need your help to do it. Please donate as generously as your circumstances allow. When I make my donation, it always reminds me of how proud I am to be part of this great patriotic enterprise. You will be, too.