A few thoughts about David Frum’s recent production: He dwells on the notion that Charles C. W. Cooke’s criticism of Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post is “personal”—“savagely personal,” even—but it seems to me that criticizing what has been said and written by someone in the saying-and-writing business is entirely fair. Inevitable, in fact. I do not think that criticizing a writer’s writing is “personal” in any meaningful sense.
As to Frum’s broader argument—that Trump has deformed the conservative movement and that the desire among certain right-leaning activists for position and income has contributed to that—he is of course correct. The contrepreneurs have long been with us and presumably always will be. So long as there’s a living to be made sucking up to power and flattering angry mobs, someone will courageously put on a blue suit and take up the task. And that will be enough to keep Sean Hannity from having to get a real-estate license.
“Conservatism can’t survive Donald Trump intact” his headline says, which seems to me old news. A great deal of damage already has been done, and there’s surely more to come. But there is a vicious cycle at work, too: Trump has an agency all his own, but the outrage merchants of Fox News and talk radio were on the lookout for their Trump before Trump came along. Trump fulfills a narrative necessity: There must always be betrayal. You cannot sell what they are selling without it. If the Democrats are in power, then they are betraying the country; if the Republicans are in power, then the “establishment” is betraying the country, “the country” here meaning the 0.8 percent of Americans who watch Tucker Carlson’s show on any given evening.
(That isn’t to mock Tucker Carlson; he’s a gifted man, but relatively few people watch cable news for the same reason that far fewer people read National Review than US Weekly.)
But whatever course the rage monkeys pursue, there are still going to be those of us who believe in limited government, the rule of law, free markets, property rights, democratic norms, free speech and a free press, cultural traditionalism, and a capable national defense. Charles Cooke, David Frum, and Jennifer Rubin presumably will remain prominent among them. If we end up moving down to No. 3 under Webster’s definitions of “conservatism,” then so be it. The facts are the facts and reality is reality, whatever “reality” President Trump and his admirers inhabit. Of course I wish there were more people reading NR and fewer hoisting their torches and pitchforks in the digital mob of the moment, but ours is, always has been, and likely always will be a minority inclination.