The Corner

The Trojan Feud

My friend Steve Hayward reignited the dormant and not-that-serious Troy–Hayward family feud last week when he came to the Hudson Institute panel on my National Affairs article asking whether think tanks have become too political. 

After the panelists had their say, Steve lobbed a hand grenade (his words) during the Q & A by suggesting that the premise of my article was incorrect.  For the text of his entire hand grenade, see his post on Powerline on the subject. The question was a good and thoughtful one, but the feud aspect came up when he began his remarks by reminding the audience and me — as if I needed reminding — of his attack on my brother Gil in the pages of the Weekly Standard in 2005. (Interestingly, his Powerline post did not include Gil’s respectful response, nor did it include Steve’s harsh yet admittedly effective reply to Gil’s response, which is unfortunately not online.)

I will leave it to my brother to defend himself, although I did begin my answer to Steve by stating that his assault on Gil was duly noted and long remembered in the Troy household. In terms of Steve’s actual question — which he acknowledged came down to “a long-winded way of saying, ‘What’s the problem here?’ — I would respond as follows. First, from a national perspective, think tanks have been involved in developing a number of key policy initiatives over the years, including the Marshall Plan (Brookings), deregulation (AEI), and welfare reform (Hudson). All of these important initiatives were not only successful policies, but they also ended up securing bipartisan support, which contributed to their staying power. Contrast this to the unipartisan Obama health-care law, which continues to face judicial and political challenges nearly two years after its passage. 

In the case of the successful policies, the think-tank imprimatur helped give them intellectual respectability. In the case of the health law, conservative think tankers helped provide the intellectual firepower that has called much of the problematic law into question. Unfortunately, as I describe in my National Affairs article, the creation of a wave of new think tanks seemingly focused on partisan politics risks diminishing the credibility of all think tanks.

From a conservative perspective, think tanks have been a key part of conservatism’s comparative advantage in the ideas front for the last three decades.  This is one of the reasons that many liberal organizations, from the Progressive Policy Institute in the 1980s to the Center for American Progress more recently, have tried to imitate conservative successes in this area. The crux of the advantage stems from the fact that conservative thinkers have tended not to go to the universities because of the inhospitable climate for conservatives there. Instead, they have headed to think tanks. If think tanks become just another area of partisan warfare, and the result is that opinion leaders and governmental officials view all think-tank research as hopelessly partisan, then this diminishes the potency of one of conservatism’s top sources of ideas and argument.

I suspect Steve knows all this, having dedicated his career to working in think tanks and using the think-tank platform to produce an impressive body of books and articles. And even though his hand grenade was a pre-planned attack (as this pre-conference tweet shows), he also said to me afterwards that he decided to pull the pin to get the debate going, especially after he found one of the early questions to be “unpromising.” While I don’t take the Hayward–Troy feud seriously — Steve’s wife Allison and my brother Dan used to work closely together — I would bet that Steve would agree with me that conservatives should take threats to the credibility of conservatism’s most important intellectual resource very seriously.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide.

Most Popular

Elections

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
Culture

What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

On Painting Air Force One

And so it has come to this. Two oil tankers were just attacked in the Gulf of Oman, presumably by Iran. The United States and China are facing off in a confrontation that is about far more than trade. The southern border remains anarchic and uncontrolled. And Congress is asking: “Can I get the icon in ... Read More