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Charles C.W. Cooke’s “The Conservatarian Manifesto”

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National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke joined me today to discuss 2-016 and his book The Conservatarian Manifesto




HH: Joined now by National Review editor Charles C.W. Cooke. Charles, welcome for the first time to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to have you on.

CCWC: Yeah, thank you very much for having me.

HH: Now the first time anyone appears on the show, I ask them two questions. The first one is was Alger Hiss a communist spy?

CCWC: Yes.

HH: And have you read The Looming Tower?

CCWC: I have not.

HH: Oh, one out of two. Not bad, but I hope you do, the definitive history of al Qaeda. I want to talk to you about The Conservatarian Manifesto, which I will have linked and posted at, Charles. But before I do, a simple question. I just asked John Dickerson this. Do you believe Donald Trump could still win?

CCWC: Yes, I do. I think it’s looking less and less likely, but the old events, dear boy, events idea may come into play. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the world. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the United States, or with the economy. And Donald Trump does have a certain visceral appeal, and I think if it looks as if we need somebody stronger to lead, he may be more appealing. But I think it’s unlikely, ceteris paribus.

HH: You’re quoting from Pages 12 and 13 of The Conservatarian Manifesto, which reads, “From wherever he is, the late British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, must have smiled a wry smile. When asked what he feared most in politics, Macmillan famously, perhaps apocryphally, he replied, events, dear boy, events, to have driven home the point he might have added, and the passage of time.” You mean stuff happens, events are in the saddle, anything could happen that could propel, even if Donald Trump’s in a hole right now after five days of missteps and pratfalls, he could climb out of it?

CCWC: That’s exactly right, and we have perfect examples in recent history. One is 9/11, which didn’t change an election, but changes a presidency. You remember George W. Bush ran promising a humble foreign policy and against nation building. Well, that changed not really through any fault of his own. And in 2007-08, as the economy began to crumble, Barack Obama became the unexpected beneficiary. So I could see there being some cataclysmic event, but I do think it’s going to take that. If you look at the map, and you look at opinion polling, Donald Trump does seem to be on a losing trajectory.

HH: Now the second question is different from the first. Ought he to win or ought he to lose, Charles Cooke? There are NeverTrumpers by the dozens at National Review’s offices. Are you among them?

CCWC: I am among them, although I find that question difficult, as that is something I’m struggling with. If I’m quite honest, I don’t know the answer. I would not be able to vote for Donald Trump. But I would also not be able to vote for Hillary Clinton. I understand the argument that one has to choose. I understand the argument that it is effectively a binary choice. But it’s also a question of thresholds. I don’t believe that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton come up to the threshold. I think they’re both unfit for office, which makes the question, from my perspective, which outcome would be better for conservatism? Which outcome will be better long term for the country? And I don’t know the answer to that. That’s something that I’m still working through. Clearly, the big argument for Trump, or perhaps against Hillary, is the Supreme Court. It’s enormously important, and I have seen some conservatives downplaying it. I disagree with them on that. At the same time…

HH: That leads me to Chapter Five of The Conservatarian Manifesto – Why Do Conservatives Go On About The Constitution, and you quote Max Lerner. “To understand the fetishism of the Constitution, one would require the detachment of an anthropologist. Every tribe needs its token and its fetish, and the Constitution is ours. And it is, you know, I just wrote a column on this for the Washington Examiner whether or not he’s going to win, he ought to win, because we know what she will do to the Court, and we at least have a shot of one, his living up to his list of 11, or two, the Senate being empowered to block him if he doesn’t.”

CCWC: Yes, there’s a strong argument there. The Court matters a great deal not just because it’s a fetish, but because it is the law. Now I think conservatives and progressives see this differently. Progressives seem to see the Court as just another legislature, or a social justice tool kit, whereas conservatives recognize that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, that it means something concrete. And as such, if Hillary Clinton were to get her way, we could see not just the reversal of important legal principles, I’m thinking in particular of the 2nd Amendment with Heller, the 1st Amendment with Citizens United, but we could also see a diminishment in respect of the law, because if the Court lies about what the basic American law means, then people will quite rightly wonder why they have to display fealty to it.

HH: And so with that in the balance, how does one remain a NeverTrumper?

CCWC: As I say, it’s something I’m struggling with. I think at the same time, the Court is not the only institution in American life, and as a conservative, I am protective of institutions. Donald Trump seems to me to be erratic. He doesn’t seem to be especially conservative. He doesn’t seem to have a strong temperament. Now if it is the case, and of course, it’s an if. I’m not a seer, but if he were to damage the Republican Party to such an extent that it were to be in the wilderness at the presidential, the Congressional, gubernatorial and state levels, or at least if it were to be relegated to minority status, it is possible that just as much damage, if not more, would be done to the country over the next 20 years as then by the Court flipping to 5-4 and possibly 6-3. I’m not going to give you a glib answer or pretend that I know what’s going to happen, but I am struggling with that balance.

HH: And my response to that is, and think on this, Charles, I’d love to hear your response. The Supreme Court is the headwaters of the rule of law and of constitutionalism. Poison it, and you poison it all. The Republican Party is downstream from the headwaters of the rule of law. You could actually destroy the Republican Party, but if the Constitution were there, another Constitution party would arise. But if you destroy the Constitution through a 6-3, and I do mean destroy the Constitution, I’m trying to impress upon NeverTrumpers, and it might be because I’ve been teaching Con Law for 20 years, but you’re a student of the law even though you’re Oxford educated. You understand this. It’s over once they get their hooks in it.

CCWC: That’s a respectable argument. I think the presidency is also an important institution, and not just generally, but specifically on the question of the rule of law. As we’ve seen with President Obama, presidents that view the duty to enforce the law as being optional do not just immediate, but long term damage. And I see nothing in Donald Trump that would reverse Obama’s course in this area. And I must say, I also see nothing in Donald Trump that would appoint justices that would be harsh on him and his agenda and his conception of power. Now again, that, I can’t promise. I can’t know either way. But Donald Trump seems to take vengeance against anybody who so much as slights him. Look yesterday at his attitude toward Paul Ryan, John McCain. He uses the word disloyal routinely. If President Obama thinks the Court should be a rubber stamp for his agenda, what evidence do we have that Donald Trump will not as well?

HH: His list of 11, and his list of 11 are all originalists, and they’re all, whether Judge Pryor or Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court or the other nine, they’re all very good, reliable originalists. My colleague, Dennis Prager, likes to say there are two doors. One is marked man-eating tiger, and one is marked man-eating tiger or beautiful woman. Which door do you pick?

CCWC: (laughing) That’s a fascinating question. I suppose the or beautiful woman door.

HH: Yes, of course, always.

CCWC: But I would reject the premise in that I’m not convinced those are our two options.

HH: The third option being?

CCWC: The third option being another man-eating tiger. I don’t think Donald Trump has given us a great deal of reason to believe that he means anything that he says.

HH: Michael Pence?

CCWC: …or that he has a conservative bone in his body.

HH: Michael Pence?

CCWC: Yes, well, that was a good pick. I would be quite happy with Mike Pence running the country being the president. But he’s not at the top of the ticket. And it’s odd…

HH: But you just said he’s given us no evidence, no evidence.

CCWC: Well, that’s a fair point. That’s a fair point. I suppose that’s the one pick thus far that has assuaged some of my fears.

HH: So would additional names, and it’s not illegal. That’s a silly argument that people make about a statute. There’s an old statute that prohibits the trading of offices for political support. That’s not the same as announcing who you will name as your secretary of State, Defense, Attorney General, Homeland Security, National Security Advisor. If he did that in those five appointments, Charles C.W. Cooke, were to your liking, say Bolton at State and Jim Talent at Defense, and K.T. McFarland as the National Security Advisor, would you then reconsider NeverTrumpism?

CCWC: I’m honestly not sure. Day in, day out, Trump says worrying things. And again, it’s a balancing act. He talks about NATO disparagingly. He talks about the WTO disparagingly. He’s an opponent of trade, at least he is on certain days of the week. He seems to have no Constitutional understanding whatsoever, and so I suppose your question is do I believe that some proof that he would surround himself by people who are better than he is would be enough? That’s a question probably that can only be answered on November 7th, the day before the election, when all of the information is available. As I say, I’m struggling with this.

HH: So it is possible?

CCWC: Yes, it is possible.

HH: So it is possible that you will vote for Trump?

CCWC: Well, I can’t actually vote until next summer, so just to make that clear, but it’s possible that I would back him. Yes, of course it is, and it always has been.

HH: But then you’re not a NeverTrumper.

CCWC: Well, I suppose that linguistically, I’m not a NeverTrumper then, but I am at the moment a NeverTrumper, I could not vote for Donald Trump.

HH: That’s fine. I mean, to be opposed to Donald Trump…

CCWC: I don’t think he’s a threshold.

HH: Yeah, to be opposed to Donald Trump right now is intellectually, I think, defensible. To say NeverTrump has always troubled me, because it says no matter the events, no matter Hillary’s actions, inactions, and no matter Trump’s appointments or non-appointments, nothing will change my mind. And that actually seems to me to be anti-intellectual.

CCWC: No, I agree with you entirely. But on that rationale, I’m also not NeverHillary. It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that she would do or say or be anybody who would gain my support. Trump is, of course, more likely to do that, because he has less of a road to travel. So on that basis, yes, I agree with you.

HH: Charles C.W. Cooke, great first appearance on the Hugh Hewitt Show. I would urge everyone to read The Conservatarian Manifesto. It is linked at, a must-read, actually, for the evolution of the Republican Party and conservatism that is underway, if you want to understand it from the respect of one of the brilliant, young minds in the movement. The Conservatarian Manifesto is over there for your taking.

End of interview.


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