Jonah Goldberg was my guest today in a wide-ranging discussion on how to define and drive out the #AltRight from all things GOP and conservative:
HH: Jonah Goldberg is my guest. You can follow Jonah, @JonahNRO on Twitter. You can read the G-File, which you ought to be subscribing to. I read it every single Saturday when it’s free. I just, I wait until it’s free.
HH: Jonah, how are you?
JG: I’m good, Hugh. How are you?
HH: Well, we’ll see (Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition bit)
HH: So there you have it, Jonah. We have been having a Twitter back and forth, and I actually don’t think we disagree. We just disagree maybe on a statement of the facts. Would you define the alt right?
JG: I know what you’re about to do. And then you’re going to say well, there’s this other version of the alt right. I am willing to defer to the definition of the alt right that the people who created and lead the alt right movement use, which is an, the one thing that unites them, Jared Taylor was on Diane Rehm the other day. Jared Taylor is a leading racist…
HH: Good. Please.
JG: …a member of the white alt right. And he says that there are a lot of different views among the alt right. Some are Christian, some are Odinists. Some are this, some are that. But the one thing they all agree on is what they call racial realism, or racialism, which is just a social science sounding term for racism. They believe that, if you read Richard Host (sp), if you read Richard Spencer at the, who leads an alt right think tank, if you actually read the people who created the term, who have been pushing this stuff, the one thing they all agree on is that we need to organize this society on the assumption that white people are genetically superior, or that white culture is inherently superior, and that we should have either state-imposed or culturally-imposed segregation between the races, no race mixing with the lower brown people. And I take them at their word, that that’s the stuff that they believe. And I think rather than poisoning or blurring that distinction, we should take them at their word and say we want nothing to do with any of that. And I know that you want nothing to do with any of that. I don’t dispute that for a moment. Where I disagree with you is this idea that we should sort of talk about this broader alt right that is just for the wall, or likes Donald Trump. No. What we should say is this is not your group to them, too. These are not disaffected tea partiers. These are people who we have a fundamental, first principle disagreement with. And any movement that has them in it, doesn’t have me in it, and vice versa.
HH: I agree 100% with that. Now does the term alt right get used exclusively in that fashion?
JG: No, which is one of the things that we should be doing, is we should be helping sharpen the distinction, not blur the distinction. I agree with you. There are a lot of people who don’t know what the alt right is. I live in these swamps. I’ve been having these fights for 20 years. I didn’t hear the term alt right until Donald Trump came up. But I know a lot of the people behind the alt right, because I’ve been getting it, they’ve been attacking me and then saying nasty anti-Semitic stuff to me since I started working at National Review. I mean, people are like, the guys at VDARE and these other places, they’ve all coalesced around this idea of the alt right, and it is not a coalitional idea where they want to be part of the conservative movement. It’s that they want to replace the conservative movement.
HH: And they have to be driven out of the Republican Party.
HH: I’m speaking at a partisan now. As William F. Buckley led the effort to drive the Birchers out of the party, so must genuine conservatives drive out what you and I agree is the core alt right.
HH: In the process of doing that, I do not want people who are not familiar with how you and I believe it to be understood by the people who invented the term to think that they are being exiled. That is my fear, because I believe a lot of people, and I’ve seen it everywhere I go, say they are alt right, and they don’t know that Jonah Goldberg would then classify them as supremacist.
JG: Well, I wouldn’t necessarily classify them as supremacists, either. I would classify them as wrong.
JG: They’re using the term wrong. And in politics, you know, specifically, you know, I wrote a whole book which you were very kind to about the importance of labels and why they matter, and the importance of ideology and why it matters, and that we shouldn’t fall into this thing that labels don’t matter. Labels matter a great deal. The labels you choose for yourself matter a great deal. And sometimes, people choose their labels incorrectly. And so rather than say, rather than work from the assumption that someone says they’re an alt-righter, and say well, you know, I don’t know that that means you’re a racist, I would say well, what did you, you know, educate them. And people need to be educated about this.
HH: And when we come back from break, we’re going to do that, because the question then becomes, as Jake Sherman of Politico just said, Breitbart is an alt right site. If that is true, it’s like visiting VDARE or visiting a supremacist site, and it should crumble. If it’s not true, well, we’ll find out with Jonah Goldberg when we return.
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HH: Now Jonah, I want to go back to the big question I asked Jake Sherman. Jake, would you define it? And he said I don’t want to define alt right. It’s too hard to do. Mainstream media has an interest in blurring this line.
JG: I agree.
HH: I have an interest in reporting it. And I have to report the blur, which upsets you. I think it’s blurred. I want it to be not blurred. How does that get accomplished? And did Hillary Clinton give us a gift in so doing?
JG: Well, I mean, what Hillary Clinton did was somewhat, and I think certainly unfair to Donald Trump. I don’t think that Donald, I’ve never thought that Donald Trump was some KKK, you know, crazy racist that, you know, that all the pillowcases at the Mar-a-Lago have eye holes in them or any of that kind of stuff, right?
HH: (laughing) I agree. He’s not a racist, at least based on 15 interviews and four debates, he’s not.
JG: Yeah, I mean, I don’t, again, I don’t think he’s racist. I think he’s got a kind of like a queen’s view, you know, the way he talks about the blacks and the Hispanics.
HH: Monumentally indifferent to the language of race attitude, yeah.
JG: Yeah, that’s as far as I’m willing to go. But I do think that he honestly believes that large swaths of conservatives are bigots, and he wants to pander to them, and that he doesn’t want to offend them. I think that explains entirely why he was so reluctant at first to condemn David Duke. It wasn’t because he likes David Duke. He thinks a lot of his followers like David Duke.
HH: You really think he’s that out of touch with conservatism?
JG: Yeah. Yes, I think the same way, in the same way that he condescendingly patted the Republican Convention on its head for applauding a line saying that we should not let terrorists kill gays, I think he works from, I think he’s a liberal. I think he’s a New York Democrat. I think he works from that worldview. I think that he thinks that, you know, the flyover Republicans out there, I mean, sure he’s changed his opinions a little bit after meeting all these people who like him, but I think his instincts are, that’s why he said that he thought that women should be punished for having an abortion. He pays no attention to this stuff.
HH: So he’s like Romney. He’s speaking conservatism as a second language, and he’s tin-eared about how to do it. He’s got a bad accent. That’s what a lot of people thought about Mitt Romney, is that he was…
JG: Yeah, but I actually think he thinks worse things about some of the members of his own coalition than Mitt Romney ever did.
HH: Interesting. Well, and Mitt Romney had it down. He just, he just wasn’t a natural conservatism speaker.
JG: I agree.
HH: But go back with me to the key question. Is Breitbart.com an alt right site?
JG: No, I would, if we’re going to use an analogy, I would say that in the same way that the Nation wasn’t a communist magazine in the 1960s, it was just extremely communist friendly.
JG: And I think what Breitbart has been doing, first of all, it breaks my heart, because it’s nothing Andrew would ever touch.
JG: They play footsie with the alt right. They get praise from the alt right. There are some people at Breitbart who are decent, serious people.
HH: Jeff Poor, yup.
JG: And there’s some people, and there are some people who are click-bait whores. And they love to just stew up controversy for its own sake. They want to destroy, Bannon believes in his heart that the GOP needs to be destroyed. And that kind of radicalism is an open invitation to have fellow travelers, because that’s what alt righters believe, too. I don’t think that Bannon is a white identitarian who believes in, you know, the genetic supremacy or superiority of white people, although he might. I just don’t know. I think he is a nationalist. He’s not a conservative. Nationalism and conservatism are different things.
JG: And Bill Buckley always used to say that he’s as patriotic as anybody in America, but there’s not an ounce of nationalism in him. And these things are different, and they’ve been, these distinctions have been forgotten on the right, which is one of the reasons why we’ve allowed a lot of this nastiness to fester. And I think what Breitbart has done has been absolutely irresponsible and utterly cynical and mercenary. And there’s some people who actually believe it. I mean, Milo writes grand defenses of these guys who send pictures of me in gas chambers, and of David French’s black adopted child being gassed, and sent pictures of, you know, me being hung. And Milo thinks that stuff is hilarious.
HH: Let me ask. Is Milo alt right? Is Milo alt right?
JG: I think he is so, so willing to indulge and celebrate and defend those guys, that it becomes a distinction without a difference. I don’t know what’s in his heart, either. I’ve never met him, but I do know that he always comes to their defense. And he thinks, I think basically what he is, is just simply a celebrity seeker for its own sake, and a controversialist, and I gather he’s pretty good at it.
HH: You see, but my argument on Meet the Press this weekend, and I’ll try and play it for you if we have that clip handy. Have you got it? Let’s play for Jonah what Chuck and I said on Sunday.
CT: The Steve Bannon…
AM: I don’t know Steve Bannon. Wow.
CT: I don’t know Steve Bannon. Hugh, what’d you make of that?
HH: Well, I don’t know Steve Bannon, either.
CT: But it tells me that there is some…
HH: there is toxicity.
HH: But I will say this. For every Steve Bannon and Breitbart, there is a David Brock and Media Matters. For every Ann Coulter, there’s a Michael Moore. For every single Milo, there’s a Maher.
HH: And so Jonah, I went on to say the provocateurs are also entrepreneurs. This is just money being made. Do you agree with my parallelism? And do you agree that their motive is money?
JG: I agree with the second part, not so much the first part. I agree that they’re provocateurs largely in it for money. They’ve figured out how to monetize trolling from comment sections and turning it into “journalism”. Where I disagree with the comparison is that Michael Moore and Bill Maher, and who was your other one?
HH: And Media Matters and David Brock.
JG: Yeah, okay. They are all loyal cogs in the Democratic machine. They lend aid and comfort to the Democratic Party. There’s a Democratic establishment. They defend the Democratic establishment. They work for the Democratic establishment in many parts. And that is not what Bannon is about at all. Bannon, his expressed desire is to destroy the Republican Party and the conservative movement as we understand it, and move in this nationalist direction. And so yeah, they’re both, they’re all provocateurs, but when you press Michael Moore, he’s perfectly happy to sit at the Democratic convention as a guest of John Kerry. He’s perfectly willing to be a partisan hack for the Democratic Party. That has never been Breitbart’s position. Their position has been to burn it all down, and then we’ll have an argument about what to build on the ashes.
HH: All right, now that is, that’s a useful distinction, but I also believe that they are as corrosive in their tactics, and as unbounded by standard practices that you and I would follow.
JG: Yeah, I agree with that, sure.
HH: I just, you know, in terms of vulgar, in terms of profanity, in terms of slander, in terms of libel, they are unlimited, right? That’s…
JG: Yeah, no, I agree with that. I agree with that.
HH: And so, and so my genuine question is how to achieve vis-à-vis the alt right what Buckley achieved vis-à-vis the Birchers. And the reason it was easier for Buckley is there were membership cards for the Birchers, right? There was a society that you joined. There isn’t such a thing for the alt right. And there is a larger definition of the alt right, which is bandied about. And I used it erroneously about Ben Shapiro, because I thought he wanted Paul Ryan beaten. But you know, Brat down in Virginia when he beat Eric Cantor. A lot of people viewed him as alt right, and you’re saying to me no, absolutely he’s not. He’s a, what is he?
JG: Yeah, well, he’s, you know, a hard core Tea Partier guy. I mean, that’s fine by me. I mean, you know, it’s sort of like this phrase cuckservative out there.
HH: Oh, I hate that. Yeah, yeah, good.
JG: There are more people misusing cuckservative than using it correctly, or more people who use it are ignorant of what it is about. It is, the phrase was born in a racist hatred of interracial marriage and interracial sex. These guys hate race mixing, the alt righters, and so they came up with this cuckservative thing as sort of a metaphor for the GOPe, which, and the conservative movement, which has allowed our country to be mongrelized and allowed the dirty mud people to come in. And that is what it means. It is an explicitly racist term.
HH: But has become widely used by anti-GOPe people.
JG: And it should stop. And we should have an argument. You raised the right question. How can you do to the alt right what Bill Buckley and others did to the Birchers? It’s much, much harder today. That is one of the reasons why Breitbart is successful, because in the old days, National Review wasn’t just merely the flagship conservative media outlet. It was almost the only one.
JG: And you only had, what, you know, you had three networks, and so if leaders of the conservative moment anathematized you, it was very difficult to find a platform that mattered. Sure, you would have all these sort of obscure, you know, newsletters that floated around out there, but if you were considered beyond the pale and shunned, it was very difficult for you to get your voice out there. And I think we live in a better time, for the most part, than back then, because the liberal media basically had a monopoly on what information the American people could get. I’d much rather live in this age with the Hugh Hewitts and the Jonah Goldbergs and the National Reviews, and let a thousand flowers bloom. But it does create this problem, which is broader than just this alt right thing, of allowing a lot of different people to all of a sudden create virtual communities online where they can agree and reaffirm themselves on all sorts of terrible things.
HH: And amplify extremism beyond its numbers.
JG: Absolutely, yeah.
HH: But now here’s the, the real problem is Paul Ryan’s problem, Mitch McConnell’s problem and Reince Priebus’ problem, which is they have to exile the alt right as you and I have agreed to define it, but which I do not believe is generally agreed upon in the media to define it. And in fact, I believe the left will attempt to brand people as alt right who are not alt right, because there are some people with a foot in both camps. One of them is Ann Coulter, another of them is Milo, right? These people live on that border, and they sell on that border, and it makes it very hard to patrol on that border.
JG: Yeah, well, I find it easy to patrol that border, because I want nothing to do with Ann Coulter, and I want nothing to do with Milo. I mean, I’ve known Ann for 20 years. I like Ann personally. I think the way she has behaved herself has been utterly repugnant and irresponsible. And I am personally, you know, I don’t have that much power. It’s not like I can excommunicate anybody. She is a hotter commodity in this world than I am. But at the same time, you know, I do what I can, and I think the important thing is to draw bright lines, and you have to ask people, you know, we used to ask people whether or not they were, you know, pro-communist or anti-communist, or what it was, and hold people accountable to their answers. And my guess is the alt right would lose a lot of members once it became very clear to people what it actually means.
HH: Do you think it will become, and I think this may be what happens, a career ender to have worked at Breitbart?
JG: It depends on what kind of career you want to go into.
HH: Mainstream media. If you want to go Costa, and you want to work at National Review and then be picked up by the Washington Post and end up on television, that’s a great career path, right, because National Review is a credential you want to have.
HH: Is Breitbart going to become a toxic credential?
JG: I would say in the larger journalistic community, that’s already happened.
JG: Breitbart is not, by most journalists I know, you know, and I’m an opinion guy. I’m not like a day to day reporter. But most journalists I know, left, right and center, they just simply don’t consider it a news organization at all.
HH: That’s like World Net Daily. And what happens when that happens is that then, the definition becomes cemented. Jonah, I’ve got to move on.
JG: All right.
HH: Always great to talk to you. Thank you. Follow Jonah, @JonahNRO.
End of interview.