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Jonah Goldberg On The Roots Of #NeverTrump

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NRO’s Jonah Goldberg joined me this morning to continue a discussion I began with Tevi Troy last week about Troy’s article on the widening split between the national GOP base and the conservative intellectuals rooted primarily in NYC and DC:




HH: Joined now by Jonah Goldberg of National Review, the author of the famed G File, which you can get in your email box every week if you’ll merely go to and subscribe to it. Jonah, a good Monday morning to you.

JG: Great to be here, Hugh. I, for one, like you in the new timeslot. But I get to hear you more, which is great, so…

HH: You’re the one. You’re the one who said, of the Bennett people who have been writing me, you’re the one. So we miss Bill a lot, but you’re the guy. Jonah, before we go to talk about Tevi Troy and the roots of #NeverTrump, I have to play for you, because it’s just perfect for you. Look, I get up so early, I got to hear the President in Germany this morning. My guess is you did not get to hear the President in Germany this morning. Am I right about that?

JG: You make it sound like I missed out, but no, I did not hear the President in Germany this morning.

HH: This is a very important moment in the President’s rhetorical arsenal. I want to play for you cut number 22:

BO: We see some of these trends in the United States and across the advanced economies, and these concerns and anxieties are real. They are legitimate. They cannot be ignored, and they deserve solutions from those in power. Unfortunately, in the vacuum, if we do not solve these problems, you start seeing those who would try to exploit these fears and frustrations, and channel them in a disruptive way, a creeping emergence of the kind of politics that the European project was founded to reject, an us versus them mentality that tries to blame our problems on the other, somebody who doesn’t look like us, or doesn’t pray like us, whether it’s immigrants or Muslims or somebody who’s deemed different than us. You see increasing intolerance in our politics. And loud voices get the most attention. It reminds you of the poem by the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, where the best lack all conviction, and the worst are full of passionate intensity.

HH: Jonah, the clichéd nature of that is so awful in the morning, but I have to get your response to it.

JG: Yeah, look, I mean, obviously I don’t know like some of the same political trends that Obama is pointing to. At the same time, you know, this, it’s classical Obama in his self-exoneration from the very trends that he is condemning.

HH: Yes, yes.

JG: This guy has played the us versus them game from the beginning. He is part of an entire social and psychological movement that basically says the sort of white middle class majority that ran this country for a very long time is the problem, and that he represents a new kind of politics that is going to identify them and replace sort of the old bad America is the new, good, Benetton ad America. And he talks that way. He talks with incredible condescension towards people, and he is one of them, and he has acted unilaterally with utter contempt for democratic processes and for his political opposition. And I can’t tell you how many people, you know, I’ve been arguing with the Trump people for a very long time. How many people point to, say well, it was okay for Obama to do it. And you know, Trump is, in many ways, representative of a response to the sort of bile that I think Obama has injected into the American politics.

HH: Sure, and he crashed into Great Britain’s debate over the European Union over the weekend, and just made everybody angry with the same condescending, lecturing, hectoring warning about what would happen to our oldest ally if they dared break away from the so-called European project.

JG: Yeah, and oh, and remember, remember his big speech in Berlin when he was still a candidate, which you know, I think was better in the original Esperanto, was all about tearing down walls, and walls are bad. He kind of sounds like Steve Martin in The Jerk, you know, talking about the cans.

HH: Yeah (laughing)

JG: (laughing) And he has this, you know, he is a cosmopolitan in the literal sense, going back to Diogenes. He’s a citizen of the world guy, and he sees the world going the opposite direction with rising nationalism and particularism, and he doesn’t like it, but he also doesn’t understand the role he’s played in it.

HH: And he’s also sending 250 additional Special Operators to join 50 there in Syria on the very same morning, so 300 SEALs and Delta Forces and Rangers are now over there killing ISIS, because of his spectacular failure. But I digress. Last week, Jonah, I had on Tevi Troy. And you listened to the program, and we made reference to that. I said now Jonah will critique what we have to say, and we were talking about Tevi’s article How GOP Intellectuals Feud With The Base Is Remaking U.S. Politics. And I have linked it over at And Tevi wrote one of the most spectacular fissures in this already dramatic political season has been the messy public divorce of the Republican intelligentsia from the party’s suddenly energized populist voter base. He wrote that it’s easy to lay blame at Donald Trump’s feet, but this year’s split between the intellectuals and the rank and file GOP goes beyond the frontrunner, and he warned that if this divide deepens, it would mark the end of a romance between conservative intellectuals and the voters who propel their candidates into office that goes back several decades. In response to this, I argued that one of the most telling sources of this divide is the refusal of the Republican intelligentsia to embrace, really embrace, the necessity of a fence, a double-sided, big fence with a running road between it, and that they’ve always nodded and they’ve said yes, yes, yes, fence, fence, fence, and then nothing ever happens, because they don’t really believe in it. And Tevi and I debated that a little bit, and somehow, that transformed itself into a critique of #NeverTrump. I didn’t intend it to be. I think #NeverTrump people come from a variety of sources. But what was your response to that discussion that we had?

JG: Yeah, so as I read it, and I had your former intern and my research assistant actually type up the relevant bits for the transcript, Jack Butler, and my problem with it is the way, first of all, you seem to be conflating, you know, K Street types, party hacks, party strategists, conservative journalists, conservative intellectuals all into sort of one elite blob. I know you like to talk about Washington as Rome, but there’s actually a remarkable diversity of points of view within that, what may look like a blob from Southern California. And second of all, you seem to be arguing, and correct me if I’m wrong, that the main, if not the singular reason why conservative intellectuals, broadly defined by you, have a problem with Trump is because he actually is going to build this wall, and they hate him for his issues. And they hate the fact that he’ll actually do it, and we all secretly don’t want it. And I just think…

HH: No, that’s actually, now here, in my defense, yes to the first point, no to the second. I do grab all of, and I’m moving to D.C., so I’m joining the blob, but I do put everyone into the blob, because I think there is a shared sort of dome that surrounds it, that keeps all the oxygen in so that everyone agrees that the mortgage home interest deduction has to be eliminated, and everyone agrees Trump is inevitable now. And I was watching Morning Joe this morning, and they just never seem to ever tap into anything outside of it, the biggest single indication of which I had is their opposition across all those subgroups to really building the fence. But I do not believe, I want to make this clear, and I might have misspoken in the course with Tevi, #NeverTrump is much broader than the fence. There are a few people who are #NeverTrump because of his attitude towards immigration, but mostly, they’re #NeverTrump because of Trump’s long history of double-sided meanings, his antagonism to conservatism, his nativism, his nationalism. They have lots of arguments as to why they’re against Trump. So I might have misspoke, Jonah. I don’t think #NeverTrump is limited, or even significantly anchored to the wall.

JG: Okay, fair enough. I mean, my, I still, I can quibble with some of that. And first of all, Morning Joe is out of New York, and what I’ll do is I will get, remember how in the Iraq War they gave the troops those playing cards with people’s pictures on them for the wanted personnel?

HH: Yes.

JG: I will give you a sort of field guide to the Washington crowd so you can distinguish some of these people apart.

HH: (laughing) Well, but tell me if you agree with me. Morning Joe is in New York, of course, but the guests on Morning Joe, Mark Halperin, and all of the others, go back and forth. They go remote to people. I may be on Morning Joe a lot in the future. I’ve been on Morning Joe a lot. The D.C.-New York media elite actually covers the intellectuals, it covers the political operators, it covers the K Street lawyers, it covers the Congressional staff, and especially, it covers the political consulting class, which brings them all together and binds them like the one ring in the nine ring race.

JG: Well, look, I agree with some of that. And look, I have been criticizing sort of Beltway conventional group think for a very, very long time. And I agree with you that it happens. And I agree with you entirely about the way people are downgrading the importance of the Cruz-Kasich deal and all of that kind of stuff, and there is a tendency in Washington to do straight line projections from whatever the current moment is.

HH: Right.

JG: I agree with that entirely. At the same time, you know, I don’t travel in a lot of those circles. People I know don’t travel in those circles. You know, National Review is not of a piece with Bloomberg News and MSNBC and those guys. And so I think that you know, there are sort of a Enochian remnant, there are some of us, you know, who…

HH: Well, you do. I run into you in airports.

JG: Yeah.

HH: That’s where I see Jonah. I see Jonah on patios and airports far removed from D.C. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen you in D.C. So you get out amongst the people. I do think a lot of folks at AEI and Heritage never leave town. Honestly, and I think Paul Ryan’s tax staff over at Ways and Means, and the Wall Street Journal Editorial staff, good people all, they just never leave town. They persuade themselves of things, especially, I’ve argued about with Rick Santorum on my side about the home mortgage interest deduction. Why do they want to kill the absolute floorboard of the American middle class?

JG: Well, you raise a good point, and here’s where I’ll agree with you. And this is something I’ve been writing about quite a bit lately, and more so over the years, is that the sort of, the policy suite that a lot of people on the right, including Paul Ryan, who I like a lot and admire a lot, is too tied to the Reagan package circa 1981, this idea that all people want are lower marginal top income tax rates, the sort of strict libertarian argument. That package really needs updating, and I will say in defense of AEI, AEI’s been working pretty hard on that. One of my problems with this whole trump moment is that people like Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru and the guys at National Affairs, they’ve been working on this reform conservatism stuff for a long time about updating not Reaganite principles, but Reaganite policies. And a lot of our friends in talk radio and elsewhere have said oh, you’re a bunch of RINO squishes, you’re sell-outs, you’re me, too Republicans. You just want to go along with the Beltway blob. And now, Donald Trump’s whole pitch among the smart Trump supporters is that he appeals to the very people that the reform conservatives wanted to help, and were sort of, and who were anathematized by some of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters now.

HH: Yeah, and when we come back from break…

JG: I mean, Sean Hannity and some of those guys, you know, friends of mine, were gung ho against the sort of reform conservatism when it was an actual serious intellectual movement. And now, they want to support Donald Trump, because his base of support are the people reform conservatism was trying to help.

HH: And when we come back from break, we’ll talk about that. And there is a role that the fence played in that. Stay tuned. Jonah Goldberg from National Review will be right back.

— – – – –

HH: Jonah, have you seen, by the way, Elvis And Nixon?

JG: I haven’t.

HH: Oh, it’s terrific. Michael Shannon is great, but actually, Kevin Spacey is a better Nixon than Frank Langella was in Nixon-Frost. So I would encourage you to go see it. Tevi Troy talks a lot about Nixon trying to bring intellectuals into the party, and that’s great. We need them. They have done yeoman’s work. But when you mentioned last segment about Tevi and the gang, and Ramesh and the rest of them doing great work, I wonder, I go back to my wall. And I think sometimes, they miss the most obvious issues, because they find them distasteful and they don’t want to do what the base wants to do first. The base thinks a lot of this is easy. Like Jerry Moran got the Supreme Court wrong, and Mike Pompeo’s going to beat him now. It’s not hard to say no hearings, no votes. It’s not hard to have built the wall. It’s not hard to have said support Bush and the surge. Why does the intellectual right make it so hard to miss the obvious stuff?

JG: Well, again, I think that’s way too broad a brush. I mean, take National Review. I mean, starting in the 90s, if not the 80s with John O’Sullivan, you know, National Review was for an immigration pause, had the dickens beaten out of it for all of that. You know, National Review has been the sort of home online for Mark Krikorian, who’s sort of the brain…

HH: But stop for a second. But that’s not what I’m talking about…

JG: Okay.

HH: …because I don’t, I reject Krikorian. I think he’s completely wrong. I’ve debated him. I want, I think the base wants to let everybody stay in the United States. I think they just want to control future immigration, and that that means a wall, so that whenever I bring up the wall, and people bring back to me visa overstays and immigration pauses, I say no, you’re missing it. The American people actually want a freaking wall. They want to, that’s what they want.

JG: I agree with you. I wrote this column in 2006 for USA Today that first, we have to build a wall. It’s the only way to restore trust with the American voters. I agree with you entirely on that.

HH: Then…

JG: Personally, I don’t like the wall, but I think it’s a necessary thing.

HH: That’s it. It’s the visible expression of an invisible resolve to actually honor your word. And so if it’s the necessary but not sufficient thing, the problem that I think that Trump has tapped into is nobody believes Washington on anything. And while there are many sources of #NeverTrumpism, a lot of the source of pro-Trumpism is hostility to the truthfulness or distrust of D.C. Do you agree with that?

JG: Yeah, no, sure. Sure.

HH: And so go back with me to Kasich and Cruz now. I believe that this is significant, and that a lot of Kasich voters will support Cruz. Do you agree with that?

JG: I hope so. You know, as a #NeverTrump kind of guy, I worry that it might be a too little, too late. I think that you put more stake in the idea that people do strategic voting than I do, but I hope it works, and you know, we’ll see.

HH: And if Trump does not win, Larry Arnn has warned on this program repeatedly that the Trump voters are very important to the GOP. Do you think #NeverTrump antagonized the Trump voters? Are they going to be able to distinguish between the hostility to Trump is the messenger, and the receptivity to their anger with Washington?

JG: I don’t know. I mean, certainly, certainly, it’s always a mistake to be going by your Twitter feed in how you make these judgments.

HH: Agreed. Agreed.

JG: But look, my position has been for a very long time, I largely agree with you on the math, that this ends in tears no matter what, that if Trump isn’t the nominee, a bunch of people, undetermined how many, will leave the party and leave the convention. And if Trump is the nominee, a bunch of people, undetermined how many, will leave the party and the convention. So everyone should sort of man up and take a side. And I understand that you’re in the sort of Switzerland camp, and had to be for institutional and other reasons, and you’re sticking with it, and that’s great. But for a lot of people, this idea that somehow, you know, we can just sort of normalize Trump, and he’s just another conventional nominee, a lot of people just aren’t going to buy it.

HH: I do say quite, I try and be objective, I think Trump will lose a massive loss. He could cost the House and the Senate. But I will support the Republican nominee, whoever it is. And I understand his appeal. Do you think that Cruz would lose in any way like the way that Trump would lose?

JG: No, I think Cruz has a, look, Cruz is a few points behind Hillary, who’s a deeply-flawed and bad candidate, and Ted Cruz has demonstrated that he’s the one guy with the incredible discipline to do what it takes to win. I mean, I think it would be tough for Cruz. I think he’s got problems. His V.P. choice would matter. But I think this is a winnable election for a serious conservative. And the fact is that the establishment in Washington, the blob as we’ve been calling it, is much more fearful of Ted Cruz than it is of Donald Trump.

HH: And that is another source of the distrust, right? The shutdown and the anti-Cruz, because he’s never been a D.C.E guy. There is no D.C. E. actually, the Republican establishment has central committees all across the United States. But GOP-DC hates Cruz, but not GOPE. Do you agree with that, Jonah?

JG: I think a lot of people are coming to love Ted Cruz as a late-brokered relationship. I like Ted Cruz. You know, frankly, I would rather have a drink with Ted Cruz than John Kasich, and I’ve met them both. But that’s a different conversation.

HH: Jonah Goldberg, I look forward to this week’s G File. We’ll type this up. We’ll put, maybe we don’t disagree on that much. I don’t think we do, actually, except perhaps I think there’s a lot less of a line between K Street and GOP intellectuals than you do. Last word to you.

JG: Yeah, and I think that I’m not a party guy, and that’s why I can’t vote for Trump, because I don’t want the guy to represent me or stand for me or speak for me in any way.

HH: And I’m a party guy. That is a division. Jonah Goldberg from NRO, always a pleasure.

End of interview.


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