Although I fully share the jubilation of others that Donald Trump may be taking a wrecking ball to the GOP establishment, I don’t hold the view that Trump’s candidacy will reduce neoconservative power. Matthew Richer, Justin Raimondo and other writers whose columns I usually welcome all believe that Trump’s rise as a Republican presidential candidate may help bring down his bogus conservative enemies. The more Trump’s popular support soars, the more the neocons have supposedly turned themselves into paper tigers. The establishment Republicans whom they “advise” have not marginalized Trump; nor have the neocons and their clients been able to elevate as GOP frontrunner someone who serves their purposes. The fact that prominent neocons like Robert Kagan have indicated their willingness to vote for Hillary Clinton instead of a GOP presidential candidate they don’t want, has underscored the emptiness of their opposition to Mrs. Clinton. The neoconservatives’ willingness to abandon the Republican side in the presidential race if they don’t get their way dramatizes their deviousness and arrogance. Presumably others will now abandon these power-hungry careerists and perpetual war mongers.
Unfortunately, I expect none of this to happen. Indeed it would not surprise me if the neocons exhibited the staying power of the Egyptian New Kingdom, which ruled Egypt for five hundred years (1570-1070 BC) despite such occasional setbacks as military defeats. What neoconservative publicists are now doing when they bait and switch, does not seem different from what they did in the past. Prominent neocons have not consistently taken the side of eventually victorious Republican presidential candidates. In 1972 Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell and other neocon heavyweights backed McGovern against Nixon, yet neocon and Democrat Daniel Moynihan carried great weight in the Nixon administration. In the presidential primaries in 1976 Irving Kristol and most other Republican neocons backed Gerald Ford against Ronald Reagan; nonetheless, after Reagan’s victory in 1980 neoconservatives William Bennett and Eliot Abrams came to play highly visible roles in the Republican administration.
Conceivably even if Robert Kagan and his friends support Hillary Clinton against Trump, they would still remain prominent, well-connected “conservatives.” The neoconservatives’ power and influence do not depend on their willingness to march in lockstep with the GOP. Their power base extends into both parties; and if most neocons are currently identified with the “moderate” wing of the GOP, providing their political ambitions are met and their foreign policy is carried out, other recognizable neocons like William Galston, Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland, and Ann Applebaum have identified strongly with Democratic administrations. Neoconservatives will not likely cease to be part of the political and journalistic establishment, even if some in their ranks chose to back Hillary against the Donald.
Even less likely, will they cease to be a shaping force in a “conservative movement” that remains mostly under their wing. Since the 1980s neoconservatives have been free to push that movement in their own direction, toward a neo-Wilsonian foreign policy, toward the defense of what they celebrate as a “democratic capitalist welfare state” and toward a gradual acceptance of leftist social positions, as being less vital to “conservatism” than “national defense.” Neoconservatives demand that the government be pro-active in relation to the rest of the world. They and those politicians they train speak of “leading from the front” and place special emphasis on the protection of Israel and continued American intervention in “trouble spots” across the globe.
Neoconservatives have their own characteristic American nationalism, which is based on both energetic involvement in the affairs of other states and calls for further immigration, which now comes mostly from the Third World. Both of these foundational positions are justified on the grounds that American identity rests on a creed, which stresses universal equality. Most anyone from anywhere can join the American nation by adopting the neocons’ preferred creed; and once here these “new Americans, “ it is argued, will become hardy defenders of our propositional nationhood while providing the cheap labor needed for economic growth. Perhaps most importantly, neocons have no trouble attracting corporate donors, who hold their views on immigration and their fervent Zionism. Australian newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch, who finances their media outlets, has been particularly generous to his neoconservative clients but is far from their only benefactor.
The hundreds of millions of dollars that are poured into neoconservative or neoconservative-friendly policy institutes annually are not likely to dry up in the foreseeable future. A meeting just held on Sea Island off the coast of Georgia for the purpose of devising and executing a plan to bring down Trump, included, according to Pat Buchanan, all the usual suspects. Neocon journalist Bill Kristol,, executives of neocon policy institute AEI, and Republican bigwigs and politicians were all conspicuously represented at this gathering of the “conservative “ in-crowd , and gargantuan sums of money were pledged to destroy the reputation of someone whom the attendees hoped to destroy.
If the neocons were falling, certainly they are hiding their descent well. Finally, there seems to be a continuing congruence between the liberal internationalism preached by neoconservatives and such architects of America’s foreign policy as the Council on Foreign Relations. Although the Old Right and libertarians may lament these troublemakers, the neoconservatives do not labor alone in imposing their will. They are the most out-front among those calling for an aggressive American internationalism; and this has been a dominant stance among American foreign policy elites for at least a century.
It is hard to imagine that the neocons will lose these assets because they’ve been branding Trump a fascist or because they’re unwilling to back the GOP presidential candidate, no matter who he or she is. Powerbrokers in their own right, they don’t have to worry about passing litmus tests. They enjoy unbroken control of the “conservative movement,” and benefit from the demonstrable inability of a more genuine Right to displace them. Matthew Richer asks whether Donald Trump’s election would spell “the end of NR’s influence over the conservative movement in America.” The answer is an emphatic no, unless those who distribute the funding for the neoconservative media empire decide to close down this particular fixture. Otherwise Rich Lowry and his buds will go on being funded as agents for disseminating neocon party lines.
Moreover, those featured in NR‘s printed issues and/or on its widely visited website are routinely invited on to Fox-news and contribute to other interlocking neoconservative enterprises. Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg will not be thrown out of work, because they dumped toxic waste on Trump. And Max Boot will not lose his position at the WSJ because of his over-the-top tirades against Trump, after having railed non-stop for several weeks against Confederate monuments and Confederate Battle Flags. There is nothing the neocons say when they’re reaching leftward or revealing their leftist colors that the leftist media aren’t also saying, even more stridently. Pointing out the silliness of neoconservative assertions about history or the current age may help us deal with our irritation. It does not mean that we can dissuade those who fund the neoconservatives from giving them more money. They are being kept around not for their wisdom or the elegance of their prose but because they are useful to the powerful and rich.
Finally I should observe that the neocons have done so well in marginalizing their opposition on the right that it seems unlikely, as George Hawley points out in Right-Wing Critics of the Conservative Movement (University of Kansas, 2016), that the balance of power between the two sides is about to change. How exactly will a genuine Right that has not been contaminated by the neocons gain enough influence to replace them? How can such a Right, given its modest circumstances, even compete with the neocons for access to the public and for friends in high places?
The neocons would never yield ground to competitors on the right. Indeed they have fought them so relentlessly, because they view them as nothing less carriers of anti-Semitism and other things that the neocons fear. Further, leftist allies would join the neocons in preventing our side from ever gaining ground. And this kind of alliance has worked well before, e.g., when the neocons made their opposition disappear with an assist from the Left in the 1980s and early 1990s. Although there are isolated journalists like Ann Coulter and Pat Buchanan who resist the neocons from the Right while enjoying prominence, these are the exceptions. Most of those who attack the neocons from the right languish in relative obscurity. Indeed most right-wing critics of the neoconservatives, as Hawley underscores, have been effectively removed from media visibility. This isolation suits the regular Left as it does the Left’s more moderate neoconservative wing.
To those who hope to see the neocons swept from power as Donald Trump and his backers prosper politically, I am offering the sobering message that your expectations are unrealistic. Although the neoconservatives can be challenged from the Right, such a challenge can only work on the media level if the would-be counterforce is as well-equipped as what it’s fighting. Simply saying that the neocons are losing ground or are now in freefall won’t make one’s wish come to pass. Needless to say, I’d be delighted if proven wrong in this matter.