National Review, the often-defining voice of conservatism over the past six decades, the favored publication of Ronald Reagan and of those who claim the Reagan mantle, has pulled out all the stops in the battle to avert the nomination of Donald Trump by the Republican Party.
The magazine is fighting more than an electoral battle. It is waging a serious struggle to prevent the redefinition of conservatism as Trumpism—so serious, and so clear in its intent, that the Republican National Committee has disinvited National Review from a partnership with NBC on the party’s February 28 presidential debate in Houston. The magazine’s publisher responded that exclusion from the debate was a “small price to pay for speaking the truth about The Donald.”
The stakes are high, as the new issue of National Review illustrates. It’s an anti-Trump manifesto, from the “Against Trump” headline on the cover to the editorial declaration that “Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”
To drive their point home, the editors feature articles by almost two dozen of the nation’s most prominent conservative commentators, authors and activists, arguing variations on the theme of Erick Erickson’s piece: “Don’t Let Trump Define Conservatism in His Image.”
There’s a fair debate to be had about whether Trump is imposing a definition of conservatism or merely amplifying themes that have been ever more present on the right fringe of a movement that has tried too hard to adjust itself to the demands of an angry “Tea Party” faction and an absolutist House “Freedom Caucus.” There can also be a debate about whether grassroots Republicans, churned up by years of talk-radio ranting, are as put off by Trump’s bullying tactics as conservative elites seem to imagine.
Whether the publication that has presented itself as “America’s most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion” will play a part in derailing the front-runner for the nomination of the party it has so frequently influenced over so many years is open to question. The answer to that question will tell us a good deal about our evolving media and our evolving politics.