Restrictionist Trump Fans Revolt Against Pro-Restrictionism National Review

Populist conservatism continues to eat itself in Campaign 2016


Over the weekend there erupted a new front in the fascinating war between Donald Trump's supporters and those in the conservative media who don't share their enthusiasm. It is a Twitter hashtag called #NROrevolt, which began as a VDare-style backlash against the backlash against Trump's immigration policies…

#NRORevolt because they purged Sailer, Derb, Coulter, Buchanan, Steyn and Sobran… You know anyone on the right worth reading

— SOBL1 (@SOBL1) September 6, 2015

…and is now top-heavy with conservatives calling out the white nationalism of Trump's supporters:

Best evidence that the #Trump movement is animated by white welfarism and resentment politics, not conservative principles –> #NRORevolt

— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) September 7, 2015

The trigger point for this skirmish was a withering Sept. 4 column from National Review's Jonah Goldberg, whose prior criticism of Trump two months ago elicited this classic Donaldian response: "You know, it's interesting. I went to the best school, got great marks, everything else. I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune…bigger than people even understand….Then I get called by a guy that can't buy a pair of pants, I get called names?"

Goldberg's latest begins:

Well, if this is the conservative movement now, I guess you're going to have to count me out.

And goes on:

But if it's true that politicians can disappoint, I think one has to say that the people can, too. 

And when I say "the people" I don't mean "those people." I mean my people. I mean many of you[.]

And coughs up this one-liner:

Every principle used to defend Trump is subjective, graded on a curve. Trump is like a cat trained to piss in a human toilet. It's amazing! It's remarkable! Yes, yes, it is: for a cat. But we don't judge humans by the same standard.

With this piece of writing, Goldberg is placing himself among a crowded new genre of conservatives (including his NRO colleague Kevin D. Williamson) going apopleptic at Trump—and receiving apoplexy right back, in the face. But it's important to remember in this rollicking political moment that Trump conservatism and National Review conservatism are not, in fact, definitionally antagonistic. Particularly on the issue that has rocketed the billionaire to the front of the GOP field: immigration.

On Aug. 16, Trump released a sharply restrictive white paper on immigration, calling for a "pause" in the issuance of green cards, an "end" to birthright citizenship, mandatory E-Verify for every private employer, a trade war with Mexico should that country fail to pay for a 2,000-mile border wall, and several other dubious proposals. He then topped that nativism with an astonighingly anti-constitutional idea on Meet the Press that same day: deporting American-citizen children if their parents are illegal immigrants.

What was the headline on National Review's editorial response to this noxious package? "Trump's Immigration Plan Is a Good Start—for All GOP Candidates."

Conservatism's flagship magazine described Trump's radical proposal to choke off legal immigration temporarily as "a welcome change," suggested that he adopt a nationwide tax on remittances, and asserted that "the best of Trump's enforcement proposals should be the lowest common denominator in the GOP." The latter was a positive recommendation, but it works even better as a negative prediction.

On Aug. 21, National Review Editor Rich Lowry—who reacted to the candidate's initial factually nonsensical anti-Mexican blatherings this summer with a Politico piece headlined "Sorry, Donald Trump Has a Point"—came out with some post-white paper advice: "Yes, Pander to Trump on Immigration." Sample:

It has occasioned the predictable horror that he might pull the Republican field to the right on immigration, or that the other candidates might pander to him. Both are outcomes to be wished for, rather than avoided.

So it's time to pull rightward from Mitt Romney's proposal of "self-deportation," which Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in 2013 described as "horrific," and which was also once characterized as "mean-spirited," "crazy," and "maniacal" by—wait for it!—Donald Trump. Time to go further than the party's own 2012 platform, which called for building a double-layered fence, giving the Department of Homeland Security "long-term detention authority to keep dangerous but undeportable aliens off our streets," denying federal funds to "sanctuary cities" and universities that provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and nationalizing E-Verify so that every employer in the country would be forced to run every prospective employee's name through a federal government database before being allowed to sign a contract.

The fact is that the modern GOP has been pulling sharply rightward on immigration rhetoric and policy, particularly during presidential campaigns, since 2006, often at the explicit urging of National Review. In doing so, both organs of Acela-corridor conservatism have been waving off the distinct whiff of authoritarian xenophobia accompanying such proposals, while frequently embracing Trumpian bloviation as a refreshing barstool "blunderbuss" to smash the softness of those nassty elitesses. Here's Lowry again:

It is populist rather than elitist, and nationalist rather than cosmopolitan. It rejects the status quo rather than attempting to codify it. It puts enforcement first and dares to ask whether current high levels of legal immigration serve the country's interest. In short, it takes a needed sledgehammer to the lazy establishment consensus on immigration.

It's always a bitch when those populist sledgehammers come swinging back.