The Future of Conservatism?
Scott Walker is no Bill Buckley
Back in July 2019, our colleague, Jim Swift, asked “Can Scott Walker Save the Future of Conservatism?”
The former Wisconsin governor had just been named the president of the Young America’s Foundation, and Swift wondered whether Walker could use his position to change the trajectory of the right.
Swift noted that YAF’s list of campus speakers had grown both stale and strange, an odd mix of “uninspiring has-beens and cranks alongside conservatives who are the real deal.”
Could Walker use his position to move away from the bigots and crazies who had begun to dominate Conservatism Inc.? Might he try to restore some of the intellectual heft of a movement launched by William F. Buckley Jr.?
If a new video campaign is any indication, the answer seems to be: No. As in, God no, not at all.
You can watch it here. Go ahead, take your time.
The video is part of YAF’s new initiative, which Walker is calling “The Long Game.” The rhetoric is meant to be stirring, but sounds recycled from a hundred fund-raising appeals.
The point is to fight against the leftist takeover of the schools, popular culture, and Big Tech. And, following in the footsteps of Buckley and Ronald Reagan, who fought campus radicals at Berkeley, Walker is positioning himself as the leader of a campaign of intellectual restoration.
The good news is that Donald Trump appears nowhere in the video, and is not even mentioned. (Mike Pence makes a cameo appearance.) Under normal circumstances, this might be a good omen.
But the absence of Trump seems less significant than the thorough Trumpiness of the overall theme.
Consider: Walker’s video ominously warns unironically that “America is under siege,” with scenes of campus unrest, but does not mention the siege of the Capitol on January 6. It is as if it never happened.
But in Walker’s history, a lot gets dropped down the memory hole.
In its abbreviated history of the leftist takeover of America, the video draws a straight line from 1960s radicalism (Saul Alinsky) to Joe Biden, who, Walker says, is now “working to take over everything we hold dear.”
There are no details. But it’s bad.
So what does the future of conservatism look like?
Walker could have chosen from a broad range of conservative officeholders, thinkers, writers, and scholars. Instead, his video is notably heavy on representatives of the entertainment wing of the right, including figures whose only contribution seems to be their facility in owning-the-libs.
There is Dinesh D’Souza, the ex-felon who has built a brand on revisionist crank history. D’Souza was recently scrubbed from the National Review masthead, perhaps coincidentally around the time that he was waging a one-man campaign to defend Trump’s pronunciation of Thailand as ‘Thighland.”
D’Souza, who received a pardon from Trump, is also remembered for mocking school shooting survivors, trafficking in birtherism, and for his claims that slaves were treated “pretty well.”
Then there is Allen West, the former congressman, who is now the chairman of the Texas GOP. Late last year, after the Supreme Court refused to overturn Trump’s election defeat, West suggested that secession might be a good idea.
"Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution," Texas GOP chairman Allen West said in a statement Friday night. "The Texas GOP will always stand for the Constitution and for the rule of law even while others don't."
Walker includes shots of Fox News funny guy Greg Gutfeld, and Liz Wheeler, a former anchor from OAN, the news network at the far reaches of the conspiracy theory fever swamp.
The video also heavily features the master of lib-owning clickbait, Ben Shapiro, and his colleague Michael Knowles, who defended using the term “kung flu” to describe the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Needless to say, this not George Will’s party. It’s also not William F. Buckley’s.
The contrast is striking. When Buckley founded National Review magazine in the 1950s, he famously gathered serious thinkers and writers from the various branches of conservative thought: Catholic intellectuals, ex-communists, libertarians, and traditionalists.
As he began his own long game to make conservativism coherent and compelling, he featured intellectuals like Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Frank Meyer, and Willmoore Kendall, and Garry Wills. Buckley’s conservative universe included folks like John Dos Passos, Whittaker Chambers, Harry V. Jaffa, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, W. H. Auden, Edward C. Banfield, Jacques Barzun, Richard Neuhaus, Robert Nisbet, and Michael Oakeshott.
Buckley later was instrumental in founding Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The group was founded at his home, where the “The Sharon Statement,” YAF’s founding document, was drafted.
Picking up Buckley’s banner, Walker’s group (which merged with the original YAF in 2011) promises to offer “the best minds in conservative thought.”
But a quick perusal of the YAF speaker’s lineup suggests that Walker is no Buckley.
There are, indeed, some worthy and substantive conservative thinkers on the roster (David French and Jonah Goldberg among them.)
But Walker’s group also features Steve Crowder, the far-right clickbaity “comedian” who recently posted an outrageously racist video mocking black farmers. More recently, YouTube removed another Crowder video for peddling COVID disinformation.
And yet, there he is on the YAF website:
D’Souza is also there, along with Ted Nugent, who once called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” who should be jailed.
Nugent is nothing if not colorful:
Renegade right-winger Ted Nugent recently went on a vicious onstage rant in which he threatened the lives of Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Decked out in full-on camouflage hunting gear, Nugent wielded two machine guns while raging, “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary,” he continued. “You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” Nugent summed up his eloquent speech by screaming “freedom!”
But here he is on the list of YAF campus speakers:
His bio is right next to another YAF speaker, James O’Keefe, the grifter from Project Veritas, whose attempts to push the Big Lie about election fraud blew up so spectacularly in his face.
But on Monday, [Richard] Hopkins, 32, told investigators from the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General that the allegations were not true, and he signed an affidavit recanting his claims….
Hopkins’s allegations, without his name, were first aired last week by Project Veritas, an organization that uses deceptive tactics to expose what it says is bias and corruption in the mainstream media. Hopkins agreed to attach his name to the allegations late last week. He was instantly celebrated by Trump supporters.
Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe on Saturday hailed Hopkins as “an American hero” on Twitter. A GoFundMe page created under Hopkins’s name had raised more than $136,000 by Tuesday evening, with donors praising him as a patriot and whistleblower.
In 2019, YAF dropped Michelle Malkin for her ties to alt-right and white nationalist groups. At the time, the group said “there is no room in mainstream conservatism or at YAF for holocaust deniers, white nationalists, street brawlers, or racists.”
But YAF continues to feature Curt Schilling as a campus speaker. The former MLB pitcher is an interesting choice for Walker’s group considering his loooong history of crackpottery.
The following year, Schilling himself was suspended from broadcast duties (in the midst of calling the Little League World Series, no less) when he shared memes and an incoherent diatribe likening Muslims to Nazis. He was finally fired from the network in 2016 after sharing more hateful posts targeting trans and other LGBTQ+ communities.
That’s only the beginning. Since then, Schilling has fully embraced his alt-right persona. Some of the more notable ways in which he’s used his sizable platform include sharing tweets and Facebook posts advocating for the lynching of journalists, agreeing with and promoting white supremacists on his Breitbart radio show, peddling QAnon takes, and generally spending his days regurgitating racist tropes and abuse across his social media accounts. As of yesterday, he still thinks the election was rigged and/or stolen.
But here he is on the YAF site:
Exit take: Walker is right about this. It’s going to be a long fight. But it’s not off to a good start.
No reasonable person.