The handful of anti-Trump conservative intellectuals have found themselves split into two camps. One, recognizing the deep rot within their movement, have argued that Republicans need the shock of electoral defeat in order to shake free of the authoritarian and racist elements that have overtaken them. The other faction persists in a state of denial, believing that a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil things for the rest of them.
Columnist Ben Shapiro is a member of the second camp. Shapiro is commenting on the news that the conservative Claremont Institute shut down a white-supremacist LISTSERV. Shapiro does not reflect on why the Claremont Institute attracted so many white supremacists in the first place. Given that it published a famous essay describing immigrants as “Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty,” you can forgive the white supremacists for assuming they had a friendly audience.
Shapiro’s takeaway is that conservatives are unfairly castigated for having so many racists, and instead should be credited for being so extremely diligent at purging their ranks of racists and other kooks:
Time and again, mainstream institutions on the right are slandered as homes for racism, sexism, and miscellaneous other bigotry, even when those institutions work to root out such bigotry. … The institutional Right, however, spends an inordinate amount of time self-policing. … when it comes to policing the boundaries of a political movement, the modern-day conservative movement far outpaces the Left.
Shapiro repeats the unkillable legend that National Review publisher William F. Buckley “decided to throw the John Birchers out of the house,” thereby establishing a tradition on the right that has endured. In fact, even according to a friendly account from Buckley’s National Review biographer, Buckley did no such thing. He calculated that the John Birch Society and its huge membership was too important to risk alienating. So, instead, Buckley (gently) criticized the organization’s president, the bonkers Joseph Welch, while trying to stay on good terms with the group and its members. Conservatism has always needed its racists and kooks.
As for the present day, it is, to put it mildly, a strange moment for self-congratulation. The movement is teeming with racist kookery. The largest source of conservative propaganda regularly features quasi-white-nationalist content. The president of the United States is Donald Trump. Trump and his family regularly tout insane rants by the likes of Alex Jones and Gateway Pundit. Nazis and Klansmen see Trump as a kindred spirit and celebrate him. The Republican Senate nominee in Virginia is a neo-Confederate. Trump’s chief economic adviser hosted a white nationalist at his home.
American conservatism is being completely overrun with authoritarian racist kooks. If this is what success at rooting out racists looks like, one only shudders to imagine Shapiro’s definition of failure.