Highlights from the two speeches by Gov. Matt Bevin and Vice President Mike Pence at a recent invitation-only event in Lexington.
Matt Stone, The C-J
In the weeks since leaving the White House, where he served as chief strategist to President Trump, Steve Bannon, now the chairman of Breitbart News, has made clear his intentions to destroy American Conservatism.
It is time for the so-called “establishment” to fight to defend conservatism from the destructive intentions the alt-right ideology that Bannon represents and promotes. Its continued normalization has and will continue to make the Republican Party less conservative and represents a dire threat to the nation.
Last week, the alt-right picked up its first victory of 2018 when Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona who was facing re-election, announced his retirement. Flake gave a beautiful, well-delivered speech on the floor of the Senate that masterfully captured some of the frustrations of our era. Rather than using his speech as a Pope Urban II moment for traditional conservatism, he used it as an eloquent valediction to public office.
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Herein lies a mistake that hopefully isn’t a precedent. Jeff Flake’s speech should have ended with him proclaiming he was ready to fight to defend conservative values and destroy the alt-right, calling on others to join him. Instead, he surrendered. If conservatism is going to continue to be the guiding ideology of the Republican Party, party leaders like Flake and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker are going to need to stay in the arena and fight.
There has been considerable hand-wringing about what all this Republican infighting means, but any genuine concern over this ignores a few important points. The Republican Party is arguably more powerful now than ever before. The party controls the House of Representatives, Senate, the White House, two-thirds of state legislatures, and 34 governorships. Success on this scale naturally breeds disagreements, something particularly characteristic of the Republican Party, where infighting is a hallmark attribute.
Though infighting isn’t new, the pull towards the alt-right represents a deviation. Previous battles inside the party, like the effort to purge Rockefeller Republicans, or Ronald Reagan’s challenge of Gerald Ford in 1976, made it more conservative, largely eliminating individuals who promoted an expanded federal government. This infighting is different. Bannon’s efforts, which are built in opposition to free trade and immigration, and in promotion of the alt-right’s white supremacy narrative, make the Republican Party less conservative.
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That isn’t the only thing guiding it though. One of Jeff Flake’s most troubling observations came after his speech in an interview with CNN. “It’s not enough to be conservative anymore,” he said. “it seems you have to be angry about it.”
These reasons are preposterous and devoid of the noble intentions of electing conservative legislators.
The legislators that Bannon is targeting demonstrate that his true intentions aren’t to make the party more conservative. John Barrasso, a Republican senator from Wyoming, who is one of the people on the target list, has a lifetime conservative rating of 90.86 from the American Conservative Union. Sen. Flake has long been rated as one of the most conservative members of Congress with a 93.07 from the ACU. Paul Ryan, who is a frequent target of the alt-right, has developed the most substantive ideas to roll back the welfare state in generations. Mitch McConnell saved the Supreme Court and preserved Antonin Scalia’s legacy.
What exactly is being accomplished by defeating these highly conservative individuals? Removing any of them might give us more expressions of anger, but it won’t give us more conservative policies.
Attacking Bannon personally in response, which some SuperPACs are reportedly preparing to do, will accomplish very little, and has potential to backfire. Bannon has long used attacks to make himself stronger and more relevant. The first step to successfully defeat this challenge is to understand the root ideas that guide Bannon and the alt-right ideology. For conservatives long weary of Trumpism there is equally an opportunity to reject the most troubling aspects of Trump’s election without alienating many of the voters who made up his electorate.
The alt-right is built on a disgusting worldview that aims to cloak itself inside trivial battles, accumulating enough fellow travelers to achieve power. Turning Bannon into a figurehead of populism and an icon of opposition against politicians will backfire. Fighting the root ideology the alt-right is critical. Defeating the root ideology of the alt-right is critical.
So, members of the “establishment,” take a lesson from Jeff Flake’s mistake. Knuckle up. We are going to need you to fight to protect American conservatism.
Jordan Harris is the executive director of the Pegasus Institute, an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization in Louisville, Kentucky.