Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
As Iowa Republicans prepare for their party's first presidential caucus on Feb. 1, National Review has officially thrown down the gauntlet and repudiated Donald Trump as a nominee conservatives can support. Here's one salient passage from the magazine's leading editorial in its latest issue—"Against Trump."
If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.
The flagship conservative publication founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. has published statements by 22 commentators, who outline their arguments against Trump's nomination for president, provoking a furor on social media and television news shows.
“The National Review needs to get in line with the rest of the Republicans. How dare they trash the frontrunner,” tweeted Fox commentator Jeanine Pirro.
ABC asked if National Review had waited too long to draw a line in the sand, but Rich Lowry, the magazine's editor, countered that there has not been a single GOP primary. Republicans should “not surrender to Trump before a shot has been fired,” Lowry told ABC.
The excitement didn't leave The Donald chastened. Not at all.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” Trump said at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa as he reacted to polls suggesting that upwards of 68% of supporters have committed to him. “It’s like, incredible.”
Without skipping a beat, he used the last week before the Iowa caucus to reach out to Christians, vowing to give them more “power” if he made it to the Oval Office.
“I get elected president, we're going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. Just remember that,” he said while in Sioux City. “Because if I'm there, you're going to have plenty of power. You don't need anybody else.”
It was signature Trump. He didn't get into the weeds of complex religious freedom issues like the Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate. He talked about putting Merry Christmas back into holiday shopping. He did not say how he would do that.
In recent months, as Trump continued to gain traction with Republican voters, media commentators have suggested that the GOP establishment was running scared and ready to make a deal with the brash interloper.
But National Review wanted Americans to know that conservatives were not ready to call a truce. Intellectuals like the Southern Baptist Convention's Russell Moore and First Things editor Rusty Reno joined influential commentators and activists like Glenn Beck to make the case against The Donald.
Some fretted about his very recent embrace of the pro-life position, along with other mission critical issues. Said Erick Erickson, the editor of The Resurgent and an Atlanta-based talk-radio host:
Like the angels in heaven who rejoice for every new believer, we should rejoice for Donald Trump’s conversion to conservatism. But we should not put a new conservative in charge of conservatism or the country, so that he does not become puffed up with conceit and fall into condemnation.
Russell Moore framed Trump's broadside against Muslim immigrants as a radical departure from the Founders' commitment to religious freedom..
Religious freedom is a natural right, not a matter of special pleading to be submitted to majority vote. Most Americans do not agree with the Little Sisters of the Poor on contraception, and the sisters do not have a powerful lobby in Washington. This shouldn’t matter. Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.
Rusty Reno connected Trump's rise with the “collapse of the middle class consensus,” and acknowledged that even Republicans no longer trusted the Chamber of Commerce to advance the common good. Conservative intellectuals had failed to grasp the scope of this implosion. Meanwhile, Trump
presents himself as a Strong Man who promises to knock heads and make things right again. In this, he has a lot more in common with South American populist demagogues than with our tradition of political leaders. ....Bad bet. Our nation’s solidarity is being tested. It will only make things worse if we go Trumpster diving.
The magazine's strong stand against Trump has drawn plenty of criticism, with some arguing that it was just too late to check his rise, and that NR's editors were clueless about the reasons for his popularity. But National Review's Lowry says the magazine has offered plenty of coverage that explains Trump's appeal with fed up voters: “You can learn from him without nominating him.”
Lowry ridiculed Trump's furious reaction on social to National Review's attack:
It was particularly rich that Trump invoked William F. Buckley Jr. in one of his tweets, apparently unaware that Buckley hated crude populism and had called Trump a "narcissist" and "demagogue" back in 2000. Nothing has changed in the ensuing 15 years.
But plenty of people think NR's editors are in the wrong, not Trump. On the Fox News channel, for example, Jesse Watters says that Trump's popularity matters more than his adherence to conservative principles.
That pragmatic appreciation for political clout jives nicely with Trump' own history of forming alliances with various political leaders who helped him do business as a real estate mogul.
So what do Republicans in Iowa think? According to the latest polls, they aren't reading National Review. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that Trump was pulling well ahead of Ted Cruz, gaining 15 points in the past two weeks. One striking exception: Iowa Right to Life, along with other state and national pro-life women issued an open letter today that called on Republicans to reject Trump.
The open letter from pro-life women will probably draw an insult from Trump. Meanwhile, those of us who feel ambushed by this election season can be forgiven for feeling dazed, confused and even fearful. As Trump would say: “It’s like, incredible.”