IN DEFENSE OF NATIONAL REVIEW: Last Time I Checked, Conservatives Are Still Allowed to Criticize Donald Trump

Written by Steve Pauwels on January 29, 2016

I’ve read National Review for thirty years — it was the mid-1980’s Tom Selleck television advertisements, I think, which originally snagged me — and been a subscriber for nearly as long. For me, throughout those three decades, the magazine has unfalteringly proven itself a dependable herald for constitutional conservatism, a journalistic bastion of our founding principles against a storming horde of progressive indoctrination. 

That said, one would certainly not draw that verdict regarding the publication from the shrieks of “populist” hysteria which have erupted on the heels of its January 21st symposium of twenty-two conservative commentators and NR editorial coming out, officially, “Against Trump”. Suddenly, we’re frenziedly instructed by increasingly irrational ranks of Trump die-hards that the late William F. Buckley’s magazine has become an insidious GOP “establishment” front, a skulking nest of RINOs. 

Regarding that accusation, I’ll quote a laconic response from Charles Bronson’s “Chaney” to James Coburn’s “Speed” in 1975’s classic film Hard Times


When the morning news broke of NR’s feature, Laura Ingraham, who’s functioned as shameless Trump excuse-maker for months, devoted roughly three hours of her radio show hosting like-minded guests — Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly among them — indignantly commiserating with each other over the journal’s perfidy. How dare it position itself as conservatism’s arbiter of who is/isn’t acceptable as Republican candidate? Ms. Schlafly disreputably sniped Buckley actually hadn’t been the towering conservative patriarch so many assume him to be (a charge Ingraham sneeringly reiterated a few nights later on Fox News.) Huckabee also showed up, jabbing at the magazine for being insufficiently pro-life. 

Many knocked NR for erstwhile support of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, John McCain. Popular Boston talker Howie Carr bafflingly cited a particularly sleazy slam against Trump-supporters from a Rubio staffer, then baselessly extrapolated the slur into a reflection of how National Review viewed them. Ingraham and Co. contemptuously derided as traitorous sell-outs a roster of liberty-loving stalwarts who’ve long and doggedly stood for America’s glorious, revolutionary ideals; thinkers like Brent Bozell, Thomas Sowell, Dana Loesch, Ed Meese, Andy McCarthy and Cal Thomas, to name just a few. Yup, a real murderers’ row of malignant crypto-Leftists, that bunch.  

“The Donald” himself reacted to NR’s broadside by, typically, ignoring the disputants discrete points, instead insultingly dismissing the bi-weekly as a “dying paper”. Fox News’ “Judge Jeanine” Pirro slighted it, instead, as merely a “fading publication”. Others faulted the glossy’s opinion-makers for “arrogance” and an angry, know-it-all attitude, denouncing them for “ad-hominem” tactics which libeled Trump-enthusiasts as “stupid” and “fools”. 

Whoa – let me get this straight: Trump devotees scoff that National Review is too harsh in its criticism of  their man? How do you spell irony? Their candidate’s honed the personal cheap shot to a crass art form; Trump’s the Rembrandt of the nasty affront. Alongside “great” and “tremendous” (when referencing anything related to himself) one of  the pompous real estate magnate’s favorite terms is “stupid” (for anyone of whom he disapproves.) 

National Review is out-of-bounds reading out Donald Trump as an acceptable, conservative Oval Office alternative? Silly me, I’ve been laboring under the impression journals of political analysis are allowed to promulgate — ummm — political analysis; that it’s what they’re supposed to do, their raison d’être; even when some individuals take exception to their final diagnoses.

This “National Review, just shut your yap, already” retort is a puzzling one. Play out that cogitation a bit and imagine how else it could be imposed: Who are conservatives to decide Obamacare is not constitutionally permissible? How dare free-market critics declare high-taxes are bad for the economy? Hillary would make a lousy president? Who’s the supercilious @#!$!! deciding that one? 

Memo to NR trashers: it’s called expressing one’s convictions and it’s been a venerable part of the fabric of American civic life for, oh, well over two centuries.

For the record, I closely read the magazine’s Trump-unfriendly editorial and accompanying, nearly two-dozen columns — something, by the way, I’m not at all sure many of the Trump-smitten crybabies could truthfully claim — and, far as I can tell, there was nary a “stupid” or “fool” or “loser” among their prose. Plenty of these scribes, in fact, tipped their hats to the useful service the brash New York billionaire has rendered in this season’s sturm und drang: he’s highlighted the electorate’s justified anger toward government by Washington hacks; demonstrated a candidate can effectively beard the Liberal media; proven he/she need not fear enunciating brazenly politically-incorrect sentiments. 

What I also discovered  was a bounty of informed and unflappable critique and unassailable reasoning concerning why Donald J. Trump is anything but the prime choice for Republican presidential contender. 

Granted, as has been true of movement conservatism in general since its mid-1950s resurgence, National Review offers an assortment of perspectives within the philosophy, entertains internecine squabbles over tactics, strategies and stylistic options, makes a place for some, sensible flexibility — but a fealty to the Constitution and Declaration, to the nation’s Judeo-Christian moorings, to the wisdom of our founding luminaries has been scrupulously cultivated all along. Making the case for the unborn, authentic — versus counterfeit – marriage, the family? Check. Limited government, lower taxes and spending? Roger that. A robust military and American-centered foreign policy, minus military adventurism? 10-4. Protecting our borders, preserving Western culture, law and order and the indispensability of the Christian faith, nurturing self-reliance not welfare-dependance? NR has been right there. 

Admittedly, all that’s of no consequence to “The Donald”, who characteristically makes due with a snarl and snaps right back to tooting his own horn, meanwhile catering to people’s worst instincts. What’s demoralizing is when those who ought to know better fall prey to Trumpian manipulation and propaganda. I’ve come to expect that kind of vapidity and unreflective carping from the precincts of progressivism, from those for whom Barack Obama can do no wrong, ever. From those purportedly devoted to America’s constitutional bedrock, however? It’s heartbreaking; and more than alarming.


Share if you think National Review has the right to take issue with Donald Trump.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.