On the trail of Trumpism without Trump
Snatch from Christopher Wallace: It was all a dream.
What was a first conclave for many attendees, especially in Washington, since the Before Times, forgave the congregation for wondering if they had fully imagined the past 16 months, if not the past six years. The worst of Covid-19 seemed to be over, but so was any sincere optimism about Donald J. Trump’s future.
Was it back to number one?
At the Political Economy Conference at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Alexandria, Virginia, a sullen, nationalist-minded speaker accused a Reagan colleague of “giving a speech off my lawn.” That eternal wannabe messiah of a better grand old party – Marco Rubio from Florida – was there too, for whatever reason, albeit virtually. A keynote speaker invited the last president to oversleep his administration as a role model for good government, and that Reaganite’s advice to the assembly was simple: state spending with machetes and “a thousand flowers will bloom.”
If you’ve heard all of this and read that Joe Biden, John Kerry, Susan Rice, Jen Psaki, Jake Sullivan, Janet Yellen, Ron Klain and Antony Blinken and so on and on controlled the town across the river, you could be forgiven for assuming it was the heady days of 2015 again before a New York mogul is said to have made anime real.
A big difference: With the important exception of foreign policy, if this was the “libertarian moment” of 2014, then only so that such ideologically inclined speakers could have used the security to be escorted out of the building. “The libertarians don’t broadcast their best,” noted one participant. At least that joke was a sign that time was passing.
There were more.
A year after unprecedented government mandates on personal conduct, there was a clear mood in the air imperative to conquer the commanding heights, not to smash them. When a surprising Republican White House had achieved nothing else, the riff of its one-time chief strategist seemed a little prescient: we are all Leninists now.
A “childless left” wing, now America’s nerve center, has no “physical commitment to the future” of the United States, claimed another man made famous by the tumult half a decade ago – J.D. Vance. Somewhat mischievously, the would-be Senator from Ohio suggested giving children the right to vote, with parental control over their votes.
In response, after putting all discussions on the very real downsides of Millennials on hold for a summer by complaining that he somehow can’t afford two bedrooms in Washington with over 200 grand, a man with a name of which one would assume would cause it to just go ahead and go through all natalism discussions in the chat. Chasten Buttigieg, the transport minister’s husband, called Vance “tactless” on Monday.
Obviously, if Vance’s critics are right that his strategy is to ape Trump’s provocative verve for personal gain, then the Ohioan doesn’t have to try that hard. His pseudo-proposal was quickly attacked by critics as “white nationalism,” aside from the quick look at US demographics that would be required right now to show that Vance’s idea was indeed relative disempower Whites, not to mention the fact that Vance’s own biracial family doesn’t exactly conform to the Nuremberg Blood and Honor Laws.
Over dinner, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose own rise to power was being followed by dubious, plausibly fabricated prejudice, told me that his most pressing concerns were regret over the US prosecution of the War on Terror and credit card rates. He publicly commented on this the following day, confirmed Rubio’s feeling that the old order had completely collapsed, and praised Vance.
It was this energy that led some attendees to compare the event with the “NatCon I,” which is the National Conservatism Conference in July 2019, which in Alexandria is almost referred to as Woodstock I. HarperThomas Meany’s magazine wrote about the event:
There were a few people here … whispered “Future President, right there”; It had been said by J. D. Vance, who had managed to conjure up a world that was almost palatable to liberals. Vance was wary of his gender roles and even gave evidence that he had experience changing diapers. Tucker Carlson had been said to be even better than Trump as a White House personality. But it was Josh Hawley above whom the crown hovered most plausibly.
Politics is a fast-paced contact sport and things will change. But maybe Meaney would have been more forward looking to highlight the first name he was listing. Carlson has shown a seemingly iron commitment to television that has terrified the president’s gossip for the past few months. And Hawley’s January 6th Machiavel dropout cost him even conservatives. Judging by the crowd, the “it girl” – if that joke is possible at this time – is now Vance.
Time will tell if he can thread the needle further, as one name was basically unmentioned all weekend: Trumps. If he knew what “national conservatism” is, the former president would certainly be dissatisfied.
If Vance is the hoped-for avatar of “Trumpism without Trump,” then Josh Mandel, a major racial opponent in the Senate, might as well be Trump without Trump. Mandel is running a campaign that focuses almost exclusively on alleged election fraud, excluding details on other issues, and he is apparently proud of it.
Meanwhile, the immigration regulator, left-wing writer Mickey Kaus, has reiterated his own hopes for the president for Vance over the past week. At the same time, Kaus’s buddy, YouTube foreign affairs host and veteran journalist Robert Wright, has raised concerns that the electoral fraud narrative spread by Trump and his deputies is the melting pot and that Vance did not condemn it, but rather subtly propagated it. For much of the country, it remains unseen whether Wright is morally right – and, for those concerned about strict power, politically.
But right now a dream continues, with seats sold out to hear a hillbilly speak.
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