MSNBC Panelist: Modern Conservatism Is 'White Nationalism, Red in Tooth and Claw'

On Thursday’s edition of All In, Chris Hayes brought on “perhaps America’s leading historian on the modern conservative movement,” Rick Perlstein, to discuss the attacks against Donald Trump for not being a proper conservative. Perlstein argued that when GOP candidates fight over the conservative mantel they really are saying, “I'm the guy that’s going to protect white virtue from, you know, the dark scary hordes.

Perlstein said there is an undercurrent of “white nationalism” that has been flowing through the conservatives for a long time. “You know, there is this kind of appeal to white nationalism that’s, you know, undeniable ever since Barry Goldwater.” According to Perlstein, since the 70’s there have been conservatives pushing “economic laissez faire stuff” that most conservatives don’t really care for. “We know these polls that if you look at the electorate, even people calling themselves Republicans, a lot of things that are called conservative are not popular.

Once you kind of hive off that stuff, which is a lot of what Trump is doing with his talk about, you know, of tariffs, and protectionism, and you know, slapping—slapping companies that are moving jobs overseas. You suddenly kind of give yourself an enormous advantage.”Perlstein said of how to expose conservatives.

With the striping of the economic tenants of conservatism, “you don't have pretend … you don’t have to throw Nikki Haley on stage any more. You know, it's kind of, it's kind of white nationalism, red in tooth and claw.” Perlstein surmises that conservatives don’t really want their movement to be diverse, and that having Nikki Haley, who is of Indian descent, come on stage is only a ploy to appear inclusive.

Rick Perlstein’s accusations of conservatives being bigots is nothing new. Back in July of 2015 he wrote in a Salon article “Conservatism is like bigotry whack-a-mole.” He also equates conservatism to tribalism, with conservatives looking to dominate other tribes they see as a threat. 

Partial transcript below: 

MSNBC
All in with Chris Hayes
February 25, 2016
7:36:55 – 7:40:26

CHRIS HAYES: Joining me now, Rick Perlstein, national correspondent for the Washington Spectator. Perhaps America’s leading historian on the modern conservative movement. And Rick, as someone who has spent over a decade writing a series of histories of the modern conservative movement from Goldwater through Nixon and Reagan, what do you think about this idea that trump is quote “not a conservative?”

RICK PERLSTEIN: You know, it’s a really rich window into the complexities of this thing, conservativism. You know, I've been watching the same sound bites. You know, all these candidates standing up and saying “I’m the real conservative. I’m the real conservative,” and thinking what does this word conservative mean to the candidate, what does it mean to the voters?

And you know, it means a lot of things, like any political symbol. You know, to the conservative elites, conservative means the whole package. But you know, you and I, we know these polls that if you look at the electorate, even people calling themselves Republicans, a lot of things that are called conservative are not popular. 

You know, it's not popular to oppose taxes for rich people. You know, a lot of the laissez faire politics just aren’t that popular. And I came to realize, you know, watching these candidates that in the past the word conservative has served almost as a dog whistle in itself. You know, it means “I'm the guy that’s going to protect white virtue from, you know, the dark scary hoards.” But know with Donald Trump, we are living in a post-dog-whistle Republican Party. [Hayes chuckles] And it just does not signify the same way. 

PERLSTEIN: Well, that's the complexity I'm getting at. You know, this whole complex of conservativism—You know, it's been a really kind of rickety contraption over these years. You know, there is this kind of appeal to white nationalism that’s, you know, undeniable ever since Barry Goldwater. And there’s also an appeal to the kind of laissez faire economics we’re familiar with. And social conservatives.

But if you look at kind of back to the '70s, you saw a lot of the kind of new-right pioneers, the Richard Vigueries, the Howard Phillips saying “well, what we really care about is this kind of economic laissez faire stuff, crushing unions. But we're going to use, you know, the social conservatism of the electorate as a way to kind of get our candidates in office. And then we'll be able to get what we want.”

And you know, you look at people like, you know, George W. Bush, not mentioning social security on the campaign trail and the day after the election saying, you know, “I have a mandate,” right? 

Once you kind of hive off that stuff, which is a lot of what Trump is doing with his talk about, you know, of tariffs, and protectionism, and you know, slapping—slapping companies that are moving jobs overseas. You suddenly kind of give yourself an enormous advantage. You don't have pretend. You to throw people—You don’t have to throw Nikki Haley on stage any more. You know, it's kind of, it's kind of white nationalism, red in tooth and claw. 

When you have an electorate in South Carolina where 20 percent of the Trump supporters, you know, want slavery to still exist. You know you’re talking about something really potent. 

CyberAlerts 2016 Presidential All In Video Rick Perlstein Chris Hayes