Matthews Lectures NR Writer on Trump and Iraq War, Gets It Wrong

On Friday night’s Hardball, host Chris Matthews unleashed a harangue on National Review writer Eliana Johnson, theorizing that the “Against Trump” symposium was pretty much all about Trump’s opposition to the Iraq war.

Matthews turned the discussion to Johnson and lectured: “I know you don’t write editorials, but I wanna remind you, since you work for that magazine. Rich Lowry supported the Iraq war. What’s his name – uh, uh, Kristol -- he did, too. These guys are all war hawks. That’s why they don't like Trump because he’s the only guy on the Right who actually said this was a stupid war, we should have never fought it. And those people’s heart and soul is with that kind of war. They want to go from Iraq, they want to go to Libya, which they’ve already done, and then they want to then go to – oh, what’s next, Syria, where they go next? Regime change is in their blood stream, and Trump’s saying it is stupid for us to play that role! Go ahead. Isn’t that what unites these people together?

Was Donald Trump "on the Right" when George W. Bush was president? Was Trump "on the Right" two years ago? Never mind, thinks Matthews. I'm on a roll. (Likewise, never mind the idea that going into Libya was under Obama and Hillary, not Dubya...)

Johnson tried to disagree: “I actually don’t think this is about a single issue, Chris.” He interrupted: “Why do they all agree on the war in Iraq?” She replied: “Just let me speak for a second.” He shot back: “No, no, answer the question.” Matthews insisted everyone on the NR list “are all war hawks” and “that’s why they don’t like Trump, because he’s the only guy on the right wing who said it’s a stupid war.” When Johnson insisted this isn’t single-issue thing, Matthews kept berating her: “Can you answer me? Which is not a hawk in that group?”

Johnson didn’t offer a name, but could have: David Boaz, co-founder of the libertarian Cato Institute. Boaz wrote for The Australian on January 31, 2003, a few weeks before the war began. The headline was “Bush's third way betrays true conservatism: The President's conservative agenda is sounding eerily Clintonesque, laments David Boaz.” It included this passage:

The original "neocons" were former communists who lost their faith in revolutionary socialism but not their willingness to use government to accomplish one's goals. Today's neocons, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol (son of neocon godfather Irving Kristol) call for "national greatness", not for limited government, and look to Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman, not James Madison and Goldwater, as their models.

The same shift is visible in foreign policy. In his campaign, Bush talked about restraint and humility: "If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road." Obviously the terrorist attacks of September 11 (though indeed they demonstrated the risks of foreign interventionism) changed the focus of US foreign policy; but the shift in Bush's agenda goes far beyond tracking down the al-Qa'ida network that attacked the US.

Now the US is undertaking "nation-building" missions in Afghanistan and soon in Iraq, challenges that will be far more difficult than Clinton's mission in the Balkans. Worldwide interventionism is risky business. It is no easier to run the world than to run a national economy, and the costs may be even greater.

This sounds more like Matthews than Bill Kristol. So did Boaz’s anti-Trump copy in NR:

Not since George Wallace has there been a presidential candidate who made racial and religious scapegoating so central to his campaign. Trump launched his campaign talking about Mexican rapists and has gone on to rant about mass deportation, bans on Muslim immigration, shutting down mosques, and building a wall around America. America is an exceptional nation in large part because we’ve aspired to rise above such prejudices and guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.

Matthews seemed like he didn’t read the articles, or felt it wasn’t necessary to whack his “neocon” white whale. He complained about how “Kristol” and “Podhoretz” put together “lists” and advertisements “insisting people have to take that position.” Like leftists never do that, sign petitions and take out ads?

Johnson told Matthews he was more Iraq-obsessed than the writers opposing Trump in NR, spurring another listen-to-me-little-missy lecture from the host: “When we lose 4,000 lives in a war that should have never been fought, when we kill 100,000 people, when we get ourselves involved in a situation we cannot get out of for years…yes, it’s an obsession.”

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis