Pundit Damon Linker: Why Won’t Movement Conservatives Admit That They’re the Republican Establishment?

The kids in The Family Circus blame their misbehavior on gremlins with names like Ida Know and Not Me. The Week’s Damon Linker believes grown-up conservatives do something similar when they deny what Linker sees as the plain truth: that they run the Republican party.

In a Tuesday column, Linker contended that the right-wing “counter-establishment” that first gained a share of power in 1981 now “simply is the conservative and Republican establishment…[But] because its ideological outlook was formed when it was out of power, this establishment seems incapable of thinking about itself as an establishment.” This “lack of self-awareness,” Linker claimed, “blinds [its] members…to their complicity in the rise of Donald Trump and…Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin, [and] Michele Bachmann.”

“By thinking of themselves as perennially outside the Republican power-structure,” Linker charged, “members of the counter-establishment conveniently exempt themselves from the need to admit and learn from their own mistakes. It's always someone else's fault.”

From Linker’s column (bolding added):

[B]y the mid-1970s, the [conservative] movement had been joined by a new group of intellectuals. In addition to uncommonly sharp polemical skills and a training in policy analysis, the formerly liberal neoconservatives brought to the movement an awareness that to succeed it would need [to] foment a counter-establishment, both to help overthrow the liberal establishment and to serve as an alternative to it once an electoral victory had been achieved…

This counter-establishment tasted power for the first time with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan 35 years ago, and since then it has grown massively in strength and influence. Today the counter-establishment simply is the conservative and Republican establishment.

And yet, because its ideological outlook was formed when it was out of power, this establishment seems incapable of thinking about itself as an establishment. And so we get the editor of National Review…saying (presumably with a straight face) that his magazine, which has been closely read among leading members of the Republican Party for decades, isn't a part of the Republican establishment…

…[T]he lack of self-awareness blinds members of the ruling conservative counter-establishment to their complicity in the rise of Donald Trump and the parade of marginally less dangerous anti-establishment bomb-throwers who have accompanied and preceded his rise: Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, and many other less prominent cultural populists. These are the Republican counter-establishment's children, no matter how much that counter-establishment's oldest and most prominent magazine would now like to disown the most wayward one of them…

By thinking of themselves as perennially outside the Republican power-structure, members of the counter-establishment conveniently exempt themselves from the need to admit and learn from their own mistakes. It's always someone else's fault. The Iraq War and its outcome may be the most egregious and disgraceful example of such shirking, but it's not the only one.

Taking a stand against Trump is all well and good. But I'd have been more impressed by an honest effort to come clean: Yes, we're the establishment; yes, we've made some massive mistakes and need to change course; but Trump is not the answer.

Instead, we're left with the same old denial of responsibility.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters