As a broadly “paleo-sympathetic” conservative, I have no problem with right-wing criticism of the conservative movement. From that perspective, what the movement has actually conserved is more important than how many elections it has won. But a trend I first noticed among some of my paleo friends is starting to repeat itself among self-styled “reformist” conservatives like David Frum. (Never thought you’d read a Frum-paleo comparison, did you?) At some point, reproaching the mainstream conservative movement, criticizing its most popular writers and commentators, and expressing befuddlement at the political habits of millions of ordinary voters who sympathize with the movement all end up becoming stronger identifying characteristics than the alternate vision of conservatism the non-movement cons seek to promote.
This isn’t so much of a problem for those paleos who have basically given up on trying to influence the conservative movement. Some of them hope to replace mainstream conservatism with stronger right-wing stuff; some of them aren’t looking for political relevance at all. But the reformist project is specifically aimed at saving the conservative movement — and the Republican Party — from itself. Whatever you think of that mission, it can’t succeed without maintaining a certain level of influence among regular conservatives and Republicans. Becoming known as the conservatives Newsweek can go to for scathing rebukes of Rush Limbaugh does not seem to be the best way to maintain or build that influence. Just ask Kevin Phillips.
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