Which means: The next wave of American conservatism is further to the right than President Trump himself.
Don Jr. was on the campus at the invitation of the student group Turning Point USA. Its founder, 26-year-old Charlie Kirk, hopes to groom the next generation of movement conservatives by promoting such values as small government and Second Amendment rights to college students — alongside anti-“social justice warrior” memes and outrage over liberal professors. The group claims to have chapters on more than 300 college campuses. Kirk has won millions of dollars from GOP partisans and groups such as the Heritage Foundation for his efforts.
But, in a reminder that nothing lasts forever, the once-formidable Turning Point faction of the GOP is being outflanked — from its own right wing. A faction of “dissident” conservatives, organizing online with “America First” as a motto, have claimed the mantle of True Conservatism for their own. Dispensing with mainstream appeals, they aim to promote the “traditional values” they say Donald Trump was elected to preserve: an isolationist foreign policy, extreme ethnic and racial restrictions on immigration, anti-LGBT attitudes and conspiracy theories about how whites are being replaced by Jews and nonwhites. The insurgents decry Turning Point and much of the GOP establishment as “Conservatism Inc.” And they are positioning themselves as Trump’s rightful heirs.
This emerging conflict is a symbol of how deeply the Republican Party has deteriorated from within. There is no longer enough credibility for the party to remain intact, but it’s not yet clear what comes next or whether the party will ever make its way back to the center.
Don Jr. declined to acknowledge his loss of control at the event (although he retweeted Kirk condemning the culprits — Kirk and Trump Jr. later deleted the tweets), and establishment outlets like National Review dismissed the movement’s leader, white-nationalist YouTuber Nicholas Fuentes, as a “glorified Twitch streamer” instead. But they ignore him at their peril: This new wave of conservatism is dangerous. And its emergence is the GOP’s fault.
By electing Donald Trump to the White House and then backing him blindly despite his record-breaking lies and misdeeds, Republicans have relinquished most of the wholesome “values” that they claimed for conservatism. This explains the whiplash Republicans are experiencing just as they gear up to ask voters for another chance.
You can’t tout small government a la Barry Goldwater if you’re cheerleading a president who has ballooned the national debt and threatened to use eminent domain to build his border wall.
It’s challenging to display a William F. Buckley-esque intellectual rigor if “triggering the libs” has become your chief mode of engagement and debate.
Your devotion to the Constitution seems suspect if you’re constantly letting the president subvert the rule of law.
Ronald Reagan’s free-market appeals retreat further into the rearview mirror every time Trump signs a new tariff or attempts to pressure the Federal Reserve.
And it’s impossible to claim the moral high ground or the mantle of Christianity if your party’s leader is a chronic liar who brags about groping women, who says he’s never asked for forgiveness and seems allergic to every fruit of the spirit.
What’s left are the lowest appeals: tribalism, “nationalism,” calls to white supremacy and a generous dose of fear. “Those members of [Turning Point USA] who actually believe in Trump, and more specifically in ‘Trump-ism,’ will find themselves left behind as soon as Trump leaves office,” reads a post on Fuentes’s website. The implication is that his (much worse) movement will be there to scoop them up.
In reality, the so-called “America First” movement is the “alt-right” of the Charlottesville rally, warmed over and spruced up with new branding — even an updated Pepe the Frog meme. (“I think in a way it’s almost redundant that you’re a ‘white’ nationalist,” said Fuentes in an interview with a French Canadian journalist. “We know that the word ‘nation’ almost implicitly talks about ethnicity and biology.”) The more power they gain, the more hateful the country will become. Hate crime violence has hit a 16-year high, the F.B.I. reported last week. Anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic attacks are also on the rise. As the far-right grows more extreme, and more fearless, the existing cracks in the American project will only widen.
The president himself doesn’t care. Trump’s allegiance is to Trump only, not to the United States as an idea or a grand experiment, and certainly not to its citizens’ well-being. Those most responsible for this monster are those who spawned it — and that’s the GOP.