In the wake of Congressional Republicans booting Congresswoman Liz Cheney from their leadership ranks, Dan McLaughlin is out with an interesting article about another time when the conservative movement had been infiltrated with peddlers of insane conspiracies:
William F. Buckley’s determined and effective campaign to blackball Robert Welch, the head of the John Birch Society, and essentially banish the Birchers from the conservative movement in the early 1960s is one of the defining episodes in the magazine’s history.
At that time, the John Birch Society had 100,000 dues paying members and 60 staff. Its leader, Robert Welch believed such things as fluoridation of water being a communist plot and that President Dwight Eisenhower was a “tool of the communists” and questioned if he was guilty of “deliberate treason.” Founder of National Review magazine William F. Buckley began to see the danger of allowing Welch’s conspiracy theories to spread throughout the conservative movement and undertook an effort to drive Welch and the John Birch Society out.
As McLaughlin writes:
Buckley knew that an open breach would, in the short run, give lots of fodder to conservatism’s omnipresent critics on the left. “I wish the hell I could attack them without pleasing people I cannot stand to please,” he grumbled privately. But he faced two problems. First, the movement’s critics — ranging from the Kennedy administration to moderate Republicans such as Richard Nixon — were ceaseless in attempting to tie the nascent conservative revival to Welch’s insanities. And second, Welch was the classic definition of a fanatic: He wouldn’t change his mind and he wouldn’t change the subject. Eventually, taking him on became a less-damaging option than letting him fester.
Welch and the Birchers were eventually driven from the conservative movement, conservative hero Ronald Reagan was elected President and the rest is history.
The parallels to Buckley’s fight with Welch and today’s GOP are striking. Like Welch, Trump will not change his mind that the 2020 election was stolen, and will not stop talking about it. Case in point, here’s a post from the “Desk of Donald J. Trump” just three days ago:
The major Michigan Election Fraud case has just filed a bombshell pleading claiming votes were intentionally switched from President Trump to Joe Biden. The number of votes is MASSIVE and determinative. This will prove true in numerous other States. All Republicans must UNIFY and not let this happen. If a thief robs a jewelry store of all of its diamonds (the 2020 Presidential Election), the diamonds must be returned. The Fake News media refuses to cover the greatest Election Fraud in the history of our Country. They have lost all credibility, but ultimately, they will have no choice!
Top Republicans have attempted to cast the ousting of Liz Cheney as an effort to move on from 2020 and unite the GOP. Since I’m not a member of the House Caucus, I don’t know the inner workings of that organization. Perhaps Cheney was not a good leader and deserved to be booted. However, it’s hard to claim her removal is an effort to move on from 2020 when nobody in GOP Leadership (other than Cheney) is calling on Trump to stop claiming the 2020 election was stolen.
Therein lies the problem for House Republicans, and in fact the entire Republican Party. Trump will not move on from 2020. He’s talking about running again in 2024 and if the vote were held today, he’d reclaim the GOP’s Presidential nomination overwhelmingly. Will the American people, who booted him out in one of the largest turnout elections in history, embrace him again as he peddles a conspiracy of a stolen election? I highly doubt it. Will Republicans conclude, as Buckley did all those years ago, that the long term health of conservative movement requires that Trump must go? Will Republicans conclude it is better to be a Party with a chance to win in 2022 and 2024, than to be a Party dominated by a modern version of Robert Welch? Time will tell.