Peter Thiel. Tucker Carlson. John Bolton. What’s most striking about the trio headlining the National Conservatism Conference is that none of the three has ever been elected to anything.
Bolton may be national security adviser, but judging by his recent exile to Outer Mongolia and his stymied efforts to force regime change in Iran, his influence is ebbing. He may be rejoining the civilian corps soon enough.
So why is a major new conference so honoring these folks? The question could be inverted. Why aren’t we hearing from over 200 Republican members of Congress? Sen. Josh Hawley, a freshman, will close Tuesday night at the NCC, but his address seems to have been a late addition.
The American Right in 2019 – the country’s ruling ideology, no less – is a movement of outside voices, circling the administration of an outsider president.
Of course, much has changed in three years. But in some ways, for an administration with chronic staffing problems – which the president himself has conceded – little has shifted, at least in terms of who is driving the conversation.
Mr Thiel, an openly gay man and a tech oligarch in a party with few of them, gave the most memorable address to the 2016 Republican convention. Mr Carlson wrote one of the first major, supportive manifestos on Trump’s rise in January 2016 –‘Donald Trump is Shocking, Vulgar and Right.’
Perhaps the biggest revelation at this week’s conference, held at Washington’s Ritz Carlton, was Thiel’s insinuation that tech giant Google had been blackmailed by the Chinese communist party.
Thiel, of course a founding father of rival Facebook, asked of Google: ‘Number one, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated your Manhattan Project for AI?…. Number two, does Google’s senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence? … Number three, is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the US military?’
The president has duly approved that message on Twitter.
“Billionaire Tech Investor Peter Thiel believes Google should be investigated for treason. He accuses Google of working with the Chinese Government.” @foxandfriends A great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone! The Trump Administration will take a look!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2019
Thiel had been privately pushing this line for some time, seeing how it would play. This weekend came the big reveal. Coming as it does from a pioneer of some of the country’s preeminent military technology companies, chiefly through his company, Palantir, Thiel’s intervention is already making waves.
I asked a former senior administration official if Thiel’s accusation could be possibly be true: ‘100 percent,’ he said.
True to form, Thiel carried on attacking Google on Carlson’s show Monday evening. On Sunday, he said Google’s behavior could be ‘treasonous’. On Monday, he said the tech giant’s maneuvers aren’t necessarily pro-Chinese, ‘more anti-American than anything.’ By Tuesday the resident was tweeting on the subject.
Thiel was also circumspect about America’s relative ideological advantages, seemingly in line with a new, nationalist Right, which is skeptical of liberalism’s superiority. He told Carlson: ‘I think the US is still better at innovation and starting things, but it certainly can be copied, and replicated. And something like this is true of all the breakthrough technologies we have, most of them are still originating and developing in the West, but they don’t give us much of an advantage if they get transferred in a few years, if not a matter of months.’
The emcee of anti-liberalism, Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen, whose book Why Liberalism Failed has been warily recommended by Barack Obama, is also speaking at the NCC conference. The goal of the NCC project seems to be a consecration of the new nationalist consensus. Nationalism, more than conservatism, is the creed of the new American Right. It’s even in the name –‘National’ ahead of ‘conservatism.’
This new movement excludes, de facto, some in the old GOP coalition. The big loser seems to be libertarians. The conference voted, clearly, to adopt an ‘industrial policy,’ in a tacit salute of the administration’s tariff policy. As libertarian Sen. Rand Paul signaled his intention to introduce an increase in legal immigration, NatCon’s panel was broadly dismissive of immigration hikes.
This is not your father’s Republican party, because it’s Warren G. Harding’s Republican party. Take a look at the GOP’s platform circa 1919 – the welcome unwinding of the Reagan Revolution is, in fact, a return to normalcy. Trade protection, immigration restriction, foreign policy restraint – as well as a power base in the country’s Midwest – are, once again, the order of the day. Classical liberalism contains within itself the seeds of progressivism, argued Daniel McCarthy, conference panelist and Spectator USA columnist.
Thiel and Carlson both identified Elizabeth Warren as the greatest threat to the Right’s emerging consensus. Carlson, who is totally, absolutely, certainly not running for president, gave a roving speech of mostly his standby bromides. It killed. Intriguingly, he recommended Sen. Warren’s book, The Two-Income Trap.
If there is one leg on which the new consensus risks collapsing, it’s foreign policy. China hawkishness divides foreign policy realists. Moreover, it’s the presence of perceived retreads – Ambassador Bolton, but also the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies president Cliff May – that threatens the excitement around an otherwise impressive conference. Some have privately whispered that the conference is too cozy with Israel. The conference’s organizer, Yoram Hazony, author of a new book on nationalism, is a dual citizen.
But such complaints are overwhelmed by the successes of the affair. The Right has changed, and Tucker Carlson and Peter Thiel are its new lodestars.