- - Sunday, March 13, 2016



By Matt K. Lewis

Hachette Books, $28, 256 pages


Matt Lewis believes “conservatism is at a crossroads.” Taking nothing away from his important new book — “Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Election (and How it Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) — I fear that Mr. Lewis is a bit sanguine. New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Arkansas, Massachusetts You know the list, and the list goes on. After Donald Trump’s “seven-for-eleven” Super Tuesday performance, I’m more inclined to believe that conservatism, for now at least, is road kill in the middle of any crossroads, run over and left for dead by Mr. Trump’s ever-veering limousine.

Either way, Mr. Lewis‘ book offers a wise and far-reaching and brave take on how we got here and what conservatives must do to enlist the “accumulated wisdom of the past to make our future even brighter.” “Too Dumb to Fail” is either an autopsy of the current conservative crack-up or a “how to” manual for the future conservative resurrection or both. Whatever the case, “Too Dumb to Fail” is worth reading and pondering, because we are watching many of the themes Mr. Lewis pinpoints play out in real time — maybe even the slow motion experience of, well, a car wreck.

One of Mr. Lewis‘ mega-themes is that what passes for today’s conservatism is an angry anti-intellectual populism that appeals to aging blue-collar working class whites versus everyone else. It equates ruralism with conservatism and urbanism with liberalism. Its symbols are “Duck Dynasty” and the Confederate Flag, which turn off younger, more urban — and virtue-signaling — voters. Its heroes du jour are grotesquely imperfect figures like Cliven Bundy, George Zimmerman, Kim Davis, Josh Duggar, Ted Nugent, who often become an embarrassment to the cause. It’s an immigrant movement only in the sense that the newcomers — the recent converts — to conservatism do a little reading in the conservative canon (Lewis provides a list) before manning the microphone or running for a US Senate seat. It’s a simulacrum of conservatism given to anger over intellect, enlightened by talk radio’s indignation merchants rather than public intellectuals in the tradition of William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk or Irving Kristol.

And it’s easily conquered or co-opted by Donald Trump. Mr. Trump may be many things. He may be a yuuugely successful corporate mogul, a celebrity, a charlatan, the flip side of Barack Obama, the perfect candidate for a dumbed-down and demoralized popular culture, a combed-over Caesar — but he is in no way a conservative, not even the kind that, according to Mr. Lewis, says passes for a conservative today.

Mr. Lewis ties together many things — “con$ervative” fund raising scams, the fascination with faded celebrities who ultimately “find Reagan,” the presumptuousness of certain political candidates, the misplaced defense of flawed figures (see above), the failure of conservatives to “police” their own neighborhood in the way Buckley once did, the dumbing down of conservatism and the base-baiting by conservative politicians.

“Too Dumb to Fail” is a great summing up. It’s also practical and specific. Earnest, witty and well-meaning, Mr. Lewis is more of a truth-teller than a diplomat or glad-hander. He names names. Along with Mr. Trump, Ted Cruz, Mark Levine, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Heritage Action, even Rush Limbaugh and Bobby Jindal, are among those who come in for criticism.

This will not make the senior contributor for The Daily Caller and Daily Beast columnist popular. After the November 2016 elections, however, it may make Matt Lewis something of a prophet.

• Ann Corkery is a lawyer in Washington and a former U.S. public delegate to the U.N. General Assembly and U.S. delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

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