- - Sunday, November 18, 2018



By Max Boot

Liveright, $24.95, 260 pages

Somebody really should tell Max Boot to snap out of it. An intelligent, facile writer with a wide if not particularly deep range of interests, his obsession with Donald Trump has turned him into a fussing, fuming drama queen, a manic Captain Ahab in pursuit of a not-so-ferocious Great White Whale named Trump.

By the time you get to page 185 of “The Corrosion of Conservatism” you may be tempted to apply Mr. Boot’s description of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson (who eviscerated him in an interview) to the author himself, a dispenser of “smirky sarcasm, obnoxious laughter, and ad hominem insults.” When not playing his Ahab role, he eagerly embraces a sense of victimhood as a seduced and abandonned idealist:

“I had fatally overestimated my fellow Republicans. My disillusionment was to be painful and prolonged; in fact, existential I would also lose my faith in the conservative movement in whose bosom I had been nursed for decades How could all these eminences that I had worked with, and respected, sell out their professional principles to support a president who could not tell Edmund Burke from Arleigh Burke?”

The short answer, when it comes to the 2016 presidential election, is that they didn’t sell out to anybody. They looked at two flawed presidential nominees and concluded that Hillary Clinton had already proven herself ethically and ideologically unfit for the presidency by a succession of shabby misdeeds before, during and after her White House occupancy as unelected — and barely unindicted — co-president. While Donald Trump was far from an ideal alternative, he was the only thing standing between Hillary and the presidency.

Having become president, Mr. Trump has sometimes behaved with the arrogant boastfulness of Lyndon Johnson, the sore-head vulgarity of Harry Truman, the mendacity of Franklin Roosevelt, and the juvenile volatility of FDR’s cousin Teddy, not to mention the siege mentality of Richard Nixon. But none of this is unprecedented or, in that sense, un-presidential. And so far, both Donald and Melania Trump have given rise to none of the smarmy scandals and misconduct in office that characterized the Clinton years.

What most Republicans in the House and Senate did during the first two years of the Trump administration was not a sell-out. They pursued — when they could arrive at a consensus — their own party agenda, such as it was.

Mr. Trump, like his Democratic predecessor who also enjoyed party majorities in both houses in the first two years in office, was more bystander than participant in the nuts-and-bolts process of governance. Both men talked a lot but actually did little. The biggest achievement of Mr. Trump’s first two years in office was the successful confirmation of a number of qualified nominees to the federal judiciary, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But even that battle was mainly fought and won by Senate Republicans. Meanwhile, the economy broke new records in prosperity and employment, and progress was made toward reducing pressures on the Korean peninsula. So far, Mr. Trump has also avoided plunging into new quagmires like W’s Iraqi disaster and Barack Obama’s Syrian fiasco, the kind of over-extended power gaming beloved of Max Boot as one of the foremost advocates of interventionist “nation-building.”

It is particularly ironic to read Mr. Boot’s seething denunciations of Trump “nationalism” when he himself has long advocated what can only be characterized as aggressive American imperialism. The man just can’t see the forest for the tree, the tree in question being one Donald Trump. Simultaneously with his fulminations against The Donald, the author engages in a rather self-serving confession of past political sins.

It turns out that, again and again, he says he was wrong — or wrong-headed — about everything from race, gender and police brutality, to many another favored left-wing issue. Having vented his spleen on Donald Trump, Max Boot reboots himself a kinder, gentler, newly-sensitized espouser of the political correctness that has won him a coveted slot as a Washington Post columnist.

In fairness, “The Corrosion of Conservatism” has its moments as a source of entertainment if not enlightenment. Sometimes the author’s ego, rather than the Republican Party’s mascot, is the elephant in the room. Thus, when one of his favorite now-dead Republicans, John McCain, demonstrated his own lack of judgment by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate, the author admits that he was not “terribly surprised” by her serial bloopers on foreign policy since, “[a]s a McCain foreign policy adviser, I had briefed her and found her to be nonresponsive and uninterested in foreign policy issues.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that it may have been his presentation of those issues that she found boring.

• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.

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