- - Thursday, July 21, 2022

F.H. Buckley’s newest book, “Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party,” will undoubtedly rankle some hardcore conservatives — and that’s the intention.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the caustic national lockdowns, the purposeful implosion of our economy and vaccine mandates, and in the face of Joe Biden’s presidency (the most extreme left-wing administration in our nation’s history), it’s time for right-wingers to take stock and embrace the key thing that made our version of nationalism an enduring belief: love of country.

Don’t let the title fool you. Mr. Buckley is not some squishy RINO. In fact, Mr. Buckley’s book is a cri de coeur for rightists everywhere to look to the future not in fear, but in love and with hope. In “Progressive Conservatism,” Mr. Buckley, an original influencer of former President Donald Trump’s highly successful 2016 campaign, insists that right-wingers return to the basics that had initially catapulted Mr. Trump to the top of the GOP pile in 2016 — without the resentment and rage that has increasingly come to define the 45th president’s public persona.

Taking aim at the left’s radical and racist “1619 Project,” Mr. Buckley identifies this as the nucleus of the modern Democratic Party. It is built on a foundation of lies to further an extreme vision for the United States, a nation that the left clearly hates. Mr. Buckley rightly describes these fanatics as “haters.”

He arrives at this stark conclusion by observing that the same passions that lead someone to blind hatred are the same passions that could lead someone to abject adoration. “The hater isn’t going to be brought around by contrary evidence any more than a broken marriage can be cured by a calm weighing of the facts.”

The left, and some extremists on the right, don’t want to have a reasonable debate where the facts are accounted for, opinions are respectfully discussed, and a consensus is reached. For the left, their hatred compels them to seek absolute victory over their political rivals — the right — and to fulfill their vision of fundamentally transforming our beloved country into something alien.

For Mr. Buckley, what makes the United States unique was the promise of the American dream. And in Mr. Buckley’s grim (but accurate) assessment, that dream has been fading for far too long.

Those on the left are the biggest culprits in the destruction of that once-promising dream that has slowly eroded into a far-flung fantasy, unobtainable to all but the wealthiest and most politically connected. In its place is an un-American nightmare for most Americans of serfdom. Mr. Buckley also lobs some necessary attacks at the Republican Party. He accuses the right of being captured by a handful of elite libertarians who’ve foisted their own extreme ideology onto the GOP, leaving behind millions of their fellow Americans and effectively helping to create the very system in America that the left has claimed our country has always been defined by. (Of course, this has not always been the case. It is only recently that this has become more common.)

Because of the failures of the Republican Party over the last 60 years to stop the radical left from marching on our country, voters turned to a man — Mr. Trump — who was entirely unconventional in the context of modern American politics. They did this, as Mr. Buckley believes because whatever his personal failings were, Mr. Trump would not be overcome by the Republican urge to be liked by their political enemies.

For Mr. Buckley, we are living in an “After-Trump age” (even if the former president and his most committed followers don’t yet see it). That does not mean a return to the Republican Party that came before Mr. Trump. That means a return to the Trump “Make America Great Again” agenda that Mr. Buckley himself had helped to craft in 2016.

In that historic presidential election, Mr. Trump was the happy warrior, unapologetically fighting for American greatness, the common good, love of country, and always flaming the left and his squishy Republican rivals. But since his defeat in 2020, Mr. Trump has increasingly come across as angry and bitter. Gone was the happy warrior and in his place was a fireball of rage. Whatever one’s opinion on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Mr. Buckley would argue that we cannot live in the past. 

In 2020, Mr. Trump may have lost but he won a coterie of new voters who were not your typical Republican voters. As the BBC reported in 2020, Trump “was more popular with ethnic minority voters than in 2016.” Mr. Buckley says the reason is that the ideas of Mr. Trump — his policies — were proven true and worked for voters. Sadly, it was Mr. Trump’s persona that turned off voters, because as Mr. Buckley argues, Mr. Trump is a “Hegelian hero” like Caesar or Napoleon. Such a hero’s “misdeeds might be justified by the logic of history” but “when history is done with him, he falls away ‘like empty hulls from the kernel.’”

Still, Mr. Trump walked away with 74 million votes in 2020. This is nothing to scoff at. Republicans must take heed of that number and build from that. After all, many of those who voted against Mr. Trump (few actually voted for the sclerotic Mr. Biden) were cast out of fear of the coronavirus from Wuhan, China. Mr. Buckley’s point is that things will not be like they were in the 2020 presidential election come 2024. And the Republicans need to be ready for that.

Luckily, as Mr. Buckley documents, the GOP has a long history of success. The solution, in Mr. Buckley’s summation, is not to run back to the squalid, elitist policies of the GOP Establishment. It isn’t to become obsessed with relitigating the 2020 presidential election, either. Instead, Mr. Buckley insists that the right look to its great leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. These leaders embodied the “Progressive Conservative” ethos. As Mr. Buckley writes, “Progressive Conservatism is what Americans yearn for. It’s not a thin ideology that ignores our need to bond with others, our family, neighbors, and nation […] He prefers culture to anarchy.” Mr. Buckley assures his conservative readers that “Progressive Conservatives are conservative. But they’re also progressives who think that we’ve seen enough craziness from the Left and that we don’t need more of the same from the Right.”

Mr. Buckley lays out a provocative and necessary case for reasonable change. Mr. Buckley’s book outlines how the right must fight the left without losing its soul. That way is a pure, unadulterated love of country to defeat the left’s total hate. We cannot meet hate with bitterness. We must rise to the occasion, as Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower all did in their time.

• Brandon J. Weichert is a former congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers) and “The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy” (due Oct. 18, 2022, from Republic Book Publishers). He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

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Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party

Encounter Books, $30.99, 272 pages, July 12, 2022

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