I saw this article by McKay Coppins at The Atlantic and immediately thought I must have smoked more weed than I realized last night.
From the Department of AYFKM?:
Naming and Shaming the Pro-Trump Elite
The Bulwark’s writers are the new outlaws of conservative media.
Charlie sykes is sitting behind a desk in a sparse, disheveled office—blank walls lined with empty filing cabinets, windows covered with crooked blinds—as he tries to conjure the perfect metaphor for The Bulwark, the anti–Donald Trump conservative news site he recently helped start.
“We are the ultimate wilderness!” he declares to me.
But that doesn’t sound quite lonely enough for the political niche they’re occupying, so he tries again: “We’re on a desert island.”
Sykes continues to riff like this in his chirpy, midwestern accent, comparing The Bulwark’s writers to a band of “Somali pirates,” and then to a contingent of “guerrilla fighters.” He’s so enthusiastic about the exercise that before long I am tossing out my own overwrought suggestions. Perhaps, I muse at one point, they are soldiers on the final front of the Republican Civil War—making one last stand before the forces of Trumpism complete their conquest.
Sykes nods eagerly, and for a moment he seems caught up in the romance of this imagery. But then reality reasserts itself.
“The analogy [I’m] really afraid of,” he confesses, “is that we’re the Japanese soldiers who don’t know the war is over, and we’re still hiding out in the cave.”
A certain quixotic quality pervades The Bulwark. Launched last month by former staffers of the defunct Weekly Standard magazine, the site is headquartered in a rented cluster of cubicles in downtown Washington, D.C. To keep overhead low, the team is small—fewer than 10 full-time writers and editors—and many of them work remotely. “We’re basically camping here,” says Sykes, a former talk-radio host who edits the site while commuting back and forth from Wisconsin.
The modest trappings have not kept them from grandiose ambitions. In the site’s founding manifesto, Sykes wrote that The Bulwark would stand in defiant opposition to President Trump, and “push back against the moral and intellectual corruption that now poses an existential threat to conservatism as a viable political force.”
This kind of righteous Never Trump flame throwing has been a regular feature of intra-GOP debates for years now. But The Bulwark is entering the fray at a moment when the war seems all but finished. Republican voters overwhelmingly support the president. Party leaders have followed suit. And while Trump once faced a noisy chorus of detractors in the conservative media, most have either quieted or converted since he took office. Glenn Beck dropped his long-held opposition and donned a red MAGA cap on his radio show last May. National Review, which crusaded against Trump’s nomination, now routinely publishes pro-Trump writers. Most recently, Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger who helped popularize the #NeverTrump hashtag, announced that he would vote for the president in 2020.
These developments have helped crystallize a consensus in the center-right media: For a conservative outlet to hang onto its audience—let alone any influence in Republican politics—it must plant itself firmly in Trump’s camp.
But The Bulwark is pursuing a different kind of relevance. Rather than crafting coverage that aims to turn rank-and-file Trump voters against the president—an effort that would almost certainly fail—it wants to shame and stigmatize the “bad actors” in the conservative elite, as Sykes puts it.
Scroll through the home page on any given day, and you’ll find one lively polemic after another calling out Trump-friendly politicos by name—often in witheringly personal terms.
In recent weeks, the site has run a scornful piece on the former White House official Sebastian Gorka (“a ridiculous figure”), and another on the high-profile #MAGA activist Candace Owens (“not a serious person”). When Trump failed to secure funding for a border wall with his government shutdown, The Bulwark compiled a meticulous list of conservative commentators who had cheered on the strategy. And in a particularly biting essay, the writer Andrew Egger examined how a radio interview between Milo Yiannopoulos (a “loathsome and tiresome egotist”) and Eric Metaxas (a “pop theologian”) highlighted “the political corruption of the modern evangelical movement.”
Sykes admits that some of these early targets have constituted “low-hanging fruit.” But in the coming months, he tells me, The Bulwark will home in on a specific class of “grifters and trolls”—those opportunistic Trump enablers who still get invited on Meet the Press and write for prestigious newspapers. To Sykes, these are the true sellouts, and he wants to ensure that their public flirtations with Trumpism leave a stench on them.
“A lot of folks have had a free shot to get in bed with some of the most disreputable [people] out there, and they still have a veneer of respectability,” Sykes says. “We want to raise the opportunity cost.”
Asked for examples of prospective targets, Sykes doesn’t have to think long before rattling off a list of high-status commentators (Marc Thiessen, Hugh Hewitt), think tankers (Henry Olsen, Victor Davis Hanson), and politicos (Bill Bennett).
The publication has attracted both fans and enemies early on thanks to the involvement of Kristol and Sykes—two high-profile Republicans whose Trump bashing has earned them plaudits from the left in recent years. Kristol, a prominent neoconservative, helped lead an effort to recruit an independent challenger to Trump during the last election. (He ended up voting for the former CIA officer Evan McMullin.) Sykes, a longtime host on Milwaukee talk radio, became a national figure in 2016 after sparring with then-candidate Trump on air. Since then, he has left radio, written a book criticizing the conservative movement, and joined MSNBC as a contributor. At The Bulwark, he hosts a daily podcast that he says generated more than 500,000 downloads in its first month. By its own count, the site racked up 1.4 million page views in January with 680,000 unique visitors.
The audience is comparatively small, but staffers say they are pleased with the impression they’ve made so far in political and media circles. Bulwark stories are often seen bouncing around Twitter and newsroom Slack channels. For its project to work, it doesn’t need the massive reach of a Fox News or a Rush Limbaugh—it just needs to make D.C. dinner parties and greenroom visits uncomfortable for the Trumpist elite.
Wow. The NeverTrumpers’ cluelessness is only exceeded by their hubris. One of the main problems with the NeverTrumper media is that its members were way too comfortable with D.C. dinner parties and greenroom visits. As the Brits used to say, they had “gone native.”
I am reminded of a married couple I knew from back when we were all in high school together. After a few years of marriage they were both miserable. Luckily they didn’t have any kids together because she eventually left him. I ran into her a couple years later. She was a changed woman. She had remarried to a really nice guy, they had a kid together, she looked younger and thinner, and she looked really happy. She never even mentioned her ex-husband.
By coincidence, I ran into him a couple weeks after that. He still had his job but his social life seemed to consist of sitting home alone every night drinking vodka. (He hadn’t hit bottom yet – he was still drinking the vodka from a water glass and not straight from the bottle.) She hadn’t talked about him but he talked about her. The gist of what he said was that one of these days she would realize how good she had had it and she would come crawling back to him.
I didn’t tell him that I had recently seen her, I just wished him luck and went on my way.