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Looking At The Ideological Argument For 'Trumpism'


When it was published online in the Claremont Review of Books, an essay called "The Flight 93 Election" sparked more debate on the right than maybe any other political writing of the campaign season. It criticized conservative intellectuals for not getting onboard with a President Trump, and it is credited as a defining ideological argument for Trumpism. Op-ed columnists responded. Rush Limbaugh read chunks of the essay on his radio talk show. The writer went by a pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus. And it turns out he's actually Michael Anton, now a senior national security official in the Trump White House.

Michael Warren of The Weekly Standard was the first to report on the identity of Michael Anton, and he joins me now in the studio. Thanks so much for coming in.

MICHAEL WARREN: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. This essay begins, (reading) 2016 is the Flight 93 election. Charge the cockpit, or you die.

Really strong language there. Tell me - what he's saying there? He goes on to write, (reading) if you don't try, death is certain.

WARREN: Can you believe it was controversial? Here was a very well-read, very well-written piece that was essentially saying the conservative intellectual movement was bankrupt for not backing Donald Trump for president. And this essay continued to make a case that what is sort of referred to as conservative ink is more interested in self-preservation than in addressing the challenges of our time. And what Publius Decius Mus, now known as Michael Anton, was saying is that Donald Trump, on the other hand, is addressing these problems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was his intellectual case, though, for Trumpism?

WARREN: That's a little harder to discern because so much of what Publius Decius Mus wrote was defining what Trumpism is against, against the sort of establishment conservative positions on things like immigration, trade, foreign policy and national security. Donald Trump took the opposite views of the general conservative establishment on those issues. And therefore, he was more in touch with the people - the middle classes, the working classes - than a conservative intellectual group that sort of purported to speak for those groups of people but was more often aligned with a general elite of Wall Street, academia, the Davos crew.

This was the argument that D.C. has made, and so it's a little harder to discern what Trumpism is and much easier to discern what Trumpism isn't, which is conservatism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me who Michael Anton is. I mean, obviously, now a key figure in the new Trump administration.

WARREN: Right. So Michael Anton is somebody who was sort of born and raised within the conservative intellectual movement, which is really what made his essay and his sort of case against conservative intellectualism so fascinating. He was kicking around in some of the conservative institutes - the Manhattan Institute, other places - as a young man; got a job in the Rudy Giuliani administration in - when he was the mayor of New York City, writing speeches; and then joined the George W. Bush administration in 2001, working as essentially a junior communications staffer within the National Security Council.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War - as that administration generally was - and then later became a speechwriter on national security issues; and then after that had a sort of a nonpolitical career in communications and speechwriting for Rupert Murdoch's at News Corporation and then later Citibank or Citicorp (ph) or whatever they were calling themselves, for a number of years; and then finally at BlackRock, the large investment firm, before he has gone back into public service in the Trump White House just in recent days.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess we're having this conversation obviously because we're trying to understand, I guess, the ideological underpinnings of this new administration - who are the key figures, and what do they believe? So when we look at Mr. Anton, what do we know about the way he sees the world?

WARREN: Well, I think you can sort of glean a lot of those answers from the "Flight 93" essay, which, in many ways, distills down the months of "Journal Of American Greatness" essays he was writing. I was struck reading back through these essays, as I was preparing to write this story, that a lot of the touchstone values of modern conservatism - there are words like civic duty, liberty, freedom - these don't really play a role in Trumpism as Anton/Decius define it.

You're more likely to see words like assimilation, like solidarity, like greatness. It's less about those more universal truths about humankind and more looking at the United States as a nation and trying to say - what is in the best interest of our nation without respect to the rest of the world?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are we seeing a reimagining of these political lines? I mean, before, left or right; liberal, conservative - people had generally understood what those things mean. Now it seems to me you're saying we're talking about globalist versus nationalism. We're seeing the lines drawn in different ways.

WARREN: We're seeing an attempt to draw the lines in different ways. I think we'll have to wait and see if that actually bears out, if there are - if this really is a new paradigm shift. The important thing to remember is that, ideologically, Trump is somewhat of an island within the Republican Party. The elements of Trumpism don't really permeate through the rest of the party if you look at leaders like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, other elected leaders in Congress.

Elected governors...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Where the Republican Party is right now - the people that were elected, they do not necessarily embrace these ideas of Trumpism wholeheartedly.

WARREN: That's right, although we may be having a different conversation four years from now when we see - if we see Republicans do embrace this form of Trumpism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michael Warren, senior writer at The Weekly Standard, thanks so much for coming in.

WARREN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO AND BAJKA'S "DAYS TO COME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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