I experienced a moment of existential confusion in July when I saw myself described in the New York Times as a “former conservative.” I immediately emailed the reporter, Peter Baker, and asked him to change that to “former Republican,” which he graciously did. But I’m now wondering if perhaps Baker was right the first time. Maybe I really am a former conservative? It’s hard to know for sure, because it’s hard to know what “conservative” means anymore other than “Trump toady.” Ergo, if you’re a #NeverTrumper, you must not be a real conservative — even though President Trump is antithetical to the kind of conservativism I spent most of my life espousing.

That appears to be the logic of 37 “conservative leaders” who wrote to The Post demanding that my colleague Jennifer Rubin no longer be identified as a conservative or even center-right blogger. The conservative elders excommunicating Rubin include retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, an evangelical Christian who has said that “Islam is evil”; Brent Bozell, head of the Media Research Center, who has suggested that President Barack Obama looked like a “skinny, ghetto crackhead”; Diana West, a journalist who has promulgated “birtherism”; and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who recently tweeted a picture of Democratic senators of color under the race-baiting headline “Look at this photo conservative voters.” Apparently this is the new face of American conservatism — and anyone who disagrees with the racism, xenophobia and general nuttiness exhibited by these worthies is a cuck or RINO. Probably both.

After I wrote that the GOP must be punished at the ballot box for its espousal of white nationalism and know-nothingism, the right-wing website twitchy demanded to know: “How on earth can Max Boot call himself a conservative after this?” I’ve lost track of how many Trump supporters have written some version of “Max Boot isn’t a conservative.” I’m even being read retrospectively out of the conservative movement by right-wingers who claim I was never really one of them.

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Ross Douthat is a socially conservative New York Times columnist who has criticized Trump but now argues that the job of conservative thinkers is to “basically accept” his “populist turn” while supplying the Trumpist movement with “coherence and intellectual ballast.” He writes dismissively that “Max Boot … self-defined as a conservative mostly because he favored a democratic imperialism of the kind that George W. Bush unsuccessfully promoted.” That’s news to me. As I explain in my new book, I became a conservative in the 1980s because of Ronald Reagan’s clear-eyed opposition to communism. I would call that moral leadership, not democratic imperialism. Moreover, I espoused not just democracy promotion but many other conservative views. I criticized political correctness, judicial activism, tort-law abuses, gun control, wasteful government spending, high tax rates and heavy-handed regulation.

That’s why I was comfortable for decades writing for conservative publications and advising Republican presidential candidates. Yet now that I’ve come out against Trump and have begun a critical reexamination of the GOP’s checkered history of racism and know-nothingism, I am being airbrushed out of the conservative movement as if I were some old Bolshevik who had fallen out with Comrade Stalin.

It is true that my views have shifted over the years. I no longer favor preventative wars or oppose more stringent gun controls. I’ve always been socially liberal and have never engaged in climate denialism. So does that mean I am a born-again liberal? Not so fast. I still favor limited government, fiscal discipline, entitlement reform, free trade, robust defense spending and maintaining America’s current military commitments. Those views hardly place me in league with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But they also place me outside of the Trumpified Republican Party. I would never have imagined conservatives swooning over a president who raises tariffs (a.k.a. taxes), praises dictators, pays off a porn star, denigrates prisoners of war and vilifies the FBI. Yet here we are.

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It is tempting to say that I’m the “real” conservative and the Trump-worshipers are the imposters. But it’s not so simple. Trump taps into the kind of blood-and-soil, chauvinistic conservatism that has a long history not only in Europe but also in this country, where its champions have included John C. Calhoun, Charles Lindbergh, Father Charles Coughlin, George Wallace and Pat Buchanan. Some modern conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr., Charles Krauthammer and Irving Kristol tried to move the right in a less bigoted and more high-minded direction, but Trump’s ascendance proves they have failed. At least for the time being.

That’s why I don’t give a damn whether anyone thinks I’m a conservative or not. I’m just as happy not to be associated with what passes for conservatism in 2018 America. I still find it a bit disconcerting, however, to be told I was never a conservative in the first place.

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