In his defense of CPAC’s invitation, Schlapp exhibited laughable moral relativism. “We initially extended the invitation knowing that the free speech issue on college campuses is a battlefield where we need brave, conservative standard-bearers,” he said. Yiannopoulos — a raving, crude white nationalist with zero interest in anything approaching conservative theory or history — is, in the eyes of the biggest conservative confab’s organizer, an ideal speaker (if not for the sex-with-children issue.) That in a nutshell is the problem of the right.
As political groupings and causes have gotten stale, the figures left running these groups are intellectually unserious or downright perverse. Charlatans took the opportunity to make a name for themselves, or raise money in the name of fighting party “elites.” This segment of the right flipped from insisting on ideological purity to caring nothing about ideology. It’s now about winning, holding power and sneering at anyone not from “real” America. (Don’t cities count as real America?)
The old “three-legged stool of conservatism” has been moldy for years now. Social conservatives lost on same-sex marriage, have lived with decades of Roe v. Wade and threw their lot in with Donald Trump, who embodies every grotesque habit and quality they’ve ranted about for years (e.g., infidelity, dishonesty, crudeness, cruelty). That leg is gone. The economic leg has rotted away as well. Supply-side tax cuts have no sell with the general public (tax cuts for the rich!), and fiscal-discipline/small-government conservatives are nowhere to be found in Congress (which moves ahead on its own national health-care plan, peddles a “border adjustment tax” and looks to splurge on red ink). In the foreign-policy realm, it’s not clear where the party is headed — but President Trump and his ilk seem bent on destroying the international liberal order, throwing their weight behind despots and blowing up international institutions that have existed since the end of World War II.
In the place of ideas and relevant policy, the right is now drenched in cultural resentment and fixated on keeping out immigrants. Those who insisted that inner-city blacks were responsible for poverty and crime now paint rural whites as victims. The right’s rejection of all elites, including the entire mainstream media, has morphed into a rejection of objective truth. Conservatism as a governing philosophy is kaput as everyone in government is portrayed as a crook or stupid or both. Unqualified, ignorant people are preferred over qualified, knowledgeable public servants. Loyalty to a person is the paramount consideration in staffing.
Only in a party in such dire straits — where resentment toward coastal elites became the defining feature — could Yiannopoulos have gotten as far as he did. (Frankly, it’s only in the current intellectual wasteland that Fox Non-News could be so successful, plying the right-wing base with daily doses of Trumpian venom, exhibiting little concern for notions such as “objective truth.”) The conservative movement — neither conservative nor a movement at this point — lies prostrate, reduced to a set of tribal identifiers (climate change denial, cultural resentment, xenophobia). Yiannopoulos was a long time coming and is an apt closing footnote to a movement that burned out somewhere between birtherism and Trump’s attacks on prisoners of war. In that sense, there is no mystery whatsoever as to how Yiannopoulos got where he is.