As I noted in “The Ideas Industry,” it was not easy to be an intellectual supporting Donald Trump for president in 2016. One of the few who did wrote under the pseudonym of Publius Decius Mus and penned his manifesto “The Flight 93 Election,” in September 2016. Decius explained his analogy: “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. … To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”
“The Flight 93 Election” is a nasty piece of hackwork. Decius blasted D.C. conservatives as the “Washington Generals” of politics, somehow losing to the left on a regular basis (which I suspect would be news to those on the left). In decrying the state of America, Decius railed against many things, most notably that “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
As I said, it was a nasty essay, but it had the virtue of being written in complete, coherent sentences. It therefore garnered outsized attention after Trump won.
I bring all this up because Decius was revealed to be Michael Anton, who was subsequently hired to be spokesman for the National Security Council. And after an entire 14 months on the job, he is leaving.
According to the National Interest’s Curt Mills, this departure in the wake of John Bolton’s arrival is no coincidence.
Within reporting circles, Anton was known as one of the most vociferous defenders of [H.R.] McMaster — and a principal leaker for his boss. When the National Interest was the first to report the [John] Bolton candidacy in January, Anton denied it on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show ….
Others on the populist Right attack Anton for using a pen name (Publius), while others put themselves on the line for Donald Trump: Anton left an exit in case Trump lost (which seemed likely).
My White House source dismissed him as “Bush, [Rudy] Giuliani speechwriter” and complained that the idea of him “as an intellectual” was “overblown.”
It might be best to think of Anton the way one thinks of a top baseball prospect in an organization with a depleted farm system. There is a natural bias to inflate the value of that prospect, even if everyone knows the organization is barren. Similarly, Anton’s foreign policy musings were not nearly as interesting as some would have you believe. Anton specialized in attacking the liberal international order. He had no alternatives to offer, or any viable solution to fixing its problem. The best one can say is that he made an effort.
In “The Flight 93 Election,” Anton made the case that Trump was “to the left (conventionally understood) not only of his own party, but of his Democratic opponent” on questions of war. It is therefore fitting that Anton exits the stage as Bolton arrives. It is safe to say that Bolton is to the right (conventionally understood) of his own party when it comes to the use of force.
Anton’s departure highlights the ways in which his prediction of Trump’s dovish tendencies proved laughably wrong. In an interview with Susan Glasser last year in Politico, Anton predicted Trump’s National Security Strategy “will be the Trump doctrine.” That document was many things, but it wasn’t a Trump doctrine.
As I noted when the Bolton announcement was made:
For foreign policy hawks, this will be the best of times … because they are running the entire foreign policy show now. There is no bureaucratic constraint, no countervailing faction, no informed president to block their moves. They have no more impediments. For decades, they have fantasized about the right ways to take out Iran, defang North Korea and checkmate China. Trump has given them the keys to the kingdom.
In 2016, Anton joined Trump in rushing the cockpit. He decamps after 14 months to join Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center, the kind of D.C. outpost that Decius would have raged against. The administration he leaves behind is far more hawkish than promised in that essay.
Anton’s hostility to brown people is cloaked in more ornate language than most, which will allow him to be a more respectable veneer for Trumpism. He will no doubt be invited to many a symposium to explain the deep roots that connect Trump to his populist base. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts wishes him well on the conservative speaking circuit.