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Opinion A bulwark against Trump and Trumpism

In December, the Weekly Standard — regarded as among the premier conservative news outlets and certainly the one least under the spell of the current president — was closed by its owner, Clarity Media Group. The loss of a punchy, independent and thoughtful news outlet on the right was immediately felt in a media echo-sphere dominated by charlatans, sycophants and shallow posers.

On Monday, that void was filled, at least in part, by a new online news outlet, the Bulwark, featuring many of the Weekly Standard’s familiar faces — Charlie Sykes as editor in chief, Bill Kristol as editor at large, former Weekly Standard writers Jim Swift and Jonathan Last — but also new writers and new contributors. Judging from Monday’s edition, it offers the possibility of a no-holds-barred critique of the right during the Trump era and its less-than intellectually honest apologists. Sykes was good enough to answer a few questions:

Jennifer Rubin: What’s the origin and purpose of the Bulwark?

Sykes: The Bulwark isn’t going to be The Weekly Standard 2.0, but the murder of the Standard made it urgently necessary to create a home for rational, principled, fact-based center-right voices who were not cowed by Trumpism. We were lucky to get some of the magazine’s most talented on-line personnel on board right away. Our mission is to be smart, conservative, non-tribal and to say out loud what too many conservatives only say in private. We also wanted to move quickly because the next few months may prove decisive.

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We also intend to have fun and name names. One of our core missions will be to call out the grifters and trolls who’ve done so much to corrupt conservatism.

Is this a journalistic outlet, or maybe start of something bigger? A movement? A party?

No, we aren’t a party or a movement, but we hope to be a voice for those who might want to be part of one. We will also report on and chronicle the ongoing political and intellectual struggle for the soul of conservatism. We know it’s uphill, but most of us have a thing for lost causes.

Watching fellow conservative writers capitulate to Trumpism and tie themselves in knots has been so darn depressing. Have you been able to figure out why some went along and fewer of us didn’t?

Jonah Goldberg [of National Review] describes the last few years as being like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” as we watch one conservative after another fall in with Trumpism. Some are simply being transactional, others are simply unable to resist the pressures of tribalism; and some have simply decided that they are going to defend the indefensible. But, in any case, it has been heartbreaking to watch, and I think, tragic for the conservative movement. I can’t speak for others, but I was raised to be a contrarian, so maybe it was easier for me not to be drawn into the Trumpian groupthink.

I think the disdain that many Trump supporters feel for Never Trumpers is colored by a sense of embarrassment and maybe even guilt for what they have wrought.

As a philosophical question, does “conservatism” have any meaning now? Does it have to be redefined/reimagined?

What is conservatism right now? That’s a good question, and we are going to wrestling with it. Trumpism represents a repudiation of much of the conservative tradition, but it seems doubtful we will simply be able to turn back the clock. Whatever happens to Trump (and I doubt it will end well for him or his supporters), conservatism is undergoing what amounts to a Great Rethinking, where we’ll have to question all of the old dogmas and reconsider our values and priorities. That process will continue long after Trump shuffles off the scene, and we hope the Bulwark can be one of the forums for debates about a conservatism unstained by Trump’s mendacity, isolationism, nativism or cult of personality.

We will not all agree on the particulars of that renewed conservatism (some of us are more libertarian, some more traditional), but we all believe that the next two years will be a moment for choosing.