The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Jonah Goldberg, Professional Loser?

Posted on | January 17, 2013 | 115 Comments

“We lost. We are losers. . . . Our operatives are incompetent and we live in a dream world.”
Rob Long of National Review, in an interview with Joe Hagan of New York magazine during a Caribbean cruise in November

Has National Review, an institution founded in opposition to liberalism, become part of the problem it was intended to solve? This thought has occurred to me with increasing frequency in recent years.

Last January, immediately after Rick Santorum’s stunning upset victory in the Iowa caucuses, I attended a debate-night event in Manchester, New Hampshire hosted by National Review and was stunned at their cheerful acquiescence in The Inevitability of Mitt Romney. The primary campaign had just begun, and it took another three months for Romney to lock up the nomination, yet the NR crowd were ready and willing to applaud the coronation of the GOP Establishment choice.

This apparent unwillingness to fight tough battles against long odds disturbed me then, and at Christmas, I was further disturbed to read the New York magazine account of National Review‘s post-election Caribbean cruise, which I summarized thus:

[A]n article you should read in its entirety, if you want to be thoroughly depressed about the uselessness of our conservative elite: Wonks, pundits, pollsters and consultants on a free tropical vacation paid for by elderly magazine subscribers who, we presume, were grateful to be in the intellectual presence of the presumed heirs of Bill Buckley.

Unless you consider pre-emptive surrender to be a clever strategy, there is clearly something wrong when a political movement’s flagship institution shows such a willing acceptance of defeat.

The problem is not merely that National Review was aboard the Romney bandwagon early, nor that Romney was subsequently defeated, but rather that no one at National Review seems ashamed of themselves for their roles in helping to bring about this disaster. If they are leaders of the conservative movement, and if the conservative movement has failed — which it quite obviously has, or otherwise Obama would not be ruling by executive fiat — where is the accountability?

While I’m not saying that Rich Lowry must commit seppuku, why is there no admission by anyone at National Review that they have failed the movement they presumed to lead? A contemplation of these dark thoughts was inspired by Jonah Goldberg’s latest column:

[The conservative] movement has an unhealthy share of hucksters eager to make money from stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal with little concern for the real political success that can come only with persuading the unconverted.
A conservative journalist or activist can now make a decent living while never once bothering to persuade a liberal. Telling people only what they want to hear has become a vocation. Worse, it’s possible to be a rank-and-file conservative without once being exposed to a good liberal argument.

OK, a few questions immediately come to mind:

  • Who are these “hucksters”? If they are merely “stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal” for their own selfish purposes, they must be eliminated. Name names, please.
  • How much of this “bothering to persuade a liberal” has Jonah Goldberg done? Where is this legion of converts to conservatism — the Goldbergites, as it were — to whom he may point as evidence of his successful persuasion?
  • To which “good liberal argument” do we need to be exposed? Because the very fact that an argument is liberal would seem to me sufficient evidence that it is wrong, and so I’m having trouble with the concept of arguments that are both liberal and “good.”

Perhaps I’m misunderstanding Jonah’s argument. Maybe I’m just a huckster “stirring rage, paranoia, and an ill-defined sense of betrayal.” However, Goldberg seems to be on more solid ground here:

To listen to many grassroots conservatives, the GOP establishment is a cabal of weak-kneed sellouts who regularly light votive candles to a poster of liberal Republican icon Nelson Rockefeller.
This is not only not true, it’s a destructive myth. . . .
It’s not that the GOP isn’t conservative enough, it’s that it isn’t tactically smart or persuasive enough to move the rest of the nation in a more conservative direction.

Because Goldberg is insufficiently explicit — he won’t name the “hucksters” — it is only by inference that we may deduce that this is a reference to the embarrassingly ineffective “Dump Boehner” movement that sought to unseat the Republican Speaker of the House. And if that’s the case, I agree: Boehner and the House GOP aren’t the problem. The real problem is the gross ineptitude of Senate Republicans, whose warped political judgment was manifested in the May 2009 decision of NRSC Chairman John Cornyn to back Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio, and which has been further evidenced in their multiple blunders of the 2010 and 2012 campaigns. But I digress . . .

While Goldberg’s vague jab at “hucksters” is likely aimed at those who organized the “Dump Boehner” movement, perhaps it is also retroactive excuse-making for National Review‘s Romney bandwagon trip that so disturbed me last January in New Hampshire. The unwillingness of the NR crowd to consider Santorum as a viable alternative to Romney bugged me then, and it still bugs me now.

Look at the exit polls: In Ohio, Romney got only 81% of the conservative vote, while Obama got 88% of the liberal vote. Thirty-five percent of Ohio voters called themselves conservative, as compared to 22% who identified as liberal. If Romney had gotten a larger share of the conservative vote, he would have won Ohio. Now, here are the truly frightening numbers: Obama got 44% of the Catholic vote in Ohio, and 29% of the evangelical (or “born again”) Protestant vote.

Is Jonah Goldberg willing to admit what seems obvious to me, namely that nominating a moderate Mormon contributed to the weakening of GOP support among conservative Christians? Isn’t it possible that an adamantly pro-life Catholic would have done better?

Understand that this isn’t an argument about “purity.” It’s an argument about competence: How do you win in politics?

The fact that the Romney campaign failed to win a sufficient share of conservative voters cannot be blamed on “hucksters.”

Scapegoating and blame-shifting are not attributes of responsible leadership, and if National Review claims to be leading a movement, shouldn’t the recent electoral catastrophe cause them to reflect on their own role in this defeat?

Losing makes me angry. It enrages me. Defeat is a humiliation that insults my sense of personal honor. And what I’m hearing from Jonah Goldberg and his National Review colleagues does not convey a similar feeling of outrage. They have been beaten, embarrassed and publicly shamed, and yet they don’t seem even slightly bothered by their current status as ineffectual laughingstocks, objects of scorn and ridicule.

Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you . . . a loser.

The National Review Institute Summit will convene Jan. 25 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC., and while I deny any intention to stir up rage, paranoia and so forth, I sure hope some pissed-off conservatives will show up and ask tough questions of those who claim to be the rightful heirs of Buckley, Goldwater and Reagan.

Oh — did I mention Joe Scarborough will be there?



  • Kristi

    Nice work, Mr McCain! 😀

  • ThomasD

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. A party that selects the candidate most adept as slagging other republicans can in no way be called conservative.

    That NR saw no serious problem with that approach to electoral politics speaks volumes. But because noting this will not sell volumes perhaps this is why Jonah does not care.

  • Jimmie

    In Goldberg’s defense, he speaks a lot on college campuses. Granted, he’s often there by invitation of conservative college groups, but I don’t doubt he gets to talk with more liberal college students than the average pundit who rarely, if ever, leaves their perches in NYC or DC. As well, his column shows up in the LA Times, where it reaches more than a few left-wingers and he’s not exactly a “preach only to the converted” type of writer.

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Good point. I do not think NRO is primarily to blame for the GOP’s woes. I doubt the other candidates would have won or done as well as Romney (I thought we could do better on a slate of candidates) but people said Reagan could not win too. I know some of themwould have argued conservative positions better.

  • robertstacymccain

    Yeah, but if Goldberg had listened to me and staged a coup against the Lowry regime …

  • The Other Jeff S.

    Understand that this isn’t an argument about “purity.” It’s an argument about competence: How do you win in politics?
    Unfortunately, it’s also an argument about Catholics. Many are in name only, and think nothing of voting for the left-most candidate (because, “compassion”) even though the same candidate has adopted decidedly anti-Catholic positions.
    One might refer to this sub-group of voters as Low Information Catholics.

  • Film Ladd

    Wasn’t Lowry on the Cain Train and the architect of the 999 plan?

  • Jimmie

    That assumes Goldberg wants to run the whole enterprise, which I’m fairly sure he doesn’t.

    Look, I have my bones to pick with a number of right-wing politicos and pundits. I could probably write a grievance post every day and have plenty of material until at least Independence Day. Jonah Goldberg, however, ain’t one of them. He swings a pretty hefty hammer for the good guys, inside the echo chamber and out.

  • Klejdys

    Stacy’s diagnosis of the problem (the backing of Romney) is accurate enough; it wasn’t like Romney himself was a terrible candidate. Romney lost this election because he couldn’t win the “big ten” states of MIN, MICH, OH, PA, IA, etc. He needed to hit 60% of white ppl, he got like 54%. So how do you get those folks into your corner? If Romney wanted to win, he would’ve argued against immigration and racial preferences, but his advisors and money men clearly wouldn’t have wanted him to be part of that. Santorum is a carpetbagging fraud. He would have been made a laughing-stock. Romney was at least credible and competent (if spineless, I’ll grant you that). But he was afraid to take the gloves off. Political correctness has rendered conservative arguments moot in normal conversation, which is pathetic. And that’s why NR sucks – they play the Beltway game and have become part of the problem rather than the solution.

  • Rob Crawford

    You really think left-wing college students would TALK to Goldberg? I suspect they’re the ones interrupting him with screaming.

  • richard mcenroe

    Trying to remember the last time I followed a link to NRO…have I missed anything?

  • jetty

    I quit reading NRO after Lowry’s attack on Gingrich. It’s one thing to back a candidate (like the beltway elites backed Romney). It’s another to commit fratricide.

  • Jimmie

    Whether or not they talk to him is another matter. he’s in the arena, talking to them.

  • Quartermaster

    NR and NRO would be no better off with Goldberg in charge than it is with “Rich Lowry is a Coward,” in the editor’s chair. Goldberg himself is an idiot. I exchange a couple eamils with him, and he became a tar baby. To call him a callow youth is an insult to callow youths.
    Goldberg has never been a hardcore conservative, and never will become one, particularly ensconced with “Rich Lowry is Coward” and the rest of the smei-conservatives over there. I don’t read NRO anymore.

  • Jaynie59

    Jonah Goldberg has been on my sh*t list ever since he posted a short blurb at The Corner just after 8AM the Wednesday Sarah Palin released her video response to the relentless and viscious attacks she had suffered for 5 days after Tuscon.

    That woman spent 5 days being attacked and vilified for inciting mass murder, including that of a 9 year old girl, from every news outlet in the country. When she finally replied with a heartfelt and eloquent speech, Jonah Goldberg couldn’t wait to go to The Corner and criticize her for using two words. He HAD to know the Left would use it to keep attacking her. Which is exactly what they did.

    When are you conservatives going to wake up and realize that you don’t HAVE to burp out every thought you have just because you have a blog on the internet? If you can’t support someone, fine. If you can’t bring yourself to defend Rush, fine. Didn’t like the NRA ad, fine. Then keep your effing mouth shut. This overriding NEED to pile on people already being eviscerated is why you will never win another national election.

  • ThePaganTemple

    Evi, I got my blog back. I still say Bachmann could have won, maybe Perry, maybe Gingrich, depending on certain variables.
    By the way, you still look good enough to eat.

  • daisy

    I started reading National Review is high school. I used to read NRO everyday. I stopped years ago because of Jonah.

  • Bob Belvedere

    While it is true that Mr. Goldberg is in the arena, nevertheless, the fact that he can still say that there is such a thing as ‘a good liberal argument’, despite his extensive research into Leftist Thing, shows that he is willfully blinding himself to the truth that all Leftist Thinking is based on a rejection of Morality, Truth, and Right Reason. It is Evil and it corrupts and/or destroys everything it touches.

    Why Mr. Goldberg insists that anything Leftist deserves to be classified as legitimate is best left to a psychiatrist.

  • Bob Belvedere

    I hereby revoke my support of the Goldberg Junta. While he would be a slight improvement over Twinkle-Toes Lowry, it is clear that Mr. Goldberg doesn’t get it.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Welcome Back Mr. Kotter.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Mark Steyn and Andrew McCarthy.

  • Bob Belvedere

    Did some one mention that Rich Lowry Is A Coward???

  • Pingback: The Filthy Rotten Party of Corruption, Treason, Fraud, Sodomy and Abortion : The Other McCain()

  • Evi L. Bloggerlady

    Glad you are back PT. Remember eating beef contributes to congestive heart failure. You really want to eat more chicken, fish and pork.

    As for hindsights what ifs: Bachmann had no chance to win. They would have Palinized her. Gingrich would have given a good show but also would have lost–as RSM noted his personal history is a little too colorful. Santorum is a good man, but he just has a personality and style that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. And his ability to piss off potential allies in the GOP (like libertarians) is just amazingly stupid.

    The guy who could have won is Cain, but he fell into the Gingrich thing.

    Perry had a shot, but that is assuming he did not melt down the way he did in the primaries.

    We need to recruit better candidates to run. Next time around it will be Rubio and possibly Jindal, Walker, and Ryan. Kris Kristiekreme will melt into a gooey mess.

  • Patrick Carroll

    Let me start by saying that I enjoy Jonah’s writing. He’s witty, and nobody incorporates pop culture into serious writing the way he does. Plus, he’s a dog-lover. (What can I say? I love dogs.) Also, I’ve met him on a couple of occasions when he’s been in Atlanta, and he’s both charming and well-mannered.

    That said, NRO lost me when Derb was defenestrated.

    NRO has clearly become milquetoast conservative, by which I mean that it has no interest in actual battle, but instead favors the promotion of those conservatives least likely to raise the hackles of the legacy media – you know, the wholly-owned arm of the Democrat party. Such a strategy is nothing but concession and appeasement, a sort of preemptive surrender. A Petain strategy.

    Which is working out as well for them as it did for the French.

  • Patrick Carroll

    “Slagging?” Complete OT, but tell me you’re a Brit, or an Irishman.

  • Patrick Carroll

    You beat me to the punch. I, too, gave up on NRO after Lowry’s shameful defenestration of Derb.

  • smitty

    The elephant in the Romney room is Mormonism. Nobody wants to talk about the number of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals that were having none of him for that reason.
    On the other hand, given the total lack of leadership from the GOP, I’m uncertain that a Romney Administration would have amounted to much.

  • gvanderleun

    The problem with Rich Lowry and Jonah Goldberg as a couple is that you can never tell who is the bottom and who is the top. In a like manner you can’t tell who is the silver daddy and who is the twink. It’s as if Andrew Sullivan underwent some kind of planerial mitosis and we are stuck watching these two check-sucking life forms swap spit and positions in an endless circlejerk of clusterfuckery. If Buckley were alive he could solve it all with two bullets.

  • Bob Belvedere

    I don’t know…he did pick Rick Brookheiser as his successor way back when.

  • ThomasD


  • Dai Alanye

    Romney wasn’t a “terrible” candidate, but he was a weak one, partly due to his history of shifting positions. With the exception of his conversion on abortion, he never explained properly why he was now a conservative. Indeed, I still doubt his conservative tendencies.

    In addition, he simply couldn’t bring himself to say, “Romneycare seemed like a good idea at the time, but the fact that it’s led to Obamacare has been enough to make me change my mind.”

    And along this general line: NICE JOB! all you conservatives who were taken in by Christie.

  • Pingback: The Democratic Party defined? « The Daley Gator()

  • Dai Alanye


  • Quartermaster

    No. Your simply having an illusion brought on by Maker’s Mark deprivation.

  • Quartermaster

    Buckley was still around and nominally in charge when those two idiots were hired.
    Did you mention that Rich Lowry is a coward? I know I said Goldberg is an idiot.

  • Quartermaster

    Krikorian on occasion.

  • Quartermaster

    I don’t know about the Cain Train. But, I do now Rich Lowry is a coward.

  • Colonel Haiku

    ‘Is Jonah Goldberg willing to admit what seems obvious to me, namely thatnominating a moderate Mormon contributed to the weakening of GOP support among conservative Christians? Isn’t it possible that an adamantly pro-life Catholic would have done better?… The fact that the Romney campaign failed to win a sufficient share of conservative voters cannot be blamed on “hucksters.” ‘

    The blame rests with “conservative voters” who couldn’t find it within themselves to find motivation to get off their backsides and help defeat the most execrable administration this nation has ever been saddled with. Let’s get real here.

  • CPAguy

    Romney was a terrible candidate.

    That is why a full 60% of the GOP was against him during the primaries.

    The worst candidate in generations.

    Obviously, Conservatives had to hold their tongues during the general election.

    He is a nice enough fella. But if people are going to vote for a liberal, why in the world would they vote for Romney over Obama?

  • Bob Belvedere

    It’s one of those great words, like ‘lurid’.

  • Bob Belvedere


  • Bob Belvedere

    Thank you, Doctor.

  • gvanderleun

    Oh you can be sure Goldberg is a grunting coward as well.

  • gvanderleun

    Somebody with bucks needs to buy NR and purge it of these schmucks with extreme prejudice. Then they need to install Stacy, Smitty, myself and about 10 others. But since those quoteunquote conservatives never seem to want to spend their extra money on anything that matters we shall have to wait until the next conflagration.

  • gvanderleun

    No, you need to go full Stalin on Goldberg’s ass with an iceaxe. It doesn’t need a coup. It needs a full on purge with extreme prejudice. Goldberg needs to be relocated to a missile silo in South Dakota and held under guard until we have time to rebuild the log-lined bunkers.

  • ThePaganTemple

    I don’t get the analogy, but thanks, Bob.

  • ThePaganTemple

    Bachmann could have won with the right people behind her.

  • Quartermaster

    Just be sure to fill the Rx and take *all* of it.

  • Quartermaster

    The even bigger Elephant in the Romney Room was how he conducted himself over Romneycare and other Libtard nonsense he stood for. We remember his behavior over the gay “marriage” fiasco as well. Some just couldn’t hold their nose tight enough to escape the libtard stench his name exuded into the polling places.