How Conservative Nationalists Missed Their Moment

Future historians of the American right are going to have a devil of a time figuring out what the hell happened as the second decade of the 21st century came to a close. But every day I become more convinced about at least one of their conclusions: The nationalists blew it.

Now, for those who don’t enjoy the nuances of conservative taxonomy, I should explain that I am using “nationalist” broadly, to include various camps on the right that think the U.S. has been too globalist and too reverential of the free market at the expense of social cohesion and a patriotic sense of national unity.

Nationalists are a diverse group, containing serious scholars like Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen and Harvard Law School’s Adrian Vermeule. This group also includes sharp, ambitious politicians like Sens. Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio, insightful writers like New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari, and the familiar retinue of MAGAnauts, America Firsters, rabble-rousers, Trump boosters and populist opportunists.

They don’t all agree with one another, and they don’t all go by the “nationalist” moniker. But as a general proposition, I think most start from faulty premises about the nature of nationalism or the benefits of President Trump’s embrace of it. I am proudly a pre-Trump conservative who thinks both Trump and the nationalist cause are not what conservatism needed.

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