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'National Review' On How Donald Trump Is Changing The Campaign


Our next conversation is one we know will delight some and infuriate others. We know that because our subject is Donald Trump, whose run for the presidency has shaken up the race in ways no one predicted and whose ascendancy has sparked angst, anger and applause in equal measure and in unexpected places. One of the more eye-catching responses has been that of National Review. The influential conservative magazine dedicated almost its entire February issue to strongly-worded opinion pieces denouncing Trump, pieces that came from nearly two dozen prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, William Kristol, Thomas Sowell and Mona Charen. We called National Review editor Rich Lowry in New York City to ask him what motivated this broadside against the GOP frontrunner.

RICH LOWRY: You know, we did it because of the potential he has to win the Republican nomination, and in some significant ways stamp conservatism in his image. And to make the point that it's not the quote, unquote, "establishment" necessarily that opposes Donald Trump; its principled conservatives. Trump I think is properly understood as a Jacksonian-style populist. That's always an element within conservatism but shouldn't overwhelm it.

MARTIN: What is the core of your opposition to Donald Trump from a conservative perspective?

LOWRY: He's been on the wrong side of several defining hot-button issues, whether it's abortion or gun control or taxes. His temperament is not ideally suited to a president of the United States, whether it was skipping the Fox debate or alleging that he really did win Iowa. And finally, that he hasn't been campaigning as a conservative. And the conservatives' critique of the federal government is that it's too big. It has become unbounded by the structures of the Constitution. And we won't have more effective government until we have more limited government. And Trump's critique is a different one, which is that we are governed by idiots, and if you just gather the best tacticians and experts, it can be made to work much more effectively.

MARTIN: Well, you know, your phrasing is sort of very elegant and modest way. I will say that many of the editorials take a rather stiffer tone and including one that you wrote, where you say that he is not deserving of conservative's support in caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strongman overtones. You yourself using the term strongman, saying that he would trash the conservative ideological consensus. I mean, some might argue that that walks up to the line of name-calling.

LOWRY: Well, it's very strong language, and that's the kind of language you have in effective editorializing. But Trump appears to take no notice of constitutional restraints on the president's power whatsoever. Given his history, he does have a few sort of gestures and reflexes that have been very consistent over time - tough on crime, the belief that we're getting ripped off by foreign countries and opposition to immigration, although even on that he's a little wobbly. But everything else is up for grabs. I believe if he won the nomination, he would be susceptible to jettisoning almost everything he has said, and he would immediately rebrand himself as a moderate dealmaker.

MARTIN: I do want to mention that the Republican National Committee dropped the National Review as a partner. I presume that was because of the objections of Donald Trump. What's been the other reaction?

LOWRY: It - well, we lost the debate, which we expected going in. You can't declare war on one of the candidates who presumably is going to be on the stage and be a moderator in the debate. And two, we've had a lot of reaction from Trump-friendly pundits out there. But we've also had an enormous favorable reaction from our readers that's been very heartening. Spontaneously, we had nearly a thousand donations when this issue first came out from people who realize this is why National Review exists.

MARTIN: There are lots of institutions that sometimes face a moment of reckoning of whether to be popular or whether to adhere to principle as they understand it. And I wonder, do you see this as such a moment for you?

LOWRY: Yes, absolutely. And we knew we would publish this issue and perhaps Donald Trump would win Iowa anyway. And we would be in the position of being in opposition within the party, which has happened to us before. It's uncomfortable, but again, it's our role. And we do not to the extent we can stick our finger in the wind or look at polls. We try to stand up for truth as we see it.

MARTIN: What if he becomes president?

LOWRY: Well, I might get accidentally on-purpose deported very swiftly in a Trump administration. Maybe I'll be talking to you from exile.

MARTIN: Well, that's Rich Lowry, the editor of the National Review. He joined us from New York City. Rich Lowry, thank you for speaking with us.

LOWRY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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