"This is not conservatism": Paul Ryan goes after Nehlen and the alt-right

To follow up on Ed’s post, listen below to how Ryan reacts in an interview with Charlie Sykes to what Paul Nehlen said about deporting all Muslims. (It’s at the very beginning of the clip.) The subject also came up in another interview Ryan did this morning with radio host Jay Weber.

Sykes corrected him. It’s not “alt-conservatism,” it’s “alt-right,” to which Ryan readily agrees. It’s interesting that he reached for that term instead of “nationalist,” which could also fairly describe Nehlen’s politics just as it accurately describes Trump’s. Maybe that’s the point — Ryan doesn’t want to lump Trump and Nehlen into the same group, notwithstanding their public affinity for each other, because then he’ll be stuck explaining why Nehlen’s nationalism is “dark” and anti-conservative whereas Trump’s is … not so dark and anti-conservative that it would require Ryan to un-endorse him, I guess.

It could be, though, that Ryan really is trying to draw a conceptual distinction. How you define “alt-right” depends in part on how well disposed you are to that group but clearly they’re not just “nationalist.” They’re ethno-nationalist, effusively so. Some of them are online trolls gleefully spiting the politically correct by tipping sacred cows on racism and feminism, some of them are heartfelt white supremacists. They’re the people you find tweeting Nazi caricatures of hook-nosed Jews at anti-Trump Jewish conservatives like Ben Shapiro. Ethno-nationalism has a dimension of racial and religious identity politics to it that nationalism doesn’t have (or needn’t have, maybe I should say). When Ryan hears Nehlen kicking around ideas about deporting American citizens for following a religion that most white people don’t follow, go figure that he reaches for “alt-right.”

After the smoke clears from Trumpmania, one of the tasks for the right-wing coalition going forward will be teasing out how far conservatives and ethno-nationalists will each be permitted to stray from nationalism by the rest of the party. On the one hand, you’ll have pols like Nehlen wondering aloud whether it’s time to get rid of these Muslims. On the other, you’ll have pols like Ryan wondering why we need to get rid of any of these illegals. Having the alt-right as a foil will, ironically, give some conservatives cover to move a bit closer towards economic nationalism: “I’m willing to compromise on tariffs but deporting all Muslims is where we as a party must draw the line.” Given that there’s pretty much zero space for entitlement reform in a nationalist party, despite the fact that entitlements will increasingly cannibalize the federal budget, Paul Ryan’s going to be an unhappy man in the years ahead. I don’t know why he’d want to keep this miserable job when there’s sweet lucre waiting for him on K Street.

Note, by the way, that he assures Sykes that there are things Trump could say or do that would lead him to un-endorse, but of course he won’t specify what they might be. Exit question for Ryan: Is Donald Trump an alt-righter? The alt-right itself certainly sees him as a kindred spirit.

Jazz Shaw Jul 03, 2022 10:01 AM ET