Some conservatives are putting in the difficult but necessary work of constructive criticism of their own movement. But Carlson and others like him have chosen the easier and more damaging method of handling disagreement via a constant game of “no true Scotsman.” Instead of admitting fault, error, or even simple differences of opinion within their own camp — and different policy preferences unquestionably can develop from a set of ideological underpinnings unified enough to fund a single movement — they relabel anything objectionable as the property of their political enemies.
For this crowd, to have a bad position is to have a liberal position. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. To err is to be a Democrat. For Carlson, if Bolton is a disaster on foreign policy, that proves Bolton is a left-winger.
The specific argument Carlson used is worth a moment’s digression. After months of carping about “economic patriotism” and how the government should make social media be nicer to conservatives and defend the institution of the family against the ravages of the market, suddenly Carlson has rediscovered a trace of his old libertarian streak. “There was not a human problem John Bolton wasn’t totally convinced could be solved with the brute force of government,” he announced Tuesday, disregarding Bolton’s stated positions on subjects like the economy and firearms. “That’s an assumption of the left, not the right.” Of late, it’s an assumption Carlson and his allies in “nationalist conservatism” tend to make. (See, for example, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and his plans for internet regulation.) But Carlson’s new faith in the state doesn’t follow Bolton into the foreign policy arena, so he summons a bit of anti-statist fire to force Bolton out into the cold.