Many conservatives who are not willing to trade in their traditional values for populist nationalism feel politically homeless. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2003, in National Review David Frum wrote an article called “Unpatriotic Conservatives,” excoriating those who questioned the adventurism of the Iraq War. That kind of name-calling is not very different from the attacks Trump-supporting outlets today level at conservatives who are not sufficiently deferential to the president.
Squashing dissent was wrong in 2003, and it is wrong today. Going along to get along and admitting mistakes has its place, and it is where most on the Right stand today. But a president who angrily tweets before breakfast and has harsher criticism for Sen. John McCain than for Russian President Vladimir Putin makes many conservatives uneasy. Kristol provides a service as one of few conservative voices left who refuse to shrug and say, “This is fine.”
Kristol’s acerbic attacks on Trump provide space for the more modest criticism the rest of us offer. Rest assured, without the target Kristol provides, those more constrained attacks on Trump would be squarely in Trump’s crosshairs.