Discover more from Emerald Robinson’s The Right Way
How I Murdered The Weekly Standard
A Secret History of How the Never Trumpers Lost the War of Ideas
Three years ago, I wrote an essay on “The Collapse of the Never Trumpers" that caused quite a stir. Rush Limbaugh talked about it on his radio show, while Nigel Farage congratulated me in the halls of Parliament. Hundreds of people wrote me "thank you" notes. The haughty Never Trumpers, not so much. My modest proposal was that the 3% of Republicans who never approved of President Trump should stop pretending that they were spokesmen for the 97% of Republicans who did. In the corporate media, where 97% of that 3% were keeping a high profile on cable news, the distortions became preposterous. This seemed to me elementary logic. But for the tiny group of delusional Never Trumpers, my modest proposal fell on them like a ton of bricks.
In the end, my essay ignited a kind of public war among conservative intellectuals that helped to bring down the neocons and the Never Trumpers in the media. Not only did the Weekly Standard shut down, but the National Review kicked out Jonah Goldberg, and the neocon's peewee prince Bill Kristol went to work for Democrats - all in six months. How did that happen? They had no base of support outside of the Beltway, and they were in willful denial about their own unpopularity. This dynamic was obvious at all levels of media, but let's take a high visibility example: the old panel at Fox New's Special Report with Bret Baier. Now, Bret Baier is obviously a very quiet Never Trumper but if you stacked your daily panel with Stephen Hayes, A. B. Stoddard, and Jonah Goldberg and these were the “conservative” pundits you picked to defend President Trump's policies then it's obvious what Bret was doing.
A week or so after my essay appeared, I got a very short and shrill phone call from one of Bret's staffers - who was a rabid Hillary Clinton supporter, no less. When I picked up the call, she was angry and breathless and did not want to do small talk. She said: "You don't know what you've done, you don't understand the damage you've caused to this show." I asked her to calm down, and be specific. She hung up instead.
This bizarre exchange piqued my interest enough to watch Bret Baier's show that night, which was an emotion I rarely felt for Special Report. Sure enough, Bret Baier ended the episode with an odd little "farewell" segment to Stephen Hayes. The gist of it was that Hayes was suddenly taking "a one year vacation to Spain" with the family. My first thought was: who does a video farewell when they take a vacation? The whole thing was pure baloney. It was now perfectly clear why Bret's hysterical staffer had called. Apparently my essay had been a crucial factor in getting Stephen Hayes kicked off TV. Someone over at corporate had finally looked at the piss poor ratings Bret was getting and the light bulb went off: no one wants to listen to Hayes anymore. That was certainly true. (A few months later, the sour puss A. B. Stoddard also disappeared from the Special Report show - this time without a video farewell.)
Hayes getting axed left me surprised. How was I to know that Fox executives could read? How was I to know that Baier and Hayes were roommates in college? Did Hayes sail to Spain on one of those idiotic cruises that he was always pushing on his subscribers? Jonah Goldberg had been taunting me from the pages of the National Review that the Never Trumpers were all doing fine – and then suddenly none of them were doing fine. In his video farewell, Hayes wanted everyone to know that he'd be back in a year, and that he was still the chief editor of the Weekly Standard magazine. Both of these statements actually turned out to be false.
Five months later, I got a call from an insider that all the employees at the Weekly Standard were being asked to prepare for the worst. Had anyone run with this story yet? No they hadn't. Had it somehow fallen to me to be the first to announce the end of the celebrated neocon magazine where Bill Kristol and Stephen Hayes had regularly taunted the American working class? Yes it had. The Lord had delivered them into my hands. So I gathered my facts together on a Tuesday afternoon and sent out this tweet:
Multiple sources tell me that neocon magazine @weeklystandard is expected to close its operations in a few weeks. It had lost many subscribers since the 2016 election as its NeverTrumper editors Bill Kristol and Stephen Hayes and Charlie Sykes publicly aligned with the Left.
I expected angry pushback. Instead there was silence. CNN had been working on a story about it, spoon-fed by the editor Stephen Hayes himself, but I had beaten them to it. I had beaten Stephen Hayes on reporting the demise of his own magazine. The staff had developed an uneasy sense that things couldn’t continue much longer – despite Hayes adding new staff on big salaries right up to the very end. “I don’t expect it to exist after December 14, 2018,” one editor at the magazine later told The Daily Caller. “There is no budget for it at all.”
A few days later I got another call. The people at Clarity Media, which owned and managed the Weekly Standard, wanted my advice on hirings and firings at the magazine. Well, really, they wanted to know who they could not only let go – but who they needed to toss out of the building with great force and speed. Who were the people who had wittingly helped Hayes and Kristol destroy the magazine’s readership and reputation? Who was worth keeping? And who had burned their bridges so badly among other conservatives that their name on the masthead of any future publication would scare subscribers away?
The owner's plan was to launch a Washington Examiner glossy magazine to match the newspaper, using the operating funds of the now radioactive Weekly Standard. It was an interesting conversation – weighing the careers of so many writers in my mind, and trying to be fair. Should Andrew Ferguson be sent to the salt mines? Could Bill Kristol be forced to tattoo "Trump was right" on his forehead to collect his pension? Perhaps Hayes could pump gas at a truck stop in his hometown for awhile? I had a lot of creative staffing ideas in that vein. I was actually the secret author of the strategy note on the Weekly Standard's future that Clarity Media commissioned from the DC consulting class. I know: that seems impossible to believe, but only if you're not a believer. Suffice to say: my cause was righteous.
On December 14, 2018 Clarity Media gathered the staff of the Weekly Standard together for one last conference call, and let everybody go. (That wasn’t my advice, by the way. I believe in mercy.) The magazine staff were unemployed just before Christmas because the masthead was full of lunatics. One or two writers landed at the Washington Examiner newspaper. More famous people got other gigs. (And some people, forming a rump state of third-tier talent, were led astray by Charlie Sykes into organizing a leftwing hate rag called The Bulwark.) Obviously it was a wipe out. The top people had chosen a kamikaze mission against Trumpism but had only managed to blow themselves up. Bill Kristol was already on the payroll of Democrats and seemed too shocked, or medicated, to care. As for Stephen Hayes, his entire career had totally dissolved in five short months.
The end of the Weekly Standard came as a heavy blow to Beltway mediocrities like John Podhoretz, and other neocon fossils stuck in assisted nursing facilities. Everyone started blaming the management company, Clarity Media Group, and the owner of it all, Philip Anchultz. Podhoretz declared that a “murder had been committed.” This became the absurd running theme of elite media coverage: it was murder, not suicide! David Brooks, in particular, was semi-hysterical. (Let's be honest: these hissy fits were one of the guilty little pleasures of the Trump Era.) Brooks even took to the pages of the New York Times to ask: “Who Killed the Weekly Standard?”
This week, Anschutz and McKibben murdered The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion magazine that Anschutz owned. They didn’t merely close it because it was losing money. They seemed to have murdered it out of greed and vengeance.
Now, it’s true that the owner did not entertain other offers for the magazine, and it’s true that he didn’t even bother to sell off the archive to interested parties for reprinting. Why? Well, he didn’t tell me this himself but when the publisher and chief editor of the conservative magazine you own and operate (at a loss every year) spend their days spitting at President Trump, what other possible outcome could there be? Indeed, a wipe out is exactly what conservatives who betrayed the conservative movement during the Trump Era deserved and they all bit the dust: Kristol, Hayes, Goldberg, French, Frum, Sykes, Sabato, Charen, Ponnuru, Gerson, Noonan, Meachum, Boot, Brooks, Lowry, Scarborough, Stephens, Erickson and Rubin. It sounds like a list of demented reindeer. Their stockings will always be stuffed now with coal.
I try not to be shy when people ask me if I was the one who destroyed the Weekly Standard, tarred and feathered the National Review for taking money from tech giants like Google, got Stephen Hayes kicked off Fox News, and put Jonah Goldberg into semi-retirement in his basement to fax out a newsletter. Just for fun I say: well yes I am. In truth, these people and their magazines committed intellectual treason and they know it. I didn't really murder anything. The incredible blame game that Never Trumpers attempted to play with me ("How dare you mention the death of Charles Krauthammer! How dare you mention that we don't represent anyone because Trump has 94% approval among Republicans!") was classic projection. They were always going to kill the messenger, if they could.
As you know already, it didn't work out that way. I was no ordinary messenger: I came from a coal mining town in Appalachia as a tribune for Trump supporters. I am to the neocons and the Never Trumpers what General Ulysses S. Grant was to the South's cause in the original Civil War: the symbol of ultimate defeat. I gathered the troops, and I shot first. I was the one who proposed to fight it out on this line, even if it took all summer. The cause was just, and no pot-bellied and lily-livered Bush speechwriters were gonna deny the people. These dopey pundits were not actually influential leaders of men. Or women, for that matter.
Don't you forget it.