Published July 12, 2019
The Claremont Institute was part of the flowering of intellectual conservatism that graced America in the 1970s and ’80s. Founded by students of Lincoln scholar Harry Jaffa, the California think tank was devoted to teaching “the principles of the American Founding to the future thinkers and statesmen of America.” Through their various programs, they aimed to “educate the best and most promising young writers, lawyers, activists, academics, entrepreneurs, and public servants.” Among the outstanding past fellows were former George W. Bush administration official Tevi Troy, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, and social-conservative writer Ryan Anderson.
After the announcement of the 2019 Claremont Lincoln fellowships, it is safe to say that the flowering has gone to seed.
Among those Claremont is honoring in its new incarnation as a Trump-justifying toady is Jack Posobiec, the Internet phenom most famous for promoting the “Pizzagate” conspiracy. That was the rumor that Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and others were running a child sex ring out of a northwest D.C. pizzeria. Posobiec may have been influenced by Alex Jones (he travels in the same circles), who had said, “When I think about all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped, I have zero fear standing up against her. Yeah, you heard me right. Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can’t hold back the truth anymore.”
According to its mission statement, the Claremont Institute “provides the missing argument in the battle to win public sentiment by teaching and promoting the philosophical reasoning that is the foundation of limited government and the statesmanship required to bring that reasoning into practice.” Statesmanship is not the first word that jumps to mind when you mention the name Jack Posobiec. In addition to his role in the Pizzagate fiasco (which inspired a North Carolina man to burst into the restaurant armed with a shotgun in 2016), he’s also known for showing up at an anti-Trump rally carrying a sign saying “Rape Melania.” See, it was the old “false flag” maneuver, attempting to discredit Trump protesters. I guess you really need to study Hamilton and Madison to hone tactics like that. Posobiec also demonstrated his Trump-cult bona fides by defending Roy Moore when highly credible accusations of serial sexual abuse of minors surfaced, and by promoting the Seth Rich–DNC emails conspiracy theory. In short, Posobiec is the id of Trumpism, bottom-feeding among conspiracists, kooks, and shameless liars.
Among the other “fellows” Claremont has proudly announced is Mytheos Holt, a very early adopter of Trumpism. In a March 2016 Federalist piece, Holt displayed the kind of reality-denying bravado that has since infiltrated even once-impervious conservative sanctums. Here’s what he said about Trump’s character:
Or, I could talk about Trump’s great personal virtues. Yes, I said personal virtues. For while it has become de rigeur [sic] among conservatives to sneer at Trump as a man who personifies the opposite of family values, I submit that the evidence of Trump’s character as a family man and father is not only irrefutable: it literally stands beside him every time he wins a primary. I’m talking, of course, about Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr. Any parent who had raised even one child to turn out as well as any of those three adults would have cause to beam with pride. To have raised all three is simply mind-boggling.
Holt’s amazement at Trump’s parenting skills was only the beginning, of course. He went on to argue that among the 17 Republicans vying for the nomination, only Trump “speaks to the modern political moment.” His “strongman posture” would prove an asset in dealing with “illiberal foreign regimes,” he explained. Except Trump plays the bully only with democratic allies. When it comes to “illiberal foreign regimes” such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, he’s a purring kitten.
Many conservative institutions and individuals have adjusted their standards and long-proclaimed principles to accommodate Trump and Trumpism. Some have become almost unrecognizable. But Claremont stands out for beclowning itself with this embrace of the smarmy underside of American politics.
It defies belief that people supposedly committed to conveying the genius of our Founding can have so thoroughly jettisoned their devotion to truth and virtue.
Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.