Former Republican gives Trump the Boot
Political consultant and columnist Max Boot criticized Trump and the GOP during the annual Donald J. Sutherland Lecture. // Photo courtesy of Hofstra University
In a scathing rebuke of President Donald Trump, his administration and the modern Republican Party, Max Boot – military historian, political consultant and conservative columnist for The Washington Post – spoke at Hofstra on Tuesday, April 23, about the decadence of American conservatism during the Trump era and the future of the GOP.
Boot’s talk was presented by the Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs. The Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Hofstra Cultural Center and the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication co-sponsored the event.
“Let me begin by making a confession: my name is Max, and I’m a recovering Republican,” Boot said to start off his talk, earning laughter from the crowd inside the Guthart Cultural Center Theater. Boot has gained recent notoriety for his defection from the Republican party and full-throated criticism of Trump. His latest book, titled “The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right,” is a tell-all about what drove Boot away from his former party.
Born in the former Soviet Union in 1969, Boot said his birthplace led him to identify with the GOP. “It was overdetermined, in some ways, that I would become a Republican,” Boot said.
Then came 2016. “It has been a rude awakening to see how conservatism has been transformed,” Boot said.
Boot is a creature of Cold War-era conservatism and a devotee of conservative orthodoxy. His preferred flavor of conservatism, which he called “Reagan-esque,” is rooted in traditional right-wing ideas such as free-market capitalism, the sanctity of the individual and limited government.
Boot’s work for notable Republicans in the past – serving as an adviser to the late Sen. John McCain during his 2008 bid for the presidency as well as on newly-elected Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 run for the White House and Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign – did not stop him from criticizing the GOP establishment for failing to stand up to the president.
He recounted a conversation he had with a “senior official in the George W. Bush administration,” during which he was told that his opposition to Trump was naive and that politics is not ideological or intellectual in nature, but rather “a tribal exercise.”
Boot was clear that he believes high-ranking members of the Republican establishment are guilty of turning a blind eye to the Trump-Russia scandal and the president’s behavior at large.
“In the beginning of 2016, I did not know a single conservative or Republican who had anything positive to say about Donald Trump. Today, by contrast, it’s almost impossible to find a single conservative or Republican who has anything negative to say about Donald Trump,” Boot said.
Boot voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, backing a Democrat for the first time. Politically, he said he identifies as “an unaffiliated centrist,” and that he has been working to paint centrism as a “sexy” alternative to the two-party duopoly.
“One of my big takeaways from this talk is that it’s really important that as a society we move toward the middle and try to understand the other side,” said junior political science major Donia Firooz.
As a conservative, Boot acknowledged that he does agree with some of the policies Trump has implemented.
Policy is not the focus of Boot’s disdain for the president. “This is about who is fit for office; this is about what kind of country we are; this is about how we preserve our democracy.”
The most consequential factor of the threat posed to American democracy by Trump is “his assault on the rule of law,” and the most consequential example of this, Boot said, is the evidence that he obstructed justice, as laid out in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.
He openly expressed a more controversial stance on what Mueller should have recommended. Boot said that when evaluating Trump’s behavior, as documented in the report, “The words that come to mind are high crimes and misdemeanors,” alluding to the language in the Constitution that outlines what kinds of behavior are worthy of impeachment.
A military historian and self-professed “foreign policy guy,” Boot provided a scathing analysis of the president’s foreign policy agenda.
Trump, Boot said, has damaged the global order established after World War II by pushing his so-called “America first” agenda, which Boot deemed “an incredibly dangerous message to be sending to the world.”
Boot said he thinks Trump has had a more negative effect domestically than internationally.
Addressing Trump’s disdain for the news media, and specifically his favorite nickname for the press, “the enemy of the people,” Boot warned of the dangerous nature of this type of rhetoric.
“This is not the way that leaders of democratic republics talk. This is the way that Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler talked. They called the press the enemy of the people. This is authoritarian language.”
A common concern shared by both the right and left today is that American politics have grown too partisan. Boot was clear that Trump is not totally to blame for the partisan gridlock that existed well before his presidency.
However, Trump’s divisive rhetoric has led to “exacerbation of the bifurcation” of American society in one particular way, Boot said.
“The way that he divides Americans, of course, is along ethnic and racial lines.”
Boot said Trump’s rhetoric on race and immigration has fundamentally altered the nature of the GOP.
“For most of my life, the Republican party was a conservative party with a white nationalist fringe. Now it’s become a white nationalist party with a conservative fringe.”
He said that in 2020, “We should not be voting for the Republican party,” and that Trump’s defeat is “imperative,” or else “our democracy would be badly damaged.”
“A major problem that stands in the way of Republicans and conservatives reclaiming control of their party and the direction it heads in is the fact that the Republican party has been hijacked by Trump’s voting base. This sort of chains Republicans to vying for Trump’s approval,” said Thomas Nielsen, a junior political science, philosophy and global studies triple major.
“The success of a Republican running for office is now dependent upon whether or not said Republican has the backing of Trump and his base,” Boot said. “The GOP is very much so the party of Trump.”