It seems as if, for the moment, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, has had it with not just the GOP but conservatism as a whole. In a scathing editorial over the hiring of John Bolton as Trump's new national security adviser, Scarborough skips over the usual "both sides are guilty" nonsense and drives straight at the heart of the matter:
Six decades of Republican overreach and corrosive causes have instead led to the rise of Donald Trump and a foreign policy run by John Bolton, an economy guided by Larry Kudlowand a legal team led by conspiracy theorist Joseph DiGenova.
Bolton’s elevation to the position of national security adviser is a fitting coda for a movement whose adherents spent decades throwing themselves on an endless array of ideological barricades while vilifying opponents whose responses to Soviet Russia or Islamic fundamentalism were deemed insufficiently harsh.
That could have been written by any and every liberal writer from the past 25 years and it shows just how damaged the conservative movement is that Joe Scarborough, of all people, is willing to speak that particular truth out loud.
It's important to understand that Scarborough's usual role is to, as Driftglass and Blue Gal of The Professional Left put it, build lifeboats for the conservative movement. When the Republican Party implodes under its own greed and corruption (yet again), the Joe Scarboroughs and David Brooks and Andrew Sullivans of the world are there to give the right a way to escape the consequences of their actions and proclaim the innocence of conservatism. This is how the Tea Party came into existence. It was a lifeboat to escape responsibility.
And up until today, that's exactly what Scarborough has been doing. While he regularly bashes the GOP, he also maintains that everything was just fine until Trump came along, casually ignoring his own role in creating the mess unfolding around him. But that's a key component of lifeboat building: Blaming the scapegoat (Trump this time, Bush last time) that ruined everything and led everyone astray. Conservatism is never to blame, just the people who aren't really conservatives.
But with this op-ed, Scarborough punches a giant hole in his own lifeboat and sends it screamning straight to the bottom of the ocean:
This was the predictable outcome of my Republican Party aligning its interests with the most cynical political operators of our time. The Atwaters, Manaforts, Gingriches and Roves leveraged a weaponized media culture that reduced politics to a secularized religion and consolidated political power and material wealth in the hands of its richest donors.
Again, Scarborough sounds less like a conservative than like every single liberal that's been screaming "We fucking told you so!" for the last couple of decades. The racism, the hate, the rage that have been the core of conservative ideology for years has been married to the paranoia and propaganda that was pushed into the fringes by William F. Buckley when he ostracized the John Birch Society back in the 1960s. What's left is a mindless mob easily captured by a dimwitted conman.
Scarborough is wrong, however, that Bolton is some kind of coda, or closure, to the failure of conservatism. We're not even close to the bottom of that barrel. They've taken a hard turn towards white nationalism and there's very little reason to suspect the movement will be able to pull itself away from the seductive grip of that hate. They've been conditioned for decades to crave the numbing comfort of white rage and now that they've had a taste of white nationalism's much more pure and intense variety, they're almost certainly hooked. It's going to take years of right wing domestic terrorism and the atrocities it brings for conservatism to hit rock bottom and even that might not be enough. It took the federal government declaring war on the KKK the last time to stop the widespread violence in the South and a Civil War the time before that.
In the meantime, it's more than likely that Scarborough will get over his temporary bout of conscience and go right back to building lifeboats. But if not, maybe his newly found loathing for modern conservatism can be an example for the rest of the boat builders who keep trying to save a movement that's been poison to American values for the past 40 years.
I wouldn't count on it, though. Taking personal responsibility is not a strong point for conservatives. If it was, we wouldn't be were we are today.