William F. Buckley founded the magazine in 1955. It’s motto? “Stand athwart history and yell ‘Stop’.”
NR was ground zero for the burgeoning rebellion of conservatives against the Rockefeller Republicans controlling the GOP at the time. It was nine years before the historic presidential primary showdown between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller.
NR was instrumental in promoting Goldwater as a national figure, and the founding of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) — seen as a competitor to the establishment controlled College Republicans.
After the Goldwater debacle of 1964, National Review began promoting the outsider anti-establishment efforts of former actor and newly-elected California governor Ronald Reagan.
I was an undergrad during the Reagan years. I noticed some guys on campus reading NR, and decided to mooch their copies. There was a lot of good information on The Reagan Revolution that was just not being shared with the rest of us by Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw. I became a subscriber. Each issue exposed me to several schools of thought on the right — social conservatism, libertarianism, et. al. — and how they were a great alternative to the big government tactics eating away at our economy and our society.
Bill Buckley soon began to champion a more pure libertarianism — staking out positions in favor of marijuana legalization and open-borders. In 1991, as Pat Buchanan was emerging as the leader of the conservative opposition to GHW Bush, Buckley published a 40,000 word essay in National Review blasting Buchanan’s close-the-border, anti-amnesty, America First views on immigration and Israel as racism on par with that of Hitler.
Buckley passed away in 2008. A much younger bunch, led by Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry, took over the helm of the magazine. These guys came from nowhere. They gave interviews talking about their love of skateboarding and hipster music and how they were going to make conservatism “cool.”
In 2012, NR turned its anti-establishment reputation on its head by endorsing the presidential candidacies of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.
Fast forward to 2016. The drivebys are hyperventilating over the fact that the conservative “bible” devoted a whole issue to attacking Donald Trump. One of the writers in that issue is Brent Bozell — WFB’s nephew and the guy who signed my paychecks about 25 years ago.
Brent got me involved in the Buchanan primary campaign of 1992. (He was also a leader in Steve Forbes’s anti-establishment primary run in 2000.) You would think what Donald Trump is doing this year would appeal mightily to people like Brent.
But not so. Over at Breitbart — a site that is rapidly replacing NR as the “conservative bible” — a writer made this point about Bozell, NR, and the effort to “define” conservatism:
[…] Lastly, there is no absolute pure strain of “conservatism,” my dear fellow Americans. There are many differing opinions depending on circumstances. William F. Buckley, Jr., who I greatly respected, had once said that if the United States had a parliamentary system, President Bush would be subject to a “no confidence” vote. He was highly critical of the war in Iraq. In the past, Buckley’s nephew Brent Bozell has weighed in on National Review’s relevance. Back in 2012, he posted this to Facebook and Twitter: “National Review’s endorsement of Romney & Huntsman proves only that this is no longer the magazine of William F. Buckley Jr. My uncle would be appalled.”
You’re right, Brent. National Review is no longer what your uncle and NR’s cofounders meant for it to become.