Advisor to the President on Serbia-Kosovo Richard Grenell and Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner during a press briefing at the White House on September 4, 2020. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
At the Republican National Convention in 1992, primary runner-up Patrick J. Buchanan delivered a rousing speech in defense of American workers, traditional family values, and the restoration of American order, both political and moral.
Buchanan remembered from the campaign trail “those workers at the James River Paper Mill, in Northern New Hampshire in a town called Groveton—tough, hearty men … under a threat of losing their jobs at Christmas.” Buchanan called them “conservatives of the heart” who “share our beliefs and our convictions”—“our people,” who need to “know we know how bad they’re hurting.”
Buchanan recalled the chaos of the L.A. riot and celebrated “the one thing that could stop it: force, rooted in justice, and backed by moral courage.” He highlighted the importance of school choice, the right to life, the protection of women from combat, and voluntary prayer in public schools. In a single sentence of the 35-minute speech, Buchanan affirmed the conservative stance “against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.”
This was the moment that made Richard Grenell. Grenell, who held a number of foreign policy posts in the last administration, is a key member of President Trump’s inner circle with clear aspirations for a future in Republican politics. In extensive comments delivered to Fox News this week, Grenell reminisced:
I can remember sitting there, listening, and vowing to not allow that to stand. Because I knew, as a consistent conservative, that to embrace people who wanted limited government, and limited government involvement in their lives, and more personal responsibility, was the conservative principle, and that he was wrong.
Fast forward three decades: Grenell and other “Log Cabin Republicans”—the largest national advocacy group for gay politicos in the less progressive of the two major parties—are guests of honor at a GOP president’s court-in-exile down in Mar-a-Lago. It was there, just this past weekend, that the Log Cabin Republicans held their Spirit of Lincoln Gala, with Donald in attendance and Melania as the guest of honor. (This, it seems, is owed entirely to her fashion sense.)
In addition to the first lady, the group recognized RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel with its Majority Maker Award—an ironic honor, given the party’s electoral record under her leadership. In return, McDaniel announced that the party would be launching its first ever “RNC Pride Coalition” in preparation for next year’s midterm elections.
This is, of course, a moronic electoral strategy. The combination of market liberalism with social liberalism that somehow cancels out into mainstream American conservatism is a platform virtually without a constituency, and it is incomprehensible why the party establishment would move further into this sparsely populated territory if it had any interest at all in actually winning. Painting the elephant rainbow will drive out 20 conservatives for every one Grenell it brings into the tent.
But let’s grant, for the sake of argument, some improbable genius to McDaniel’s gambit. Even if it were a winning strategy, would an alliance between conservatives and the gays who hate the left—not just the Ric Grenells but the Douglas Murrays and Dave Rubins of the world—be a desirable one?
This is both the logical end and an effective repetition of the last century’s debate over fusionism. In the early years of the Cold War, a cohort of theorists in the orbit of National Review worked to build an alliance both practical and philosophical between traditionalism and libertarianism. The champions of fusion argued first that a common enemy—communism then, “wokeness” now—demanded the formation of a broad and diverse coalition, and second that the cross-pollination such an alliance might facilitate would actually strengthen not only conservatism’s pragmatic position but its philosophical one.
While both points are in error, the latter is especially egregious. Far from complementing or completing traditionalism, libertarianism overpowered and corroded it. And it could only have happened this way. A fusion that is forced—that is, unnatural—can never be an actual union; it can only ever find an uncomfortable balance with one partner on top and the other on the bottom. The critics of the old fusionism recognized this immediately. What’s more, they understood that the dominant partner could never have been traditionalism, because:
A movement that can accommodate libertarianism’s axiom is dominated by it: if freedom is the “first principle” in politics, virtue is, at best, the second one; and the programmatic aspects of the movement that affirms that hierarchy will be determined accordingly.
Something similar could be said of the LGBTQ+ movement—not to be confused with same-sex attraction—which is the elevation of a personal urge to a moral imperative that transcends any countervailing exterior authority. It is, in effect, libertarianism reduced to the level of the flesh. Like that parent ideology, it is absolute. It denies in practice (if not in theory) the moral limits that define conservatism, especially those aimed towards the preservation of the family as the foundation of the political order, setting up in their place the individual will and what Strauss once called the “joyless quest for joy.” It is impossible to carve out a space for it in the movement without chipping away at the foundations.
Decades ago, the libertarians and their fusionist defenders insisted that they sought compromise, that they merely wanted a seat at the table and would not impose a foreign vision on their skeptical, newfound allies. Today’s Log Cabin Republicans make the same promises. “The thing about gay conservatives,” Grenell told Fox News, “is that we have normal lives. We’re not going to make sexual orientation be the be all, end all center of everything that we do.”
And yet, at slight criticism from the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, Grenell insisted that the blogger—who had, like Buchanan, simply stated a mainstream and commonsense conservative position—“look[ed] completely uneducated and from the Stone Age.” Walsh’s Neanderthal offense was pointing out:
Trump hosted and attended an event over the weekend where the GOP unveiled its new “RNC Pride Coalition.” If the Republican Party is going to fully embrace leftist sexual identity politics, then it officially serves no purpose.
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) November 8, 2021
Walsh is not quite right that the GOP serves no purpose, but he cannot be blamed for thinking so if he began with the assumption that its intended purpose was to be an institutional defender of American conservatives. It is not that. The party is, and has long been, the political home of fusionism—which eventually becomes effectual libertarianism, which eventually becomes embodied as Grenellism.
“The gay left doesn’t want the Republican Party to evolve,” says Grenell, but the gay right does. That is, it wants to impose its own priorities on the coalition, and—like last time—could very well succeed. But it will not stop there.
First-generation fusionism, once a new generation of ex-leftists joined the fold, birthed neoconservatism. This, too, was an inevitable development. The ideology of freedom is not just absolute; it is imperial. Once it overtook tradition and prudence at home, it moved on to assert its universal claims. As has been said, it knows no limits, and insinuates itself in Kabul and beyond with disastrous results.
Fusionism 2.0 will follow the same path. For proof of this, look no further than the Fox News write-up of this weekend’s gala. This isn’t parody. I swear.
Last week, the Log Cabin Republicans announced the launch of its “Outspoken Middle East” platform, with translations of their material in Farsi and Arabic, along with a “team of LGBTQ+ citizen journalists in Tehran, Kabul, Beirut and around the region and the world to tell human stories about the realities of being gay in parts of the world that liberals and corporations have left behind.”
“Gay conservatives in America,” Grenell says, “are going to concentrate on Riyadh, Tehran and Ramallah, while the gay left continues to try to pretend that partisan politics is helping them.” This is of a piece with the rainbow imperialism Grenell pursued in the Trump administration. It is, moreover, indicative both of the Log Cabin types’ priorities and the ambition of their project.
This is, of course, not conservatism, and could never be made into it. But it is fusionism—and it is all that fusionism ever could have been.