HOW THE RIGHT LOST ITS MIND
By Charles J. Sykes
St. Martin's Press, $27.99, 228 pages
"How the Right Lost Its Mind" is an important work. Any serious-minded citizen, no matter of what political persuasion, will benefit from reading it and carefully contemplating the powerful message of its thoughtful, solidly conservative author.
A highly principled conservative of the William F. Buckley Jr./Ronald Reagan mold, Charles J. Sykes is the author of eight other acclaimed conservative books and was a well-known Wisconsin conservative radio talk-show host.
Many will remember when an especially ill-prepared Donald Trump called into "The Charlie Sykes Show" days before the Wisconsin primary and how during that 17-minute interview Mr. Sykes respectfully but grippingly dismembered him regarding his fitness for the presidency and his elusive and anything but conservative positions on important issues. That the Wisconsin primary became a Ted Cruz routing of Donald Trump was in no small measure because of the challenging questioning Mr. Sykes and other leading conservative talk radio hosts in that state had raised about the Trump candidacy.
"How the Right Lost Its Mind" will be labeled as anti-Trump. It's that, to be sure - but it is so very much more than merely that. Above all, this is the story of the betrayal of the conservative cause by many prominent persons who had been considered, and disingenuously still claim to be, principled conservatives.
The author neither minces words nor pulls punches as he mourns over how some of the right's "leading voices turned from gatekeepers to cheerleaders and from thought leaders to sycophantic propagandists" and how "a movement based on ideas devolved into a new tribalism that valued neither principle nor truth."
Who were conservatism's biggest betrayers? He names names but doesn't rank them in any order of bad to worse to very worst. But it's not difficult to glean that had he done so his very worst betrayers category would be dominated by many of the country's best-known evangelicals.
"The evangelical support for Trump," he writes, "was especially surprising given the evidence that Trump was either indifferent toward or ignorant of the basic tenets of the faith." Yet, he notes, several leading evangelicals volunteered tortured defenses of conduct which previously they always passionately denounced. Among the most bizarre assertions were the biblically bogus comparison between Donald Trump and King David made by Jerry Falwell Jr. and his equally absurd theologically fallacious pronouncement that by having created jobs, candidate Trump had met "the true test of someone's Christianity."
Mr. Sykes clearly views some of conservative talk radio's leading lights as equally bad deserters in the fight for conservative values. He's appalled, for example, by Rush Limbaugh's "rationalizing Trump's statements while conceding they were false," his "explaining away some of Trump's more flagrant inconsistencies" and "how he rationalized the broken promises" and even lavishly praised Mr. Trump for persisting in the inane claim that John McCain was no war hero. He also counts among the top sellouts Matt Drudge and his Drudge Report, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, others at Fox News, Ann Coulter, Steve Bannon, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and more.
Nothing galls him more than that so many of those he views as traitors to his beloved conservative cause coddle crazies - crazies who claim that September 11 was a U.S. government conspiracy to create a police state; that President George W. Bush deliberately lied so he could take America to war in Iraq; that the bombings in Oklahoma City and at the Boston Marathon, and the mass shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, at a school in Columbine, at a gay nightclub in Orlando and in San Bernardino were all false flag staged events and that the mass murder of little children at Sandy Hook was a hoax complete with actors playing dead children.
Charles Sykes says that what the country has been through these past couple years shows that "Democrats need to perform an autopsy; Republicans need to perform an exorcism." A theme permeating this book is that 2016 was a great might-have-been for an American conservative renaissance and that a true country-saving victory so long awaited slipped away from conservatives - not because liberals were able to deny it to them but because by abandoning their principles they denied it to themselves.
"How the Right Lost Its Mind" may be the most important book resulting from the 2016 presidential campaign. It's a significant and instructive analysis of the current state of American conservatism - a must-read for any person truly faithful to conservatism's core set of beliefs.
Fred J. Eckert, a former Republican congressman from New York, served as U.S. ambassador to Fiji and to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture under President Ronald Reagan.