On Friday, our Jon Ward reported a piece that described how House Republican leaders went about selling their “Pledge to America” to the rest of the Republican caucus. In the story, Ward explained how, at a meeting last Wednesday night of Republican lawmakers, leadership aides passed out an editorial from National Review that strongly endorsed the “Pledge.” Notably, the editorial said nothing about the elements of the “Pledge” that have proved unpopular among conservatives, including its now-famous failure to call for a ban on earmarks. Instead, the editorial showered praise on the effort, calling it, among many other flowery things, a “shrewd political document.”
If you’re a member of the Republican establishment in Washington, ideologically out of sync with your conservative supporters but anxious not to offend them, endorsements like these are precious. And indeed, leadership aides passed out copies of National Review’s editorial at the GOP caucus meeting. As Ward reported, none of this was accidental. According to two high-level sources, the editorial had been “prearranged” by Neil Bradley, an aide to House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, with National Review.
Both National Review and Rep. Cantor’s office immediately denied any such arrangement. Both attacked Ward personally. National Review did so in print.
Not so fast. In addition to the two trusted sources who spoke on background to Ward, we have evidence that there was in fact coordination between National Review and Congressman Cantor’s office. We know that GOP leadership aides were aware of, and excited by, National Review’s editorial before it was published. We know that the piece was posted online just minutes prior to the start of the Wednesday evening caucus meeting, yet somehow aides were ready with copies to pass out to members. A coincidence? Please.
But there are also some things we don’t know. Who at National Review (or its non-profit arm, the National Review Institute) spoke to members of the Republican leadership staff about the editorial, and when? What was the substance of those conversations? And are there other instances in which National Review has used its influence to help the Republican leadership placate its conservative base?
We haven’t nailed down those details yet, but we plan to – and not just because one of our colleagues has been unfairly maligned, but because it matters.
There is an important debate taking place over the direction of conservatism and the future of the Republican Party – one in which Tea Party and other grassroots activists have developed an understandable distrust of the Washington-based Republicans who claim to represent them. In this case, National Review has taken sides, providing ideological cover for the party’s establishment wing at a critical moment. We think it’s worth knowing a lot more about that arrangement.