When National Review last week offered its warm embrace of the GOP’s “Pledge to America,” it wasn’t the first time some conservatives had felt the magazine was backing the Republican Party over conservative principles.
Numerous critics point to a series of editorial decisions in past years, perhaps most prominently the magazine’s backing of government bailouts for Wall Street in October 2008.
“National Review has apparently become an organ of the Republican establishment,” said one well-known conservative author who did not want to lend his name to the criticism.
Even a brother of the 55-year old magazine’s late founder, William F. Buckley, Jr., is criticizing the magazine. Reid Buckley is gearing up to publish a book in coming months that will level blistering criticisms of the conservative movement as a whole and National Review specifically, along with the Weekly Standard and the American Spectator.
Many others, though, defend National Review and say it is still a conservative flagship that maintains a healthy independence from the GOP establishment.
Ed Gillespie, who chaired the Republican National Committee and worked in the White House as well during the Bush administration, said NR did not walk in lockstep with the Republican-controlled White House.
“I’d always rather have NR with me than against me, but there were many frustrating times as party chairman or in the White House when the policies or politics I was advocating they were opposing, and no amount of persuasion, pressure or pleading could change that,” Gillespie told The Daily Caller.
“I didn’t argue with them over party support. I only argued with them over principle, knowing party support would be a dead end.”
David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, said NR is “more friendly…to Republicans than some conservatives believe they should be, but that doesn’t make them GOP lap dogs.”
Yet some past contributors to the magazine suggested National Review had lost some of its intellectual heft and originality.
“My dad first bought a subscription to National Review for me when I was 16,” said Jed Babbin, former editor of Human Events. “It used to be the place in which conservative thought was not just expressed, but propelled. I don’t think that’s been the case since William F. Buckley, Jr. went into retirement.”
“It’s certainly more of an organizational magazine now. It’s lost a lot of its flair,” said former contributor Joe Rehyansky. “NR ain’t what it used to be.”
Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, said the energy of the Tea Party movement has rendered a more inside-the-beltway publication like National Review less relevant, though he made clear he was speaking only for himself and not for Heritage.
“National Review isn’t a place that I would go regularly to go to see what the heartbeat is of the Tea Party movement and to find out what is going on with rank and file Republicans,” Darling said.
A Heritage spokesman said the think tank is firmly behind NR.
NEXT: NR’s decision to back TARP