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
Regarding ideological disputes, National Review’s decision to back government bailouts for Wall Street struck some as particularly galling, especially considering the magazine has condemned the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) under the Obama presidency.
“We were looking for allies to placate conservatives on the TARP. And National Review was early and quick in support of it,” said one former Bush White House official, who declined to speak on the record. “National Review was basically acting, at least in some people’s view, against what their principles were.”
“When it became politically convenient, when Obama became president, they changed their mind,” the former Bush official said.
Others cite National Review’s energizer bunny-like defenses of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war and its tepid criticism of Republican-backed legislation in 2003 to create a new entitlement system for prescription drugs.
“We do not quite blame the president and his Party for the massive expansion of Medicare,” NR wrote.
So when National Review offered its full-throated defense of the GOP’s new agenda, many saw the action as fitting into a pattern, perhaps explaining why some conservatives expressed irritation with the publication as a whole.
National Review editor Rich Lowry revealed in a Monday article the magazine had, as first reported by TheDC, coordinated with House Republican leadership before publishing their editorial.
Lowry said in the article that unidentified NR writers met Monday with a House Republican leader who gave them details about what was in the “Pledge,” to which National Review officials expressed their support.
Lowry also said that NR received a full copy of the “Pledge” on Wednesday afternoon. He argued “this sort of thing – getting an embargoed advance copy of a document—is extremely standard in journalism.”
But not in this case. TheDC did not get a copy of the “Pledge” ahead of when it leaked into the press, though a reporter asked for one. And TheDC has confirmed with other publications that they did not receive embargoed copies. Staff for House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, kept a notably tight hold on the “Pledge” document.
Lowry’s account contradicted another account provided Friday by a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner. Then, the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said NR had not received an embargoed copy. Asked to clarify the discrepancy, and to say who House GOP leadership gave embargoed copies to, Buck refused, deeming the questions “stupid.”
“I don’t have time for stupid,” Buck said.
Lowry declined to address the criticisms in an e-mail, citing time constraints. But the loud and populous conversation among conservatives on NR’s pages means for some, in the end, that no one editorial represents the publication as a whole anyway.
Jon Henke, a libertarian blogger and new media political consultant, cited the broad range of opinion that NR regularly publishes, which included a lengthy condemnation of the “Pledge” by Andrew McCarthy that was posted Saturday morning.
“It would be unfair to characterize National Review as anything but a diverse collection of voices of the Right,” said Henke.
Jon Ward contributed to this story