It’s easy to think of the soon-to-be launched conservative news site run by two prominent Never Trump conservatives as an outlet created simply to bash the president.
But Jonah Goldberg, one of the two co-founders, said that’s not quite right.
“We don’t want to be an anti-Trump thing,” Goldberg said in an interview on the Yahoo News podcast, “The Long Game.” “We kinda want to be a post-Trump thing.”
Goldberg is in the process of leaving his job at the National Review to join former Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Stephen Hayes at the yet-to-be named new outlet. They hope to launch this fall, he said.
The Weekly Standard — which had been co-founded by one of the most prominent anti-Trump conservatives, Bill Kristol — was shut down by billionaire owner Philip Anschutz late last year. Anschutz has remained invested, however, in the Washington Examiner, which has tilted in a pro-Trump direction.
The Weekly Standard and National Review were the two redoubts of the Never Trump movement and stand in stark contrast to most media and activist websites on the right. Places like Breitbart News, the Daily Caller, the Federalist, Newsmax and others have all generally acceded to the pro-Trump point of view.
Goldberg noted that, by and large, none of the many conservative sites — even those like Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire, which is often quite critical of Trump — do a lot of original journalism, preferring instead to traffic in opinion and analysis.
“We think there is a large market out there for reporting from the right of center, and analysis ... that isn’t water-carrying for the Republican Party, nor is it just trying to beat up the Republican Party,” Goldberg said.
Much of Goldberg’s thinking has been shaped of late by studying the ways that traditional political parties have atrophied over the last several decades, creating a vacuum that has been filled by other actors and redefining the meaning of what a party is.
Political parties now are much more than a few committees and elected officials, he said. Political parties have become an ecosystem of interest groups, partisan media outlets and cable TV channels, big donors and dark money groups, and the traditional committee institutions and politicians.
“Since 1972, right before our eyes but almost invisibly, the infrastructure of both the professional right and the professional left have turned into essentially de facto proxies of the parties,” Goldberg said. “When the parties stopped performing party functions, these other institutions starting doing it, whether it’s Planned Parenthood on the left or the NRA on the right.
Goldberg said the “ideological press” has also become part of the new party ecosystem, but said that is “not always a bad thing.”
“I’m not leaving National Review because I’m mad at National Review,” Goldberg said. “National Review vets candidates, it frames issues, it does all sorts of things that parties are supposed to do. Fox News plays a huge function in that. So does MSNBC. All those televised debates and town halls, those are essentially party functions that the party isn’t doing anymore, or is at least cooperating with.”
Nonetheless, he said, he and Hayes are setting out to create a news site that consciously rejects an alignment with the modern party apparatus.
“Lots of media institutions have internalized this role as a sort of an arm of the party,” he said. “So you get a lot of media players who, to the extent that they’re reporting … a lot of it is basically in service to a partisan agenda. That’s a lot of what Daily Caller has become … defending Trump.”
The Daily Caller, in fact, was launched in 2009 with a similar mission to the one stated by Goldberg: to do in-depth journalism from a center-right point of view. But that vision was long ago eclipsed by an approach that relies on stoking partisan outrage, which is a lower-cost, higher-yield business venture, at least in the short term. (This was the reason I left the publication after working there for just over a year in 2010.)
“We think chasing clicks is a bad idea … but also chasing clicks actually is bad for the country,” Goldberg said. “It leads to this nut-picking, where you pick the very worst examples of the other side … and hold them up as representative of the entire other side. It contributes to this screwed-up fishbowl demonization polarization dynamic.”
“Part of what we believe as a business proposition is that there are enough people out there who just don’t like that stuff,” Goldberg said. “That’s sort of part of the tradition I want to get back to is engaging with the other side where we try to tackle their best arguments, not their worst arguments, and where we don’t take their fringiest craziest people and hold them up as examples.”
As Goldberg and Hayes have gone through the process of meeting with investors and venture capital fund managers, their idea of what their project will be has shifted, Goldberg said.
“Part of the feedback we got from people was, ‘This sounds like a really fantastic business plan for newsletters, podcasts and events. Why are you chasing the dot.com model when everyone is running away from that?’” Goldberg said. “What started out as a grandiose big online magazine thing is now iterating.”
“We’re gonna have definitely an online magazine presence, but the footprint is going to be lighter,” he said.
Goldberg said he was hopeful that Trumpism is a passing fad in the long run.
“The Trumpification of conservatism and the GOP is in the most significant respects a story about old people,” Goldberg said. “The reality is that Trump’s base are over-65-year-old white people, and that’s the bulk of Fox viewers too.”
“This new thing we’re doing ties in with this idea of being a remnant for this renewal,” he said.