Huston: Conservative Criticism Is a Constant

May 20, 2016

IN OCTOBER OF 1980 conservatives gathered in Washington for a dinner commemorating the 20th anniversary of the founding of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). Following the dinner, a few of the old-timers retreated to Bill Buckley’s suite for drinks and conversation.

Bill, stretched out on the floor, was the center of attention and the moderator of the discussion. At one point he asked, “If Reagan wins, how long before conservatives start criticizing him?”

Having some experience on the receiving end of conservative criticism of a Republican president, I noted that it took the American Conservative Union less than 60 days to find its aim and initiate fire on the Nixon White House. Considering that Reagan was much more conservative, I figured he would have a longer honey moon: “I give him six months.” There was no audible dissent.

It turns out, I was too pessimistic. President Reagan earned a reprieve from serious conservative counter fire in no small measure due to the assassination attempt on March 30, but largely as a consequence of passage of the Roth-Kemp tax bill in August. The ceasefire did not last, however, much past the first anniversary of his inauguration.

On February 26, 1982, Reagan noted in his diary: “Richard Viguery [sic] held press conference along with John Lofton and blasted me as not a true conservative – made me wonder what my reception would be at the Conservative [Conservative Political Action Conference] Dinner. I needn’t have worried – it was a love fest. Evidently R.V. & J.L. don’t speak for the rank-and-file conservatives. Speech was well received.”

In a July 28 entry, the President wrote: “The ‘Conservative Digest’ came out – an entire issue devoted to cutting me up down and crosswise. John Lofton and his compatriots seem to be determined to paint me as a turn-coat conservative. The tone is one of devoted but now disillusioned followers. H—l, in 1980 they held a secret meeting trying to persuade Al Haig to run against me.”

My old friend Richard Viguerie, who was the YAF executive director when I first was elected to the national board, is still at it. According to recent press reports, he has joined the ranks of the “Never Trumpers.”

— Tom Charles Huston



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