Philanthropy-Related Notes from Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites
Funding, fear of tarring, and consequences of insularity.
Robert P. Saldin’s and Steven M. Teles’ new Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites is the first book-length history of those conservatives who opposed the election of, and still vociferously oppose, President Donald Trump. Saldin and Teles interview many figures for Never Trump, which should help form any good survey of the landscape for the coming clarification of conservatism. Philanthropy plays a part in the story, and it should heed how.
Saldin is a political-science professor at the University of Montana, and Teles is a political-science professor at Johns Hopkins University and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.
Teles’ previous books include 2008’s The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law—for which he was permitted access to material by the John M. Olin Foundation and the Federalist Society, among other conservative institutions, most of which considered themselves fairly treated in the work. His deep knowledge and helpful insights about conservative philanthropy are evidenced by his contributions to the 2012 Bradley Center on Philanthropy and Civil Renewal colloquium, “What is Conservative Philanthropy?”
Cash and Comfort
In Never Trump’s description of Never Trump organizations and projects, Saldin and Teles note those groups’ sources of financial support. One of these is Defending Democracy Together, an advocacy group with an affiliated charity, the Defending Democracy Together Institute.
“Somewhat controversially,” Saldin and Teles write, their “funding has come from left-of-center sources including Democracy Fund Voice, an initiative solely sponsored by tech entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar, and the Hewlett Foundation,” as has been reported. (Hewlett supported Never Trump, too, and supports the Niskanen Center.)
Defending Democracy Together and related Never Trump efforts overviewed by Saldin and Teles include Republicans for the Rule of Law, The Bulwark, Stand Up Republic, and The New Center.
Never Trump also covers Checks and Balances, a coterie of conservative legal critics of Trump and his administration. “Although at least one prominent foundation on the center-left was prepared to help Checks and Balances in building out the organization,” the book reports, “a number of participants were not particularly comfortable with that.”
Checks and Balances’ Jon Adler tells Saldin and Teles, “We’re really worried about making sure we get money from places that aren’t going to allow anyone to tar us, and we are hoping to do some things in the [future] that will serve the purpose of raising these issues within a conservative framework.” (Brackets in original.)
“But as of this writing,” according to Saldin and Teles, “there have not been any explicitly conservative sources of funding that have been willing to support the organization.”
A Buffer and a Basis
Almost passingly, Never Trump notes philanthropy in another part, as well—essentially, because of its insularity. For which there were, and are, consequences.
“[M]any elite conservatives draw their sustenance from organizations generally controlled by the center-left, such as newspapers, magazines, and universities. As a consequence, the legitimacy of conservatism outside of the right is of paramount concern to them,” according to Saldin and Teles, “in a way it simply is not to those who preach to the converted.”
Regarding this latter group, they continue,
Even conservative public intellectuals who work for conservative magazines, think tanks, and public interest organizations find themselves in contact with a relatively small and self-selected group of wealthy conservative donors. That provides a material foundation for their work that serves as a buffer from the conservative mass public and also as the basis for a separate culture of elite conservatism—a culture in which Never Trump flourished. In 2016 that culture of elite conservatism was shown to have been more isolated than anyone had thought, as its organs struggled—it turns out unsuccessfully—to purge what intellectuals on the right thought to be a cancer in their movement.
This article first appeared in the Giving Review on April 9, 2020.