The Corrosion of Conservatism
Why I Left the Right
Max Boot recounts his extraordinary journey from lifelong Republican to vehement Trump opponent. From the isolated position of a man without a party, Boot launches this bold declaration of dissent and its urgent plea for true, bipartisan cooperation.
- Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.
Warning that the Trump presidency presages America’s decline, Max Boot, political commentator and Council on Foreign Relations Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies, recounts his extraordinary journey from lifelong Republican to vehement Trump opponent.
As nativism, xenophobia, vile racism, and assaults on the rule of law threaten the very fabric of our nation, The Corrosion of Conservatism presents an urgent defense of American democracy.
Pronouncing Mexican immigrants to be “rapists,” Donald Trump announced his 2015 presidential bid, causing Max Boot to think he was watching a dystopian science-fiction movie. The respected conservative historian couldn’t fathom that the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan could endorse such an unqualified reality-TV star. Yet the Twilight Zone episode that Boot believed he was watching created an ideological dislocation so shattering that Boot’s transformation from Republican foreign policy adviser to celebrated anti-Trump columnist becomes the dramatic story of The Corrosion of Conservatism.
No longer a Republican, but also not a Democrat, Boot here records his ideological journey from a “movement” conservative to a man without a party, beginning with his political coming-of-age as a young émigré from the Soviet Union, enthralled with the National Review and the conservative intellectual tradition of Russell Kirk and F. A. Hayek. Against this personal odyssey, Boot simultaneously traces the evolution of modern American conservatism, jump-started by Barry Goldwater’s canonical The Conscience of a Conservative, to the rise of Trumpism and its gradual corrosion of what was once the Republican Party.
While 90 percent of his fellow Republicans became political “toadies” in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Boot stood his ground, enduring the vitriol of his erstwhile conservative colleagues, trolled on Twitter by a white supremacist who depicted his “execution” in a gas chamber by a smiling, Nazi-clad Trump. And yet, Boot nevertheless remains a villain to some partisan circles for his enduring commitment to conservative fiscal and national security principles. It is from this isolated position, then, that Boot launches this bold declaration of dissent and its urgent plea for true, bipartisan cooperation.
With uncompromising insights, The Corrosion of Conservatism evokes both a president who has traduced every norm and the rise of a nascent centrist movement to counter Trump’s assault on democracy.
Reviews and Endorsements
One of the Washington Post's "50 Notable Works of Nonfiction in 2018"
A New York Times Editors' Choice
A devastating dissection of conservatism’s degeneracy in America.
Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine
[Boot] has written one of the most impressive and unflinching diagnoses of the pathologies in Republican politics that led to Trump’s rise. . . . What makes Boot’s argument admirable is that he doesn’t simply follow his ideology in a mechanical fashion. Instead he treats the rise of Trump with the seriousness an event of such magnitude demands. . . . The truly radical act in The Corrosion of Conservatism is its clear-eyed excavation of the movement’s history. . . . Boot is making an astonishing break in his suggestion that the Republicanism of Eisenhower was actually good, and that the conservative alternative of McCarthy, Buckley, and Goldwater was misguided. His analysis is as heretical as an orthodox Communist arguing in the 1950s that the problem with the Soviet Union began with the October Revolution.
Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine
In this searching and heartfelt account of his personal political evolution, Max Boot has given us a particular story with universal import. In this chaotic time, his sane and sober voice is a vital one, and his story is testament to the battle our better angels must wage against the insidious forces of darkness.
Jon Meacham, Author, The Soul of America
Max Boot came to America as a young refugee whose parents fled the old Soviet Union. A conservative inspired by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, Boot now finds himself a political refugee rightly offended by the excesses of Trump’s Republican Party and the continued collapse of American conservatism. His latest work is an important must-read for anyone hoping to better understand where the right went wrong and what the future of American politics has in store for us all.
Joe Scarborough, Host, MSNBC's Morning Joe
[A] lively memoir and acidic anti-Trump polemic. . . . Like many of the best memoirs of ideas, Boot’s story is one of conversion and de-conversion—of faith gained and then lost. . . . [Boot's] decision [to leave the Republican Party is] both understandable and admirable. And he does a very good job of telling the story of what led him to it.
New York Times Book Review
Boot minutely describes a disillusionment that wasn’t only 'painful and prolonged' but 'existential' . . . The Corrosion of Conservatism does double duty as a mea culpa memoir and a political manifesto, detailing Boot’s 'heartbreaking divorce' from the Republican Party after decades of unstinting loyalty. . . . His surprisingly anguished book is peppered with so many penitential lines ('I am embarrassed and chagrined') and so much bewildered disappointment in figures like Rubio ('I thought he was a man of principle') and House Speaker Paul Ryan ('I had viewed him as smart, principled and brave') that even the most die-hard leftist might be moved to hand Boot a hankie. . . . Soul-searching. . . . Refreshing.
New York Times
In The Corrosion of Conservatism, Boot charts his ideological odyssey. He deftly recounts his early attraction to the conservative cause and his revulsion at its embrace of Trump. . . . He explains what it was like to immerse himself in what amounted to a conservative madrassa. In describing his self-conversion from zealot to apostate, he emerges as the Candide of the right, offering fascinating insights into the psychology of a true believer. . . . His readiness to reexamine his old convictions is admirable.
Jacob Heilbrunn, Washington Monthly
I found Corrosion of Conservatism bracingly honest. . . . If all the Never Trumpers had the humility that Max Boot has in The Corrosion of Conservatism, I think we’d go a long way to healing the breach on the right, which is deep. . . . The Corrosion of Conservatism is a brilliantly revealed memoir of Never Trumpism. . . . I want everyone to read [this] story.
Hugh Hewitt, The Hugh Hewitt Show
[A] page-turner. . . . Max Boot reveals himself as a thoughtful and serious individual who is wary of dogmatism from either political side. We who are readers of his books and regular columns should be thankful for his insight into the conservative movement, and for his intellectual growth and honesty.
Ron Radosh, Tablet
The most penetrating criticism of Donald Trump’s presidency has come from people like Bill Kristol, David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, Eliot Cohen, Bret Stephens and Max Boot, whose work is powerful because their conservative credentials are sound. Some of them have remained Republicans, hoping eventually to reform the party from within. Mr Boot has moved further, arguing in a new book The Corrosion of Conservatism that the Republican Party is beyond repair and should be 'burned to the ground.' Voiced by a lifelong Democrat, that suggestion would invite eye-rolling. Mr Boot, who devoured copies of William F. Buckley’s National Review as a teenager in California in the 1980s, idolised Ronald Reagan and became the editor of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages at the age of 28, cannot be dismissed so quickly.
I found Boot’s book to be a valuable and provocative dissection of the things we had glossed over, rationalized, or ignored. He has sparked a debate that we need to have: to what extent does Trump retrospectively discredit the modern conservative movement?
Charlie Sykes, Weekly Standard
Max Boot mixes lively memoir with sharp analysis to make an important argument about the state of conservatism in America today. This is a book conservatives are going to have to reckon with and that all of us can learn from.
William Kristol, Weekly Standard
In this poignant and brave political memoir, Max Boot digs deep and chronicles the intellectual journey that caused him to question previous beliefs and quit the Republican Party of Donald Trump. Both an intriguing confessional and an insightful behind-the-scenes exploration of how the conservative movement went awry, this candid, engaging, and important account provides critical lessons for the current moment and the days ahead.
David Corn, Coauthor, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump
This is a significant book, and an elegantly written and enjoyable one. In explaining his own intellectual and political evolution, Max Boot presents a vivid modern version of America's timeless immigrant-making-it saga—and also documents the catastrophic decision of many of his colleagues to abandon conservative principles in favor of Trump-era resentments and tribalism. This book will stand as a clear-eyed look at our times, and as part of the effort to find a better way forward.
James Fallows, National Correspondent, Atlantic
Max Boot is one of our sharpest contemporary thinkers about politics, world affairs and America’s role in the global crisis facing liberal democracy. Unsparing, acute and wonderfully well-written, The Corrosion of Conservatism is a bracing repudiation of Ideological myopia, moral compromise and intellectual corruption. More than that, it is an indispensable dissection of how conservatism devolved from the philosophical rigor of William Buckley to the toxic tribalism of Donald Trump—and what we must do to set our future right.
Richard North Patterson, Author, Loss of Innocence
Boot’s passionate and principled stand against alleged tyranny will resonate with many readers disillusioned with the state of contemporary politics.
Washington Post columnist and CNN global affairs analyst Boot (The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, 2018, etc.) contemplates the collapse of the GOP under the poisonous influence of Donald Trump. The author is convinced that the Republican Party will suffer repeated and devastating defeats for its embrace of extremism, conspiracy mongering, ignorance, isolationism, and white nationalism. . . . Republicans particularly need to read this book.
Readers across the political spectrum will appreciate Boot’s thoughtful personal and political analysis.