The Ghost of William F. Buckley

jonah goldberg
Jonah Goldberg and several of his associates from National Review and the Standard launched The Dispatch in 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Tina Nguyen
September 28, 2022

Back in college, during my days as a fledgling right-leaning reporter, I applied for an internship at National Review, the flagship magazine of the conservative movement. At the time, National Review Online was run by Jonah Goldberg, and as a digital native obsessed with the early internet, “The Corner”—NRO’s daily blog, which featured musings from across the masthead—was my first interaction with the work of the decades-old magazine, and the conservative movement in general. I was obsessed with Rich Lowry and Kathryn Jean Lopez, pored over William F. Buckley’s past work, and I even managed to get a satirical video of mine posted on the site in 2010. In my internship application, I described the magazine as a “roadmap of the right” and an example of what conservatism can do at its best: not just stand athwart history yelling stop, but offer thoughtful political alternatives when the march of progress occasionally heads over a cliff.

In the decade-plus since then, of course, the world has changed drastically, and the “conservative” movement with it. National Review now competes with a multiplying number of right-wing media publications that push hyperpartisan content (Breitbart, The Daily Caller) and conspiracy theories (Gateway Pundit, Infowars), along with a slew of independent writers and Substackers who’ve gone solo (Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan) and disaffected liberals who’ve veered into a right-wing audience (Glenn Greenwald, Joe Rogan). The Weekly Standard shut down and was partially reincarnated as the staunchly anti-Trump site The Bulwark. National Review itself, after publishing a major 2015 editorial declaring the magazine “Against Trump,” also divided into pro- and anti-Trump factions. Today, the “road map of the right” is largely dictated by social media posts and memes, not to mention the mercurial whims of one Donald J. Trump.

But Goldberg never deviated from the mission. In 2019, Goldberg and several of his associates from National Review and the Standard launched The Dispatch, a subscription media site combining rigorous reporting with center-right commentary. As editor-in-chief, Goldberg has built the site into a powerhouse that reflects the ethos of those early days of right-wing magazine journalism: thoughtful, rigorous and relatively free of partisan electioneering. With 27 employees and counting, more than 200,000 free subscribers, and 40,000 paid subscribers, The Dispatch is now one of the top revenue-generating publications on Substack.

The Dispatch has been so successful, in fact, that it’s leaving Substack next month to build out its own web presence. “It was absolutely the right decision to partner with them when we launched,” Goldberg told me, saying he was “grateful” for the partnership. “But our interests diverged and we’ve decided their model doesn’t work for what we’re trying to do as a full-fledged, independent, media company. We wish them nothing but the best.”

Goldberg also agreed to share his thoughts over the phone about the various political and media trends animating the right, and boy did he deliver. Our conversation, below, has been edited for length and clarity.

Tina Nguyen: Let’s talk about Ron DeSantis. There was a hot second where he was positioned as the more tolerable, less crazy Trump who could return the G.O.P. to a tenuous status quo and still speak MAGA at the same time. What do you make of the “DeSantasy”? Does it still hold after he publicly transported several dozen illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard to make a political point?

I wouldn’t call it a fantasy, I would call it flawed. Look, I’m not a huge fan of Ron DeSantis. I think what he did with Martha’s Vineyard was a political stunt and not really defensible, even though I think he’s got an underlying good point to make about immigration, as does Greg Abbott, another guy I’m not a huge fan of. But I think there are a lot of people—call them resistance liberals or Never Trump conservatives or whatever—in this sort of anti-Trump universe who I think have gotten themselves into a conceptual and rhetorical cul-de-sac, insofar as they want to argue that DeSantis is as bad as Trump or worse than Trump, or would be a continuation of Trump.