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BPR Interviews: Ben Domenech

Ben Domenech is the publisher of The Federalist, a self described “small c conservative” website that focuses on culture. Domenech also hosts The Federalist Radio Hour and writes the daily newsletter The Transom. Before co-founding The Federalist, Domenech faced scrutiny for plagiarism, and for taking money from an agent of the Malaysian Government to write favorably about the country.

BPR: How would you compare The Federalist to Breitbart? Do they invoke small ‘c’ conservatism the way The Federalist does?

BD: Breitbart’s namesake, Andrew Breitbart, cared a lot more about Hollywood and culture than he did about immigration policy or trade policy. He was much more about the idea that politics was downstream from culture. There’s an alternate history where if Andrew never died, Breitbart means something else. But today we don’t really view them as being in our lane. I view our role as being one that puts culture first. Arguments about relationships between men and women, the dating scene—they’ve become political in a very obvious way. I view the cultural space as the most interesting space.

BPR: How, if at all, have your responsibilities as a media organization changed since Trump was elected?

BD: Trump ramps everything up. One of the things that Trump’s presidency does is pour oxygen on the fire that was already there. As a media organization it’s a challenge because you try to critique Trump based on substance, and you don’t want a knee-jerk reaction against everything he does. Over and over again he’ll go out and say something on an issue, and everyone will criticize him. The problem is that the people who support him feel like they are constantly being called an idiot, a white supremacist, a bigot, or a misogynist. Why have his people stuck with him through all of these polls? Because they like what he’s doing, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can draw a straight line between them and the worst aspects of Trump’s character. I think it’s more of a statement of what they think is a priority for this country. So much of his appeal is built on nostalgia for a time in which things were skewed in favor of working- and middle-class white people. I think that’s not good, but it’s honest. I’d rather have our political dialogue be more honest about where people are and what their priorities are.

BPR: Do small ‘c’ conservatives have a responsibility to respond to white nationalism and the segments of it elevated in the Trump administration?

BD: I look at who is around the President right now and John Kelly is not a white supremacist, James Mattis is not a white supremacist, Jared and Ivanka, whatever you think of them, have not been leaders in the spread of white supremacy. And if you look at the people who are around him, he basically doesn’t even have any Republicans left. These are all people who are apolitical, or casually center right in a New York liberal way. It would be the same as me saying, “Nobody on the left believes in the First Amendment anymore because people on college campuses say that it’s justified shouting down somebody they disagreed with.”

In some instances you need to respond to white nationalism and say this is why this is wrong. It is important to be aware of this strain of [white nationalist] thought, and not do anything to help it along. But also don’t give them more oxygen than they deserve, and don’t pretend that they amount to a larger number of people than they actually do.