How the Claremont Institute Became a Nerve Center of the American Right

Some of the most pointed criticisms of Claremont’s recent prominence have come from scholars with similar backgrounds. “I think there’s a story here about the insularity of the conservative world,” says Laura Field, a political philosopher and scholar in residence at American University, who has published several sharp critiques of Claremont over the last year in The Bulwark, a publication started by “Never Trump” conservatives. Claremont has been “pretty much unchallenged by broader academia,” Field told me, as many academics, liberals but also other conservatives, tend to consider political engagement in general, and Claremont’s ideas and public manners in particular, beneath them. In contrast, Claremont scholars “understand the power of a certain kind of approach to politics that’s sensational,” she said. Field pointed me to a recent exception, a small panel discussion in July, in Washington, in which Kesler took part. Kesler defended the upsurge of populism as “pro-constitutional,” and so, he said, “even though it takes an angry form in many cases,” it was difficult to “condemn it simply as an eruption of democratic irrationalism.” Bryan Garsten, a political scientist at Yale, responded that it was very generous to interpret the current populism as “erupting in favor of an older understanding of constitutionalism,” but even if that was partly true, he questioned whether populism could “be expected to generate a new appreciation for constitutionalism” or whether it wouldn’t “do just the reverse.” It is, Garsten said, “a dangerous game to try to ride the tiger.”

Nonetheless, Claremont’s recent successes have made for effective fund-raising. Klingenstein, Claremont’s chairman, who runs a New York investment firm, was, as recently as 2019, Claremont’s largest donor, providing $2.5 million, around half its budget at the time. Claremont’s budget is now around $9 million, and Klingenstein is no longer providing a majority of the funding. “They’re increasingly less reliant on me, and that’s a good thing,” Klingenstein said. (On Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast on July 15, he noted that the budget kept going up.) Other big recent donors, according to documents obtained by Rolling Stone, include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and the Bradley Foundation, two of the most prominent conservative family foundations in the country.

Many Claremont scholars are still supportive of Trump but have also cultivated relationships with other figures of potential future importance, especially Ron DeSantis, perhaps envisioning a day when Trumpist conservatives find a more dependable and effective leader. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, which has many Claremont graduates on its faculty and a robust presence in Washington, conducted an event with DeSantis last February at which he called DeSantis “one of the most important people living.” According to The Tampa Bay Times, Hillsdale has helped DeSantis with his efforts to reshape the Florida education system, participating in textbook reviews and a reform of the state’s civics-education standards. But Claremonters are…

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