These Conservatives Have a Laser Focus: ‘Owning the Libs’


Undoubtedly The Federalist has been one of the biggest breakouts in this genre of commentary, diving headfirst into the culture wars. It debuted in 2013, inspired by what one of its founders, Ben Domenech, described as “a populist respect for the middle class reader outside of New York and Washington, and an abiding love for America.” It leans hard into the culture wars. Its pieces have questioned the Me Too movement (“One Year in, Me Too Hasn’t Made Me Feel Any Safer Or More Empowered To Speak Out”) and called the effort to recognize transgender identity a “war on women.”

The site’s sweet spot is with stories that feature conservatives battling liberal politicians and journalists in a clash where questions of privilege, gender and race reveal starkly different worldviews — like Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation or the boy from a Catholic high school in Kentucky who sued news outlets like CNN and The Washington Post for portraying him as mocking a Native American man and recently settled one of his defamation cases. (Ms. Hemingway, who wrote extensively about the Kavanaugh confirmation and co-authored a best-selling book on the hearings, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

The Federalist is often contrarian, sometimes to excess. Twitter briefly locked the site’s account in March after it shared an article with the headline “How Medical ‘Chickenpox Parties’ Could Turn The Tide Of The Wuhan Virus.” Publicly available web data for June shows that traffic for The Federalist is up 239 percent year over year, though the website’s internal numbers put the increase higher.

Critics have asked who is funding the site, since ad revenue alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain its staff of 14 and political websites often rely on wealthy donors for support. The Federalist has not disclosed its supporters, leading to criticism that it is not being transparent about its agenda. But according to two people with knowledge of its finances, one of its major backers is Dick Uihlein, the Midwestern packing supply magnate and Trump donor who has a history of giving to combative, hard-right candidates, like Roy S. Moore of Alabama, who make many Republicans squeamish. (After Mr. Moore was accused of assaulting underage girls in 2017, The Federalist ran an opinion piece that defended men who dated young women as a practice with a long history that was “not without some merit if one wants to raise a large family.”)

Through a spokesman, Mr. Uihlein declined to comment.

Tim Miller, a former strategist for Republican candidates, said that the combative tone of outlets like the Federalist was a sign of the way conservative commentary is defined today by “an unquenchable desire to take everybody else down a peg.”

Republicans who are no fans of Mr. Trump or the turn that their party has taken under him say that its fuming commentariat is a symptom of a deeper problem: its inability to govern. Though the G.O.P. controls half of Washington, its leading voices still often sound like the aggrieved opposition party.


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