Claremont Institute Dumps Trump, Goes All In For DeSantis

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Well, when you’ve lost The Claremont Institute, it’s pretty much game over for you. That won’t stop Trump from grifting the rubes or holding rallies and or going out amongst the hillbilly folk, but this signals that Trump is over as far as the right-wing power brokers go.

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As the Claremont Institute launched its new office in Tallahassee last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rolled out the red carpet.

DeSantis met with the leadership of the right-wing think tank, posing for pictures. His wife and closest political adviser Casey tweeted out congratulations.

The get-together showcased a budding partnership between DeSantis and members of the Claremont Institute, whose leaders are now championing and working with DeSantis. 

The think tank’s scholars played a crucial role in normalizing former President Donald Trump, shaping his administration and aiding his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss—but in DeSantis they appear to have found a better match: an actual conservative ideologue who sees things in the same existential terms they do, but has a level of competence that Trump sorely lacked. 

Many are working hard to help his efforts in Florida, and are eager to support his likely presidential bid.

“They’re quite a few [at the Claremont Institute] who personally prefer DeSantis as the next candidate. And I would count myself among that group,” Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Charles Kesler told VICE News.

Kesler, who is one of the trustees DeSantis appointed to execute his hostile takeover of the public liberal arts school New College, said that DeSantis’ competence as a chief executive is “very impressive”—as is his ideological approach.

“On a whole range of issues where wokeness is a threat he has risen to the occasion—rhetorically, but he’s also trying to do something about it legislatively. That combination is quite rare,” Kesler continued. “I would expect DeSantis to be a much better, more realistic and more efficient chief executive than the former president.”

The Claremont Institute is no run-of-the-mill conservative think tank, however.

claremont institute dumps trump

The organization took a hard right turn during the Trump years, and played a crucial role in his efforts to stay in power after he lost. And their rhetoric has grown even more incendiary since he left office.

In DeSantis they appear to have found a better match: an actual conservative ideologue who sees things in the same existential terms they do, but has a level of competence that Trump sorely lacked.

Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams has declared the institute’s mission is “to save Western civilization,” and has suggested “the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people.” 

The head of the Claremont Institute’s new Florida office, Scott Yenor, said career-focused women are “more medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome than women need to be.”

His boss Arthur Milikh, who heads the Claremont Institute’s Washington, D.C office, told Tucker Carlson that women’s strength lay in “the power of sexuality” and argued progressives are pushing for an “androgynous” and “re-feminized world” that destroys society.”

They and other Claremont-affiliated scholars and activists have been closely tied to DeSantis’ project to purge Florida’s education system of anything they deem “woke.” 

claremont institute dumps trump

“Protecting and restoring the American way of life is the most important work Governors and state legislators can do right now,” Williams said while announcing Claremont was opening its first state-level outpost in the think tank’s four-decade history. “Governor DeSantis has shown fearless intellectual and political leadership in the fight against woke leftism. We are thrilled to help him and his legislative allies continue this important work.”

As DeSantis expands his small inner circle and prepares for a likely bid for the presidency, the views of Claremont-affiliated conservatives may soon matter more and more to the rest of the country.

The Claremont Institute was once a staid academic institute that mostly focused on abstract political philosophy. But that all changed in the Trump era.

As Trump struggled to unite the GOP in the fall of 2016, the think tank published “The Flight 93 Election,” an incendiary essay demanding that conservatives unite behind Trump by comparing it to the choice faced by passengers of the hijacked plane on September 11, 2001.

“Charge the cockpit or you die,” the piece began, warning Trump was the only person that could stop the ruination of America by “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty.” 

claremont institute dumps trump

The piece went viral. Michael Anton, a Claremont Fellow and former speechwriter for Trump adviser and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, soon claimed authorship.

Trump rewarded Anton with a spot on the powerful National Security Council. The former president soon had associates of the institute all over his administration. 

Trump appointed Claremont Institute President Michael Pack, a close ally of Trump adviser Steve Bannon, to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media, where he tried to turn Voice of America and its sister outlets into pro-Trump propaganda operations

The former president soon had associates of the institute all over his administration.

When Trump launched the 1776 Commission late in his presidency to rebuke the 1619 Project and the Black Lives Matter movement, two of the three people Trump picked to run it were on Claremont’s board of directors; Kesler, who’d penned an op-ed calling the civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder “the 1619 riots,” was a contributor.

Many alumni of the institute’s weeklong fellowships got administration jobs too.

claremont institute dumps trump

And most significantly, Trump brought in John Eastman, the head of the Claremont Institute’s constitutional law center, to be the architect of Trump’s attempted legal coup plot after he lost the 2020 election—a plot that led to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

In late 2019, Trump honored the Claremont Institute with the prestigious National Humanities Medal.  “One of America’s leading think tanks, the Claremont Institute has made invaluable contributions to the history of American conservative thought,” Trump said at a White House ceremony. “Claremont educates, reminds, and informs Americans about the founding principles that have made our country the greatest nation anywhere on Earth. Through publications, seminars, and scholarship, they fight to ‘recover the American idea.’ I know it well.”

Given all of Claremont’s Trump ties, it’s highly notable to see so many leaders of the Claremont Institute gravitating towards DeSantis.

Their ties have been building for years. The Florida governor delivered the keynote speech at the Claremont Institute’s fall 2021 dinner, where the organization presented him with its statesmanship award. Williams, Claremont’s president, introduced him with glowing praise, calling DeSantis “America’s finest governor.”

DeSantis cited a Claremont scholar to show he was simpatico. “Biden’s failures need to end up being the swan song for what the late Angelo Codevilla called the ‘ruling class’ in this country. He saw this probably before anybody, but he was right on the money. This ruling class is a toxic combination of managerial incompetence and cultural radicalism,” he said at the $400-a-plate event.

claremont institute dumps trump

Their overlapping views don’t end there. DeSantis and the Claremont Institute have declared war on a common enemy: Wokeism. They share a view that it’s crucial to use the levers of government to beat it back in the most aggressive way possible—targeting individuals, private companies and schools at every level.

Klingenstein said last summer he had narrowed his 2024 options to Trump and DeSantis—and voiced what many at the Claremont Institute seem to feel: that DeSantis has “a lot of his virtues without a lot of Trump’s vices.”

DeSantis regularly brags that Florida is “where woke goes to die,” and uses the term “woke” 46 times in his new book—attacking “woke capital,” “the woke machine,” “woke corporations,” and “the woke mob.” His chapter on his feud with Disney is titled “The Magical Kingdom of Woke Corporatism.” He bragged about calling out the national guard during Black Lives Matter protests, which he labeled “BLM and Antifa riots” in his speech at the Claremont Institute, and passed what he called “the strongest anti-rioting legislation in the country. That legislation was blocked by a federal judge for violating the First Amendment, and is currently on appeal. His “Stop WOKE” Act, which limits how race can be discussed on college campuses, has also been blocked by federal judges.

His use of the power of government to target private business isn’t just aimed at big companies like Disney: The DeSantis administration recently moved to strip the liquor license from a Miami hotel because it hosted a Christmas show featuring performers from RuPaul’s Drag Race and allowed in minors if they were accompanied by an adult.

That mirrors the rhetoric and work of the Claremont Institute. 

Last week, the Claremont Institute launched a database to track corporations’ donations to Black Lives Matter-affiliated movements, which an accompanying Newsweek op-ed called “reparations made to self-declared enemies of the American nation and way of life” that called on Congress to block companies from donating to BLM causes. 

Thomas Klingenstein, the Claremont Institute’s largest donor and chairman of its board of directors, says that America is in a “cold civil war” between his side and the “woke comms,” short for woke communists. During the Black Lives Matter protests, he and Williams published an op-ed that labeled Black Lives Matter a “revolutionary and totalitarian movement” bent on “the destruction of the American way of life.”

Klingenstein said last summer he had narrowed his 2024 options to Trump and DeSantis—and voiced what many at the Claremont Institute seem to feel: that DeSantis has “a lot of his virtues without a lot of Trump’s vices.”

“DeSantis understands that we’re in a war, and that’s the most important thing,” Klingenstein said. “And if you don’t understand that we’re in a war, almost nothing else matters.” 

Soon after DeSantis’ 2021 speech to the Claremont Institute, their leaders began popping up in Florida to help his systematic crusade to push education to the right, a task that Trump occasionally talked about but did little to achieve during his presidency.

Kesler told VICE News his first contribution to the effort was a pair of recorded lectures he made for DeSantis’ overhaul of its K-12 civics program, an effort spearheaded by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian university in Michigan with close Claremont ties.

Then, as he escalated his education program this year, DeSantis launched a hostile takeover of New College, a tiny public liberal arts school that he pledged in a speech a few weeks ago to make “the top classical liberal arts school in America—along the lines of Hillsdale College.” 

To do so, DeSantis removed six members of its board of trustees and replaced them with allies. Three of them have Claremont ties: Kesler, Christopher Rufo, a former Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow and the nation’s most effective crusader against what he claims is Critical Race Theory teaching in schools; and Matthew Spalding, a former student, Claremont Fellow and dean at Hillsdale College who helped run Trump’s 1776 Commission and who had brought in Kesler to contribute to the state’s civics program. The board promptly fired the school’s president, replaced her with a DeSantis ally, and shuttered the school’s Diversity, Inclusion and Equity office, moves decried by its mostly liberal student body.

DeSantis also pushed through a law that created publicly funded private-school scholarships in 2019; since then, Hillsdale has greatly expanded, and now has seven affiliated union-free, Christian K-12 “classical academies” across the state. 

Soon after DeSantis’ 2021 speech to the Claremont Institute, their leaders began popping up in Florida to help his systematic crusade to push education to the right, a task that Trump occasionally talked about but did little to achieve during his presidency.

DeSantis singled out Hillsdale’s “innovative means of education” as a paragon of Florida’s future education system in a speech to the National Conservatism Conference last fall. In response, the Claremont Institute published a full transcript of DeSantis’ hourlong speech.

NatCon, as it’s known, is a conference of Claremont scholars and like-minded activists and politicians who advocate for a of nationalistic right-wing populism that’s much more grounded in a political philosophy and even more aggressive than MAGA-brand Trumpism. 

It was at the previous year’s convention that Yenor called independent working women “more medicated, meddlesome and quarrelsome than women need to be.” He also said society should stop thinking of young women “as a future worker or a future achiever, and start thinking of them as future wives and mothers,” called universities “the citadels of gynocracy,” suggested “mandatory gun training” for all men, and declared: “We need a sexual counterrevolution.”

“Instead of painting an androgynous picture of the future, the future of a great nation needs to be thoroughly sexed when it comes to family policy. Part of our education project is preparing young men and young women for different destinies,” he said.

The speech led to fierce protests at Boise State University, where Yenor is a tenured professor. It was the second time his comments triggered protests. While Yenor has complained that he was canceled, the school hasn’t taken any disciplinary action against him.

A few weeks ago, DeSantis brought Yenor onstage at a roundtable to talk about their fight against Diversity, Equity & Inclusion efforts—and Yenor said he first got interested in the field because he believed his “two cancellation attempts” were triggered by DEI.

Yenor was there to unveil his new report with his ideas on how to change Florida’s system, with the very grammatical title “Florida Universities: From Woke to Professionalism,” in which he calls the University of Florida, the system’s flagship school, an “DEI indoctrination machine.”

His proposals include the repeal of a Florida statute that “requires each Florida College System institution to develop a plan for increasing representation of minorities and females” on faculty; legislation to ban Florida’s government from collecting data on the basis of race or sex; closing all DEI offices in Florida colleges and universities; uncovering “any anti-male elements of curriculum or programming;” and ending majors that had “DEI-infused disciplines” like gender studies.

DeSantis is already on his way to making some of these policies into law. Florida Republicans are fast-tracking legislation to ban DEI programs and dramatically weaken tenure protections for professors; another bill backed by DeSantis would ban gender studies and teaching critical race theory.

And they’re not just helping on the policy side. DeSantis recently hired Nate Hochman, a former Claremont Institute fellow and intern for one of its publications who has palled around with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, to join his political communications team. Claremont Institute scholars also spoke on a panel at DeSantis’ private political fundraising retreat in late February, according to the Washington Post

A DeSantis political spokesperson declined to say which Claremont Institute representatives had appeared at his fundraiser, and pointed VICE News to his official office to discuss what influence Claremont’s authors have on DeSantis’ policymaking. His administration spokespeople ignored multiple requests for comment.

DeSantis recently hired Nate Hochman, a former Claremont Institute fellow and intern for one of its publications who has palled around with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, to join his political communications team.

Besides Kesler, Claremont’s leaders weren’t keen to chat. Yenor, Anton, and Klingenstein ignored multiple requests for interviews. When reached by phone, Williams refused to talk. “I don’t have any comment. Your coverage is relentlessly biased,” Williams told VICE News, before hanging up.

Some of DeSantis’ loudest keyboard warriors are Claremont-affiliated activists, too. 

Claremont Institute Fellow David Reaboi, a bodybuilder and former lobbyist for Hungary’s right-wing governmentrecently told Politico that he’d been informally advising DeSantis on national security issues—and has been a vocal supporter on Twitter.

Former Claremont Institute fellows who’ve loudly and repeatedly boosted DeSantis include Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer, podcaster and “manosphere” influencer Jack Murphy, and substack author Pedro Gonzalez. According to the Daily Beast, Reaboi and Murphy are among the conservative micro-influencers that DeSantis’ team recruited to help magnify his message online.

Certainly, some Claremont leaders may still back Trump over DeSantis. Anton recently met with DeSantis as they opened their new office in Tallahassee, but he also spoke at the pro-Trump Conservative Political Action Conference where he touted Trump’s foreign policy approach.

But it’s clear that most of Claremont’s leaders are enamored with the Florida governor.

When he introduced DeSantis at their 2021 dinner, Williams gushed that DeSantis had shown “creativity, courage, perseverance, common sense and good judgment at almost every turn.”

As the 2024 GOP campaign begins in earnest, it appears that judgment has led to a mutual embrace.

Source: Trump’s Favorite Extreme Think Tank Is Jumping Ship for DeSantis (vice.com)

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