Commentary: Milo Yiannopoulos and the conservative implosion

Milo Yiannopoulos, the polarizing Breitbart News editor, speaks at California Polytechnic State University on Jan. 31, 2017, in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

David Middlecamp/The Tribune of San Luis Obispo/AP

For once, Milo Yiannopoulos wishes we would stop talking about him. His book deal has collapsed. His employment at Breitbart, where he is unloved among the staff, is reportedly in jeopardy as of this writing. And, of course, that invitation to be a featured speaker at CPAC has been rescinded.

The decision to have him speak at CPAC upset plenty on the right, as the C in that acronym stands for conservative, which Milo has said many times that he is not. In fact, Milo said that he wasn’t a conservative to Bill Maher just hours before the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, announced that he would be the star of this year’s show.

So now Milo is gone, thanks to the handy work of a conservative blog, and conservatives can claim one of their increasingly infrequent victories. Donald Trump, however, remains not only president, but a featured speaker at CPAC, where he will no doubt be met with rapturous enthusiasm. And like Milo, Trump is no conservative.

Much already has been made of conservatism’s trajectory from sober intellectuals like William F. Buckley to the likes of Milo and Trump. Some would argue that this downward spiral is less severe than it initially looks, if only because Buckley, with his antediluvian notions of race relations, is an overrated figure to begin with.

There’s something to that way of thinking, but it also obscures the fact that conservatism was, until rather recently, a system of ideas that had to be taken seriously. It was mostly coherent, it had arguments with merit, and it animated a political movement that from time to time could form a governing majority. It is now none of those things.

But even as the religion dies, the church services persist. CPAC is an important ritual for conservatives, as silly for the more serious among them as it always is. So the fact that they would choose noted non-conservative Milo as a speaker in the first place is a scandal, and more than that, an admission of conservatism’s increasing irrelevance.

Milo doesn’t really make arguments. He provokes. That’s his job, and he did it rather well until recently when it all blew up in his face. The fact that he upsets the left was apparently enough for the ACU to point to him as the future of right. Conservatives have embraced vacuous thinkers and writers before, of course. But in the past they’ve at least claimed to be conservative.  

Instead, Milo brags about his promiscuity, his many lovers, how he “chose to be gay” as an act of rebellion against his parents. One wonders what Buckley would have made of all that, especially when combined with Milo’s oft-stated preference for black men.

Interestingly, Milo brings up that preference with such regularity because he’s so often accused of racism, and there is no doubt a strain of white identity politics that flows through his writings and performances.

The sex, and his flamboyant attire, exists to offset all that, and to make him more acceptable to younger audiences. By embracing sexual progressivism, Milo found a way to impress on kids the idea that a little racism could be subversive. Sure enough, as he traveled from school to school on what he called his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” he found that the shtick had an audience.

This discarding of social conservative sexual mores combined with a pinch of White Pride is something ideologically distinct, and might have real staying power on college campuses and other places where the young and angry reside. And it’s also a reminder that, whatever you think of Buckleyite movement conservatism, with its governing failures and bent towards sexual puritanism, whatever ideology comes to replace it on the right will almost certainly be worse. 

  • Will Rahn

    Will Rahn is a political correspondent and managing director, politics, for CBS News Digital.