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Sykes’s father was a liberal activist in the 1960s, and Sykes, as a teenager, shared his father’s enthusiasm.The excesses of the anti-war era prompted his father to give up on the left, but Sykes joined the Young Democrats while in college in the 1970s.Sykes takes us through the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964—a failure at the ballot box, but a seminal moment in conservatism—and the 1970s rise of the New Right, which disdained modern conservatism’s intellectuals as elitist accomplices of the Republican establishment.At every stage of this story, Sykes notes the tumorous elements lurking in conservatism that would ultimately erupt in full-blown Trumpism.Sykes recounts how Buckley routed from modern conservatism much of the “crackpotism” that then characterized the movement, epitomized by the fevered anti-Communist paranoia of the John Birch Society.(Decades later, Sykes notes, Buckley would perform a similar act of intellectual hygiene by calling out Patrick Buchanan’s anti-Semitism.) The publication of Frank Meyer’s In Defense of Freedom in 1962 was another essential development, proposing a balancing of personal liberty and moral responsibility that came to be known as fusionism.

But at least right-wing bigots ran true to form, having simply found a more appealing and more accommodating candidate than they were used to.

The advent of the Tea Party after Barack Obama’s election “seemed to open the door for the return of the sort of crackpots that Buckley had worked so hard to expel from the conservative movement,” Sykes writes.

The book makes clear that as the Obama-era economic recovery limped along—and as the “perpetual outrage machine” of Tea Party political-action-committee fundraisers and their conservative-media soulmates worked overtime—the political scene was ripening for a candidate who could stoke resentments with a combination of freewheeling bellicosity, economic nostrums, and nationalistic pandering.

In a chapter called “Storm Warnings,” Sykes shows that Trump’s success hardly came out of the blue.

In the Weekly Standard in 2005, conservative thinkers Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam published “The Party of Sam’s Club,” a “widely discussed but sadly ignored critique of conservatism” that warned about the GOP’s intellectual exhaustion, its cronyism and air of corruption.