Rich Lowry In his spirited talk on the current political climate, National Review editor Rich Lowry took time out to say good things and bad things about Amherst College.

He praised Amherst for its commitment to bringing in a diverse lineup of speakers—including conservatives like him. But, tongue firmly in cheek, he condemned the College for not admitting him as a freshman. (Lowry ended up at the University of Virginia). Therefore, he cracked, the admission process must be rigged. This brought a big laugh to the crowd of students, faculty and community members. 

Lowry spent the next 40 minutes analyzing the nascent Trump presidency and exploring possible scenarios for the next four years—though he admitted that no one knows what will happen, given Trump’s unpredictability and how the Republican Party responds to him.

He did offer a conceptual historical handhold, though, by comparing President Trump to President Andrew Jackson: both are populists, non-traditionalists and natural fighters. (Lowry often includes historical allusions in his writing, whether it’s his political commentary for Time and Politico or his 2013 New York Times bestseller Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream—and How We Can Do It Again).

How, then, will history see Trump? Lowry speculated that, unless the president tacks to the center and becomes more traditional, he may not be able to actually govern and get things done. But if he does move to the center, Lowry added, Trump could lose his base. 

Lowry also spoke about how Trump has upended business as usual in manifold ways. His administration, for instance, has three competing senior staffers, one from traditional circles (Reince Priebus), one from his inner circle (Jared Kushner) and one who is an ideologue (Steve Bannon). 

Lowry is not alarmist about a Trump presidency. But he has not been a supporter; in February 2016, National Review produced a special “Against Trump” issue. Now that Trump is in the White House, though, only a really significant move on Trump’s part—like nominating a second Supreme Court justice, should an opening arise, who leans liberal—could sufficiently alienate Republicans, said Lowry. He added that the biggest danger to conservatism is if the alt-right becomes mainstreamed in the Republican party.

Lowry took questions for 20 minutes after his talk and lingered afterwards for one-on-one conversations with students and members of the public. Notably, he gave out his personal email address to a number of students, offering to look at their written work or discuss their after-graduation plans. And earlier that day, Lowry held a Q&A with 21 students in Alumni House.

“I’ve watched Mr. Lowry for years on TV and he’s always very amiable, and he was very kind here, too,” said Maximos Nikitas ’17, vice president of the Amherst College Republicans. “He’s anecdotal and loves policy, and I walked away, from hearing him talk, with a much better understanding of conservatism and national politics. My friends all said, ‘He is such an intellectual and accessible conservative, and it’s refreshing to hear someone like that.’”

An Interview with Rich Lowry

March 8, 2017

National Review editor, syndicated columnist and political commentator Rich Lowry is the author of the New York Times best-seller Lincoln Unbound and Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years. — Video by Marcus DeMaio

Before his talk, Lowry also sat for an interview with College Editor Emily Gold Boutilier in Alumni House about his own liberal arts education and his work at National Review:

You studied English and history in college. In what ways has your liberal arts experience influenced your career?

It’s been hugely important. All I’ve wanted to do since I gave up dreams of being the New York Yankees’ shortstop was read and write. If you want to be a good writer there's no substitute for reading all the time and writing all the time. That’s pretty much what I did at the University of Virginia.

You’re a D.C. native. Was it a given that you would go into a field related to politics?

No. I grew up in Arlington, Va. My father was an English professor. My mom was a social worker. They weren’t highly politically involved. It was really through discovering the founder of National Review, Bill Buckley, and through getting energized by President Ronald Reagan, that I got interested in politics. As soon as I discovered Bill Buckley through his public affairs program, Firing Line, I hunted down an issue of National Review and had been reading it ever since.

Was this always your dream job?

It literally was. In high school they had a career form. They asked, “What do you want to be doing in 10 years and where do you want to be working?” I said, “I want to be writing for National Review and living in New York City.”

You’ve been the editor since 1998. How has the work of National Review changed depending on who’s president?

In the Obama administration on almost everything we ran opposition, which for an opinion magazine is a very comfortable place to be. National Review was founded part in opposition to Dwight Eisenhower. We were very tough on George H.W. Bush when he broke his tax pledge. There are a lot of things we didn’t like about George W. Bush. Being uncomfortable with a Republican president in the form of Donald Trump in one sense isn’t something new, but in the other sense, it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a Republican president where there’s no colorable case that he’s a conservative. Our role as we see is to call balls and strikes. We think the cabinet picks have been superb. The nomination of Judge Gorsuch was a home run. We believe the country needs less immigration and needs to tighten up on its immigration system. A big area of concern continues to be how Donald Trump conducts himself and his character. We’ve been quite critical of a number of things, including his latest kick, which has been accusing President Obama of wiretapping him.

What advice do you have for students who want to do political opinion writing?

I’m a little old school: I think good opinion writing ultimately depends on facts. I would urge people to get some reporting background even if they don’t ultimately want to be a reporter. If it’s just opinion, you’re bloviating.

What other advice do you have for college students?

This is your prime opportunity to learn and read. You may think, “Okay, I’ll read Ulysses 10 years from now,” but when you have a job or you’re married or you have kids, you’re not reading Ulysses. Through literature, through history [students can learn] so much about life, about human nature, about who we are as a country. Even if these things you learn aren’t directly applicable to anything, they form a certain baseline that I think helps you in all future endeavors. Also, [and] this is not a minor consideration: it makes you a better citizen, and at a certain level, I would argue, a better person. Take advantage of this time.