When I met with Ahmari to discuss his political evolution, he bristled at accusations of ideological dilettantism, insisting his current views stem from a longstanding and fundamentally conservative concern with social harmony and stability. “I think my opponents exaggerate the degree to which, you know, ‘He’s had every worldview,’” he told me. Nevertheless, his intellectual journey has been peripatetic.
The son of a secular, bohemian family in Tehran, he came to the United States as a teenager — the beneficiary, he’s acknowledged, of chain migration. In college, he was a Trotskyite, before becoming a neoconservative and an editor at The Wall Street Journal. Ahmari was initially so anti-Trump that he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the same year he converted to Catholicism. But he was soon won over by Donald Trump and what he saw as the potential for a post-liberal conservatism rooted in the working class.
Last year, Ahmari co-founded the online magazine Compact along with Matthew Schmitz, a fellow conservative Catholic, and Edwin Aponte, a self-described Marxist, with the idea of bringing together critics of economic and cultural liberalism from the left and right. At the time, this idea struck me as absurd and a little sinister; as the writer John Ganz joked, “We have a spicy little new idea for you, it’s a mixture of nationalism … and get this … socialism.” And Compact is indeed mostly a reactionary publication with a strong authoritarian streak. In 2022 Ahmari and Schmitz wrote a florid endorsement of Trump titled “He’s Still the One.”
Yet, from the start, Compact took material conditions seriously, including an early piece Ahmari wrote about the political war on unions. And the more Ahmari focused on economics, the more he seemed to move to the left. After the 2020 election, in which Trump made inroads with working-class men of color, Ahmari had planned to write a manifesto for a new pro-labor conservatism. But as he writes in the acknowledgments in “Tyranny, Inc.,” his reporting gradually made clear to him the hollowness of the G.O.P.’s pro-worker positioning. Last week, he wrote a Newsweek column titled “I Was Wrong: The G.O.P. Will Never Be the Party of the Working Class.”
Ahmari remains on the right because of his social conservatism; he’s having his Washington book launch with Marco Rubio, and he’s heartened by J.D. Vance’s work with Elizabeth Warren to try to claw back compensation from the executives of failed banks. But as he’s grown convinced that Republican economic policies underlie much of the social atomization he abhors, his connection to the G.O.P. has become tenuous. When I asked him whom he’d vote for in 2024 if the election is a rematch between Trump and Joe Biden, he responded that he’d have to give it serious thought.