News & Politics

The Bulwark Was Founded to Oppose Trump. Now What?

A Never Trump publication ponders its future.

Photograph of Trump by Gage Skidmore

The Weekly Standard was one of many Washington institutions that Donald Trump threw into chaos. In 2018, the 23-year-old conservative magazine was shut down by its pro-Trump owners after the publication’s staff adopted an anti-Trump stance. So Weekly Standard cofounder Bill Kristol and political strategist Sarah Longwell decided to create the Bulwark, a fun, punchy Never Trump website that found success—and broke news—catering to readers who yearned for serious coverage of events through a center-right filter.

So . . . now what? With Trump gone from the White House, lots of media outlets are trying to retool for a less frantic (and traffic-generating) news environment. That task seems even trickier for publications that were created specifically for the purpose of opposing him.

Yet the Bulwark’s editor, Jonathan V. Last, insists that his young publication’s mission “doesn’t shift all that much” even without its raison d’être. After all, Trump might be golfing in Florida, but Trumpism has hardly disappeared. Last also sees a potentially receptive audience among centrist Democrats who, in his view, might be “uncomfortable with the excesses of the progressive left.” He suggests that the Bulwark’s point of view isn’t fossilized; it can expand to greet new political developments: “The nice thing about being in the middle of building something is that you don’t have to have a party line.”

Plus, the Bulwark has been finding ways to grow without having to fish for Trump-outrage clicks. Though the site is free to read, the company recently launched a paid program called Bulwark+ that provides exclusive podcasts, newsletters, and live-streams for people who pay $100 a year. It’s now at about 16,000 paying customers, says Longwell—a decent financial boost to a nonprofit that takes no advertising and runs on donations. Editor at large Charlie Sykes’s daily podcast, she says, got about 100,000 downloads per episode in January. And a community has sprung up around the Bulwark, suggesting that its work is resonating: Fans have started a subreddit and even a channel on Discord where they can hang out with one another.

So did the Bulwark’s anti-Trump efforts actually have an impact? Last insists that the only thing he worries about is whether his publication has told the truth. “I would not have been more proud of it had Biden won by 15,” he says. “And I would not have been less proud of it had Trump won.”

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.