The Artful Dodger: Jonathan Krohn

The right-wing wunderkind rebuffs the fluff

Child prodigies inspire an unsettling mix of awe, protectiveness, and peevishness in the adults around them. When young Jonathan Krohn delivered his barn-burning speech at last February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, Rush Limbaugh beamed paternally at his new mini-me, while Jon Stewart joked, “I’m not sure there’s a nurple purple enough.”

“I thought Stewart’s routine was quite funny,” Krohn says. “But I declined his invitation to appear on one of his specials.” With the publication this month of his second manifesto, Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (Vanguard Press), Krohn is instead expected to make the rounds of tea party protests and join the punditocracy as the boy king of Fox News. His new book has the ambitious aim of helping readers “understand the ideas, principles, and values of Conservatism,” and it expands on the principles spelled out in his first book, Define Conservatism for Past, Present, and Future Generations, self-published in 2008. Homeschooled in Duluth, he is fourteen but looks younger, a downy moppet eerily channeling William F. Buckley. In his book-jacket photo, Krohn sports a navy blazer, a flag pin, and a defiant smirk.

“I have an opinion on absolutely everything,” he says as we chat over hot cocoa at a suburban coffee shop. His mother, Marla, a drama teacher, watches sidelong like a sentry as he launches into the minutiae of tort reform with such rapid-fire, hyperarticulate vehemence that his pubescent voice cracks.

Krohn’s political awakening came at age nine, when he chanced upon a funny-sounding word—filibuster—and began studying it. “Back then, I was like the average young person who doesn’t understand left wing or right wing, but I knew exactly what I believed and what I stood for,” he says, recalling his embryonic self-awareness. “Of course, people say, ‘You’re just a kid; what do you know?’ I read and exchange ideas with people who may or may not agree with me.” He adds magnanimously, “Some liberals are actually nice people who can be pleasant to talk with.” My attempt at a little talking-head byplay—“You’ll find as you get older that they can be fun to party with, too”— is met with a blank stare.

“Look, I’m doing this to help my country,” he says. “I’m not just some cute kid, some anomaly, some traveling sideshow. I know what I’m doing. I hate to sound like some dream crusher, like some angry old conservative, but some people simply do not know what they are doing, and that is the worst thing.”

A sinking suspicion sets in that he could be alluding—justifiably—to me, the interlocutor who earlier, when attempting to get him to discuss life as a kid outside of politics, invoked the “old soul” cliche when he cited Frankie Valli as his favorite musician. He has endured enough little-shaver condescension.

“Age is irrelevant,” says Krohn, who is fielding offers from think tanks. “I want to be judged as any other political analyst. What I write is what I write is what I write.” Asked if he experiments with other forms, such as fiction or poetry, he guffaws. “Poetry? Why would I do that? What would I write—an ode to healthcare reform?”

“Well,” I say, “you never know what you might want to do. You might feel compelled to write a poem someday.” When one of the Palin daughters breaks your heart, I think silently. Then I add, like some hippie-dippie Polonius, “That’s the beauty of being so young—so many possibilities, including opportunities for rebellion.”

He rolls his eyes. “I will rebel against conservatism the day Michael Moore makes a good movie.”

Photograph by Alex Martinez