Mitt Romney and #NeverTrump’s Selective Regard for Presidential Character

As has been abundantly covered by now, freshman Senator Mitt Romney rang in the new year with a Washington Post op-ed lambasting Donald Trump’s character—you know, for the five people still unaware that Romney considers the “very not smart” Trump a “fraud” guilty of “dishonesty,” “greed,” and “bullying.”

He had a few valid criticisms and a lot of shameless pandering to the Left (pledging to condemn “racist” or “sexist” presidential statements, for instance, tacitly endorses the smear that Trump is not merely flawed, but bigoted). But while much has already been said of Romney’s reasoning and motives, the sympathetic reviews—and the broader debate on the subject—reveal much more we’ve yet to discuss.

David French insists Romney was merely “say[ing] things that are true and stak[ing] out a future” for a Trump-free conservatism and GOP. Jim Geraghty muses that after watching Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush, many conservatives decided “good character was no advantage in politics and possibly a liability.”

A few days before Romney, Jonah Goldberg wrote his own (but far from his first) declaration of Trump’s low character. He claims “most of the angry responses” he gets about it “are clearly rooted in the fact that they do not wish to be reminded,” and chides those who “assume that I am referencing the president’s style” rather than substance.

I grant that Trump’s character is abysmal, and must confess to finding most of his defenses unpersuasive on this particular point. But that’s an utterly banal observation, and #NeverTrumpers are disastrously wrong about everything preceding and inferred from it.

First, it’s one thing to (rationally and truthfully) criticize Trump offenses as they happen, and quite another to periodically repackage general diatribes about obvious propositions that have already been beaten to death. The former is about accountability; the latter is about you. How many of these pieces bring new information to the debate? What’s their purpose beyond signaling fealty to the #NeverTrump tribe? (Which is hardly necessary in Romney’s case, given his diligence in renewing his membership every few months.)

Second, the idea that it’s some unprecedented crisis or compromise to accept such a president—that voting for Trump is too high a price to defend 320 million Americans from a leftist administration—should be alien to any self-respecting student of the Founding or of human nature.

Given the option, of course a more upstanding president would be preferable. But while the Founders knew America needed a moral citizenry, they didn’t expect moral leaders to be the norm. That’s why we need a Constitution in the first place; it’s how checks and balances were expected to work—the Founders counted on officeholders’ ambition, not their altruism, being “made to counteract ambition.” They understood that the work of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because neither choice on the ballot is pure enough for our liking, that the difference between four years with an administration of flawed allies versus one full of enemies is bigger than any one person.

Finally, all of the above rests on the comforting-yet-poisonous fiction that Trump represents a moral decline from his Republican predecessors.

Never mind that Bush abandoned an innocent subordinate to a malicious prosecution, swore on a Bible to uphold the Constitution then signed a law he admitted might violate it, and considers a probable rapist his “brother from another mother.” Never mind McCain’s own marital history and Trumpian mean streak, his attack on Vietnam veterans who spoke out against John Kerry, or his judgment that Americans should’ve kept suffering under Obamacare just because Democrats weren’t given a chance to sabotage repeal. Never mind that expediency seems to change more than a few of Romney’s values.

Speaking of which, Mitt, perhaps someone who entered politics as a defender of abortion should consider a little humility on the subject of other Republicans’ character…

In 2016, a few months before writing that Trump’s “low character is disqualifying,” Kevin Williamson argued that Marco Rubio’s blatant lying about the contents of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill shouldn’t dissuade voters, because while others “demand that a president” be a “moral mascot for the country […] I just want to know what I can use him for.”

I don’t recall anyone at National Review, Weekly Standard (RIP), or Commentary challenging Williamson’s transactional case for ignoring Rubio’s dishonesty.

To Trump’s character critics, none of the above threatens membership in the pantheon of “good Republicans,” nor do countless other acts of deceit, promise-breaking, or moral compromise by these and other better-mannered leaders. That’s why the “#NeverTrump fixates on style” charge sticks—it’s not that there aren’t substantive Trump critiques, it’s that they’ve never minded poor character before as long as it came in sufficiently-civil wrapping.

To say that voters dropped character in 2016 ignores two simple truths: that Trump’s low character was still higher than Hillary Clinton’s, and that the GOP had already been defining character down for years. Many of us held no illusions that our pre-Trump votes were for good men either; we were backing the only options we had to advance conservatism and protect the country from leftism.

If those most troubled by Trump’s character really want a more principled future for conservatism, perhaps reflecting on how their own approach to immoral leaders—who generally didn’t even honor their ends of the bargain—helped pave the road to 2016 would be a bit more productive than “Isn’t Trump Awful, Nineteenth Edition.”

Advertisements

The ‘Respectable’ Right’s Collusion Bait-and-Switch

As I’ve been saying for a long time now, NeverTrump’s nonstop wailing about the supposedly declining integrity of the conservative movement might be easier to take at face value if they themselves didn’t lie all the time. This week saw the emergence of an especially duplicitous new talking point.

As the conspiracy mongering continues to rage over Donald Trump supposedly conspiring with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election, skeptics have pointed out that essentially the only thing NeverTrumpers have to hang their hat on is the June 2016 meeting to hear out a Russian lawyer’s claim to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Foolish and wrong, certainly, but not evidence that the Trump campaign learned of, condoned, or encouraged any illegal Russian activities, or that it promised anything to the Kremlin in exchange for support. So various Trump supporters and collusion skeptics have reiterated this week that if this is what passes for “collusion,” it’s a nothingburger:

The NeverTrump reaction was as predictable as it was pathetic. David French did what he does best — straw-manning:

Jonah Goldberg highlighted Hemingway in particular in a July 27 G-File audaciously titled, “Who Cares about Truth Anymore, Anyway?” He characterized her argument as “the allegation Trump colluded with Russia is suddenly no longer an insane conspiracy theory and slander, it’s not really a problem at all.”

Jake Tapper, the MSM hack NeverTrumpers pal around with because they don’t really mean any of their own rhetoric about honesty, boosted Goldberg’s attack:

All of this is dishonest on two levels. First, this isn’t a new argument from collusion skeptics at all; Hemingway, for instance, has been saying the same thing at least since last October.

Second, these people know damn well there are multiple usages of the word “collusion” flying around, and that the Trump Tower meeting is neither what conservatives are talking about when they express skepticism nor what the vast majority of Trump’s accusers mean by the term.

How do we know this dishonesty is premeditated? For one thing, it would strain credulity for any professional political analyst, particularly a “conservative” one, to be so unfamiliar with the basics of the argument.

For another, in Goldberg’s case Andrew McCarthy explained this very point to him on the same day Goldberg attacked Hemingway, in response to his direct questioning:

When I said that turning to a foreign government for campaign dirt was not “collusion,” I meant it was not the collusion that is the rationale for the Trump-Russia investigation — specifically, the cyber-espionage conspiracy to influence the 2016 campaign.

To be clear, collusion is literally just concerted activity. It can be made to sound sinister, but it is not necessarily good or bad, criminal or innocent. It’s just people doing stuff together.

A subset of collusion is conspiracy. Conspiracy is a crime. Technically, it is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime — the conspiratorial agreement is a crime even if its criminal objective is never realized.

Now, French’s tweet predates both Mollie’s comment and Jonah’s swipe at McCarthy*, but again, French is (at least) competent enough to be aware of the distinction. Even if he wasn’t, he retweeted the McCarthy swipe (but not McCarthy’s answer), so it’s not as if he wasn’t following along.

Evidently, debating opponents’ actual positions instead of knocking down caricatures is not among the ethical principles our betters are concerned with preserving in the Age of Trump.


*Speaking of which, publicly calling out a National Review colleague for ridicule as a supposed hypocrite instead of privately reaching out to express a good-faith concern (in doing so including a gratuitous highlight of something McCarthy had already clarified was just a verbal mix-up, doesn’t exactly seem like a great moment in professionalism.

Lies, Damned Lies, and NeverTrump: A Defense of Dennis Prager

Note: an abridged version of this column appears at The Federalist Papers Project.

Dennis Prager set the conservative blogosphere ablaze last week with a column asking why there are conservatives “who still snipe (or worse) at President Trump,” who “remain anti-Trump today” despite the fact that for the next three and a half years, he’s our only means of getting national conservative policies across the finish line.

Prager’s first suspected reason:

While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do […] To my amazement, no anti-Trump conservative writer sees it that way. They all thought during the election, and still think, that while it would not have been a good thing if Hillary Clinton had won, it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe either.

Exactly right, and a crucial point that NeverTrumpers, for all their self-righteousness, never seriously addressed.

Prager’s conclusion:

They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL.

I beg them: Please report for duty.

Amen! This column was a much-needed reminder of the big picture, which NeverTrumpers tend to sorely lack. And sure enough, a string of pundits jumped at the opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve done no introspection whatsoever since the election. Continue reading

New at the Stream – Message to #NeverTrump: Your Vote Isn’t About You

Few truisms are more maddening than, “get out and vote, no matter where you stand!”  It’s popular in schools and non-partisan initiatives aimed at getting young people involved in democracy, as if “letting your voice be heard” is a noble end in and of itself — never mind that elections have real consequences for the freedom, safety, health and livelihood of other people.

The ballot box isn’t a personal survey; if one doesn’t understand the issues, not voting is manifestly the more responsible choice. Rejecting feel-good, self-validating pap like this was one of the things I admired about the conservative movement … but then the 2016 election happened.

It’s understandable that Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination, despite his incoherence on policy and atrocious character, has so appalled conservatives that many say they can’t bring themselves to vote for him even against Hillary Clinton. Until recently, I was one of them.

But at some point, disgust has to give way to sober reflection on what happens after January 20, 2017, and the latest round of hype over National Review’s David French as a potential independent candidate only gives conservatives an excuse to delay that reflection.

Read the rest at the Stream.

Bill Kristol Is Even More Delusional Than I Thought

I wasn’t expecting any good to come out of Kristol’s desperate search for an independent presidential candidate….but this is so, so much dumber than even I was expecting.

I like David French a lot — he’s a smart, serious conservative, a combat vet, a religious liberty lawyer, and one of National Review’s better analysts. But if an actual officeholder or past candidate’s chances of winning the election were already extremely remote, how is somebody with no name recognition outside of right-wing wonk circles going to make a dent?

Don’t tell me about pie-in-the-sky scenarios about the Electoral College turning the decision over to the House (which not only would require an absurdly specific win/loss ratio to happen, but would probably result in Trump anyway). Tell me how this makes President Hillary Clinton less likely. Tell me how conservatives recover from a leftist 6-3 (or worse) Supreme Court majority and enough illegals-made-voters to give Democrats a permanent national majority.

I get it. I hate Trump too. I stayed on board with ‪#‎NeverTrump‬ for as long as I could. I’ve gone through all the anger, confusion, depression, and desperation over how horribly wrong this election has gone. But after gaming out how all the scenarios play out, I simply can’t conclude that staying home or voting independent/3rd-party/write-in would end in anything but a net disaster for the country’s future.

All we can do now is bite the bullet. It pains me to say it, but right now the cretinous orange buffoon is the only weapon at our disposal with which to stop Hillary Clinton from giving the Left a lifetime stranglehold on the federal government. So vote for him, hope that his selfish political interest (NOT nonexistent personal principles) force him to follow through on his biggest promises, prepare to go back to #NeverTrump in 2020 if he betrays us (hell, let’s plan on primarying his second term anyway), and spend the next several years fixing our mistakes as a movement that got us into this mess in the first place, so we’ll never squander an opportunity like a Ted Cruz again.