The Trump Era Ends, and One Man Is Mostly To Blame

Barring a miracle, Joe Biden (by which I mean Kamala Harris) will become President of the United States in January. Whichever one calls the shots for how long makes little difference; both are fundamentally indecent human beings, utterly unfit for the offices they are about to assume and wholly undeserving of the public’s respect or trust.

The scale of the fraud that’s being reported could absolutely have been enough to steal the election from Donald Trump, but the legal challenges his campaign is pursuing are most likely too little, too late. The time to most effectively fight for election integrity was long before the election — by investigating and prosecuting those responsible for past fraud, by putting federal observers with actual prosecutorial power at polling places and ballot counting centers in every questionable jurisdiction in the country, and by mounting serious challenges to crooked mail-in balloting rules before they had an opportunity to do their damage.

Alas, despite having the United States Department of Justice at his disposal for four years, our lazy, incompetent president didn’t do any of that. In fact, the only effort Trump made was a bust thanks in large part to (surprise!) bad personnel decisions.

So now his campaign’s attorneys are largely at the mercy of left-wing state officials and biased judges. Compound that with the Trump campaign letting the race get within stealing distance in the first place thanks to a string of stupid political decisions (not to mention COVID and all the other things shaping public opinion over the past four years), and nobody should really be surprised that it (probably) ended this way.

(Yes, litigation and recounts are pending, and I fully support Trump pursuing them, if for no other reason than to expose as much Democrat malfeasance as possible and to put a giant asterisk on Biden’s legitimacy. I just don’t want conservatives to set themselves up for even bigger disappointment when the miracle doesn’t happen.)

There’s definitely some poetic irony to all of this, but any temptation to say “good riddance” is more than negated by the tremendous suffering a Biden/Harris administration will inflict on the American people.

Of course, while Trump deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Biden’s victory, he’s not the only one. There’s the tens of millions of Americans who voted for Biden or neglected to vote against him, whether due to bad information, bad judgement, or bad motives. Jo Jorgensen got more votes from libertarian fools in key states than the margin between Biden and Trump. NeverTrump scumbags were a factor, as was the poisonous influence of Trump’s idiot son-in-law. There’s also one more often-overlooked problem: most of the biggest names in national conservative punditry — Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mark Levin chief among them — constantly fed Trump positive reinforcement instead of using their tremendous influence to keep him on the right track or push him to improve.

Thankfully, Democrats have not enjoyed comparable success in state legislatures or the US House of Representatives, and, most importantly, it appears (pending one more fight in Georgia) Republicans will keep the Senate. That means, while Biden and Harris will do plenty of damage to the country, the most severe threats they posed will be blunted and Republicans will have a strong opportunity to take back Congress in two years and the White House in four.

Of course, whether Republicans seize that opportunity or botch it remains a very open question. The GOP is notoriously bad at learning from its mistakes, and already troubling signs are beginning to emerge.

The GOP/SwampCon establishment is no doubt salivating over the opportunity to “return to normal,” by which they mean grooming some inoffensive mediocrity like Marco Rubio or Ben Sasse to run. And on the flip side, rather than moving on to better alternatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, there’s already chatter in righty social media about re-running Trump in 2024 (or, even worse, one of his idiot kids).

No. Just stop. Trump cleared the low bar of “better than the Bushes” and the even lower bar of “better than the Democrats”; that’s not the same as rising to the level of “good.” It’s just not worth subjecting ourselves to the wasted opportunities and constant headaches all over again if we don’t have to…especially not after he failed to mop the floor with one of the worst candidates the Democrat Party has ever put forth.

For God’s sake, people, it’s four years away; at least wait and see who runs before deciding this cartoonishly defective man is really the best we can do.

So to summarize: Donald Trump bought America time, but did precious little with it to secure lasting reform, and as a result his presidency is ending in a way that should surprise nobody. America is down, but not over. Learn from the past four years. Prepare to fight just as hard, but more importantly, to fight smarter. There is a wealth of lessons to take away from this experience; if the Right fails to do so…well, let’s just say America’s last chances to get it right won’t last forever.

The Civic Negligence of Third-Party Voting

Note: the following article is partially adapted from a piece I wrote in 2016 about the last presidential election, and is meant as a companion to my case for reelecting Donald Trump; please read that as well for my complete argument on how to view the 2020 presidential election.

What’s a voter to do when both major-party candidates for president are unappealing? For a vocal minority, the answer is to either vote for a third-party candidate or write in a name. Such choices are usually accompanied by platitudes about “sending a message” or casting a vote that “reflects my values.”

In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party candidate will not become president, and in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the third-party voter knows it. He generally justifies his conscious decision to cast a vote that will not affect the outcome1—to forego the opportunity to help bring about a more positive outcome or prevent a more negative one—as a symbolic gesture, or a personal statement.

I submit that, in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, this is grievously irresponsible for one simple reason: your vote affects other people. The ballot box isn’t a personal survey; elections have direct short- and long-term consequences for the freedom, safety, health, and prosperity of more than 330 million Americans other than yourself.

How you vote isn’t about you, your reputation, or your self-image. It’s not about symbolism, messaging, how any of the candidates make you feel, or even what any of the candidates “deserve.” It’s about what happens to millions of your countrymen—whether their personal freedoms expand or contract. How many innocent children they have to let be legally killed before birth. How much money is taken out of their paychecks. Whether job opportunities are allowed to grow or are suppressed. What kind of schools they can send their children to. How safe their communities are. What the government does with their money. How many dangers of the world spill over into their country. And even whether they’ll retain any means of reversing their government’s direction in the following elections.

To whatever extent voters should weigh notions of a candidate’s “fitness,” character, style, or temperament, morally they must give greater weight to the real-world consequences that candidate would have for the well-being of the American people. Further, voters cannot weigh those consequences in a vacuum, but in comparison to the consequences of the alternative winning instead.

Simply put: every American has a clear, overriding moral obligation to choose the viable candidate whose election would spare his or her countrymen the greatest amount of net harm.

But what if both candidates would be equally harmful? First, that might be theoretically possible, but if a third-party/write-in voter genuinely believes it, then he would have to justify his decision by making a case to that effect, and leave the my-vote-is-all-about-me platitudes behind.2

Second, moving from theory to reality, it’s plainly false that both choices before us in this election—Donald Trump and Joe Biden—would be equally harmful. Readers can click here to read my full case for that contention; here I’ll simply note that there are vast, clear policy differences between a mismanaged center-right executive branch and a unified hard-left one…among them the fact that (for reasons explained in the piece linked above) a Biden victory carries the very real danger of the nation our children inherit being transformed into one of single-party rule, one in which our constitutional order has been gutted beyond repair.

It is not hyperbole to say that the modern Democrat Party is opposed to every major principle of the American Founding. A Democrat takeover of the executive branch poses a clear, potentially existential (in the sense of permanently losing the freedoms and safeguards that make America America) threat to the country. Voting for Jo Jorgensen (the kind of person who supports the legal power to have one’s child executed in the womb, by the way) won’t do a thing to prevent that, or to advance any of the non-evil causes she and her fans claim to value. Nor will writing in a name in protest. Only by voting for Trump—distasteful though he is—do we stand even a chance of preventing it. (For those understandably unenthused about the incumbent, think of a Trump vote as a vote to keep the seat reserved for four years so a constitutional saboteur can’t occupy it, buying us time to hopefully work on finding someone better for 2024.)3

Of course, many reject the premise that their vote holds that much influence. While technically true in the sense that national elections never literally come down to a single vote, it’s also painfully obtuse—votes add up, particularly in light of the Electoral College, under which a few thousand votes in a few states can make the difference for the whole country.

The only circumstance in which it would be at least defensible to vote for a third-party presidential candidate would be if a voter of one party lives in a state absolutely dominated by the other, like Republicans living in California. It’s safe to say Biden will take the Golden State no matter how they vote.

Even so, while at least such voters won’t harm the electoral outcome, there’s still another consideration to keep in mind. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 in electoral votes, but lost the popular vote (thanks mostly to, again, California), which gave the Left a useful propaganda point they’ve relentlessly deployed ever since. Even if you don’t care about how that affects Trump or the GOP politically, you should certainly care about how it’s used to undermine the Electoral College, one of the pillars of our system of government.4

Large swaths of our culture have been conditioned to internalize a conception of voting that, at its core, is narcissistic. But the truth is that voting is a service, and a hugely consequential one at that (which is why the Founders believed in placing conditions on who could exercise it). As such, those who chose to participate are assuming an awesome responsibility. Ultimately, the only truly moral way to exercise that responsibility is to vote as if your vote will be the one to tip the balance between the top two competitors, whoever they may be.


Footnotes:

1. The idea that a third-party vote doesn’t affect the outcome assumes that the voter doesn’t have a consistent pattern of voting for either party. But that isn’t the case if he is a longtime voter for one of the parties. If someone normally votes Republican but chooses to make an exception for Trump, it obviously helps Biden by reducing the number of votes the Republican nominee would have otherwise gotten (and vice versa).


2. I acknowledge that third-party and write-in votes may be more defensible at the state or local levels, where there may be lower stakes and greater variation among Republicans and Democrats. That said, such decisions should still be made on the basis of the relative outcomes, not on the use of the ballot box as a vehicle for self-expression.


3. None of this is to deny the many severe defects of Trump and the Republican Party. Whether the GOP is beyond reforming is a very open question, and the desire to burn it down so something better can take its place is entirely understandable. But reforming and replacing a major political party are difficult tasks, and there is no evidence that third-party presidential voting brings us any closer to accomplishing either of them. It’s worth noting that when the GOP replaced the Whig Party in the 1850s, it was channelling powerful preexisting discontent with its predecessor, not driving that discontent. As dysfunctional as the modern GOP currently is, one need only look at Trump’s approval rating within the GOP to see that today’s inter-party discontent is still nowhere near that level. (Also, the Libertarian Party is an impotent pack of amoral fools who don’t deserve to become one of the two major parties. But that’s another conversation.)

4. For voters who are also public figures, such as political activists or commentators, there’s one more reason you should vote for the better major-party candidate even if the opposite party dominates your state: setting a good example for members of your audience who live in states where their votes still can make a difference.

Goldberg & Hayes Dispatch Any Pretense of Taking Swamp Conservatives Seriously

NOTE: The following was originally written for publication at another website. As such some of the particular examples may no longer be timely, but I am presenting it here in its original, uncut form because its arguments remain relevant and its information remains useful.

In October, nominally-conservative media veterans Jonah Goldberg and Steve Hayes relieved months of mild curiosity by unveiling The Dispatch, a new media venture that bills itself as an alternative to a “conservative media complex increasingly invested in a strategy of polarization and demonization of Blue America” – or, as Goldberg said in March, a right-of-center information source readers “won’t be embarrassed to invoke when speaking to liberal relatives around the dinner table.”

Not exactly standing athwart history yelling “stop,” is it?

It’s still unclear how many paying customers they expect to attract to what sounds essentially like a Diet Bulwark (perhaps they instead plan to survive on periodic $6 million infusions of swamp welfare), but the announcement takes pains to profess The Dispatch’s commitment to “honesty and charity” in “fact-based commentary” characterized by “more deliberation.” That sounds nice; too bad they don’t mean it.

Previously one half of the leadership team that destroyed The Weekly Standard (partly by playing Captain Ahab to Donald Trump’s Moby Dick), Hayes is hardly a stickler for journalistic integrity, as demonstrated when TWS ran a falsehood-ridden piece on FISAgate written by a former attorney for Senate Democrats—without identifying her as such. A few weeks back, Hayes helpfully gave readers another example of what passes for “principled journalis[m]” in his eyes when he applied the label to former Fox anchor Shepard Smith—a smarmy liberal known for spouting demagoguery on everything from Chick-fil-A to voter ID, last seen throwing a hissy fit over a Fox guest who didn’t think much of 9/11 Truther Andrew Napolitano’s legal analysis (the fiction of Smith’s “commitment to facts” also made The Dispatch’s October 14 edition).

Nor are “honesty and charity” serious priorities for David French, who surprisingly decided to leave behind the absolute job security of National Review (where Rich Lowry looked the other way no matter how many Christians he demonized, lies he pushed, and columns of his Andy McCarthy had to correct) for this ultra-niche vanity project of questionable viability. Also onboard are Andrew Egger and Rachael Larimore, two Weekly Standard survivors who followed Bill Kristol to The Bulwark, and who’ve also displayed a striking indifference toward the accuracy of what they write.

And then there’s Goldberg, who never met an argument he couldn’t straw-man. Those who’ve been paying attention know that Jonah’s toxic brew of thin skin, intellectual dishonesty, and simple laziness are less-than-ideal qualities for an editor-in-chief, with his October 4 column perfectly encapsulating his trademark unseriousness for the uninitiated.

After nearly 400 words about blind devotion to Soviet dictators (because padding his work with historical or philosophical asides is how he tricks rubes into thinking they’re reading something deep), Goldberg argues that Trump has a similar “cult of personality,” complete with its own “doctrine of infallibility.”

Certainly, there are plenty of hacks who blame others for Trump’s failures, insist his screw-ups are secretly-brilliant chess moves, and so on. But contrary to the impression #NeverTrumpers constantly paint, the existence of fanboys and apologists is hardly a new or distinctly Trumpian phenomenon (a lesson I learned the first time I saw someone unironically wear a “Trent Lott for President” T-shirt, many moons ago).

As would be unnecessary to explain in a conversation consisting of competent adults acting in good faith, the battle lines in the Right’s Trump debates are far more complicated than sycophants vs. haters. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jim Jordan, and Josh Hawley have all dissented from Trump on policy. The Federalist’s Sean Davis speaks out as harshly as anyone when Trump crosses the Second Amendment. Conservative Review regularly eviscerates Trump’s failures on spending, crime, and more. Hell, Ann Coulter is the country’s most relentless critic of Trump’s mishandling of his central campaign promise.

So when pundits and politicians defend Trump on particular questions, it simply doesn’t cut it to respond by snarking that they’ve “bent the knee” or want every conservative to become a “throne-sniffer.” Nor should Goldberg get away with using the specter of hero-worship as a pretext to straw-man the entire Ukraine debate:

Just this week, the same people who insisted that Trump would never collude with a foreign nation for his political interest are now defending collusion with a foreign nation for his political interest.

I don’t know who said “Trump would never collude,” but there’s obviously no contradiction between rejecting the false claim that Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win an election, and belief that the Ukraine call isn’t worth the hysteria that followed it. Goldberg handles a lot of the heavy lifting here by playing fast and loose with the word “collusion,” but as Andy McCarthy explained to him over a year ago(!), collusion in the context of Russiagate referred to a theoretical “agreement between two or more people to commit a crime,” not merely to seeking information or cooperation (or even to a dreaded “quid pro quo”).

The people who turn crimson with rage when you point out Trump’s decades of corrupt business practices now insist his only interest in the Bidens is his concern about corruption.

Hunter Biden’s gig and his father’s actions are so obviously suspicious that #NeverTrumpers know they’d have an uphill battle trying to sell normal people on the idea that it was unreasonable to ask about them. So they instead hope to coast on general distaste for Trump’s character—without even trying to explain why it isn’t also in the nation’s interests to confirm whether a potential future president is the type to abuse government power to shield relatives from the law.

They say it’s outrageous that Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian company when Biden was vice president, but they also say it’s fine to have a daughter and son-in-law duo running vast swaths of foreign and domestic policy while also making a fortune from their business interests around the world.

More observant readers than The Dispatch’s target audience may find themselves asking, hold on, when was the Trump administration accused of trying to oust a prosecutor looking at Trump’s kids? That’s a good question; an even better one is how Goldberg justifies pretending not to know that vast swaths of the MAGA Right absolutely detest Ivanka and Jared as blights on Trump’s presidency they’d jettison in a heartbeat.

Enemies are sinful or decadent when they lie or cheat on their wives, but who are you to judge Comrade Trump?

Note well how the peddlers of this double-standard—and every other argument Goldberg attributes to Trumpists—are neither named nor quoted anywhere in his column. Those who paid attention in their high-school writing classes or debate clubs likely remember that supporting one’s claims with examples and engaging the strongest version of the actual argument on the table are fairly basic concepts…but that sort of thing takes effort, and Goldberg tends to find generalities and caricature more conducive to his favored narratives anyway. That way he can string together versions of things different people are saying to cast some monolithic group as mindless, partisan hypocrites, with various outright misrepresentations sprinkled throughout.

That’s great for feeding preexisting distaste of a particular out-group among one’s clique, but fails to meet any minimum threshold of credible argument. Of course, that’s only a problem if you’re actually trying to win arguments, whereas Goldberg—just like scores of writers at The Bulwark, National Review, Commentary, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere—is simply out to reinforce a like-minded audience’s shared biases (all without so much as a twinge of irony to interfere with his periodic lectures on the perils of tribalism).

So it’s no surprise that, despite Hayes originally pitching The Dispatch as “more ‘beyond Trump’ than ‘anti-Trump,’” the publication’s first month was defined largely by impeachment-mania, salivating over various prepared statements released by Democrats while displaying far less curiosity about the dissection of those statements behind closed doors.

Nor should we be shocked by its more cavalier approach to questions of integrity and seriousness not related to Trump, from a Republican senator’s use of a fake online persona not only to promote himself but to endorse personal attacks he’d never make under his own name (just “something fun”), to a basketball star complaining that an associate “harmed” safe, comfortable athletes by speaking out for human rights in Hong Kong (not even worth a mention as French gushes over the “great athleticism” of “the GOAT”), to the farce of putting forth ex-Paul Ryan personnel as any sort of authority on “thoughtful legislating.”

If “character is destiny,” then no amount of swamp welfare will be enough to secure Team Dispatch’s future.

David French Lies Some More, Calls for a Democrat President

Of all the things I’ve ever gotten wrong, the most embarrassing is probably that, once upon a time, I called David French principled.

My first exposure to French was via the Evangelicals for Mitt website, where he (rightfully, at the time) made the case for nominating Mitt Romney in 2008 (shocking as it may seem to younger righties today, back then he really was the conservative alternative to pro-abortion Rudy Giuliani, nanny statist Mike Huckabee, and pro-himself John McCain).

From there, I found French’s background as a religious liberty attorney who volunteered to go to Iraq not only incredibly impressive, but incredibly humbling. As anti-Trumpism began morphing from a valid primary position into a general-election malady, French’s service to both his country and the movement kept me straining to give his intentions the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could.

But eventually, it became impossible not to notice that David wasn’t merely wrong, but dishonest.

It became impossible to ignore that he was willing to risk the lives and liberties of millions of Americans for no better reason than to register his contempt for a distasteful presidential candidate. Since 2016, there have been countless examples of French’s distortions (demonizing Christians while twisting their arguments, playing semantic games to trash honest conservatives, and pieces that so egregiously misstate facts and law they have to be extensively fact-checked by colleagues after publication), and his watered-down conservatism (suggesting we can’t do anything about libraries hosting drag queen events for kids, asserting hateful lunatics have a First Amendment right to teach students at taxpayer expense, citing fringe trolls as evidence conservatism as a whole and America itself are becoming more racist, and most recently accusing the Right of “caricaturing” environmentalism).

But while his latest piece for Time Magazine (where he apparently runs the stuff that’s too dishonest and too lefty even for post-Buckley National Review) may mark a new low, it also helpfully gathers many of his worst lies into one place, the ultimate proof that Pastor David French thinks the commandment against bearing false witness is either optional or doesn’t apply to him, and just how much of other people’s lives, liberties, and well-being he’s willing to sacrifice to be rid of Donald Trump. Continue reading

Jonah Goldberg: Shameless Liar

Once upon a time, I appreciated Jonah Goldberg’s columns. I was thrilled when he came to speak at Hillsdale. I even liked to listen to YouTube videos of him (and a few other conservatives) debating liberals. As a budding conservative writer, the man was an inspiration to me…or rather, the man I thought Jonah Goldberg to be.

How simpler life seemed before Donald Trump’s entry into politics compelled so many righties to reveal who they really are.

Some remained honest, levelheaded, and focused on advancing conservatism. Some devoted themselves to pro-Trump sycophancy for fun or profit. And some became consumed with contempt for anyone or anything they saw as overly aligned with Trump and “Trumpism” (whatever that means), because Trump’s ascent was a vote of no confidence in their stewardship of the conservative movement.

But I digress. The point is, Jonah Goldberg is definitely a premium member of the third group, as reinforced in spectacular fashion recently.

At the beginning of last month, he wrote a column lamenting that the National Rifle Association is no longer “notably bipartisan” and is now “all in for the culture war.” The NRA has some very real problems, but Goldberg naturally fixated on complaints that have little value or interest beyond navel-gazing enthusiasts.

Near the end of the month, Dana Loesch and her husband Chris publicly criticized Goldberg for part of the following paragraph (emphasis added):

NRA folks today inveigh against “the socialists” with the same vehemence they used to reserve for gun-grabbers. UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, observes that NRATV, the online media outlet of the NRA, has strayed far from the gun lane. “Now it’s focused on immigration, race, health care,” he told The New Republic. Dana Loesch, an NRA spokeswoman, has called the mainstream news media “the rat bastards of the earth” who deserve to be “curb-stomped.”

The quotes come from the following video:

Following a discussion of Trump’s habit of highlighting and condemning MSM dishonesty with rare (for a GOP leader) bluntness, Dana said, “I’m happy, frankly, to see them curb-stomped.” Proving her “rat bastards” assessment correct, various media outlets and figures at the time misrepresented the quote as advocating (or at least hinting at) physical curb-stomping.

Goldberg didn’t explicitly claim that’s what she meant, but his sparse quoting obviously left it a plausible interpretation. Given the trouble the smear caused at the time and the fact that conservative media corrected the record a year ago, the Loesches were understandably miffed to see it apparently resurrected in a “conservative” publication.

Jonah’s first instinct was to toss out a mild I’m sorry IF I got a quote wrong, then to play dumb on the sole basis that Dana had used the words “curb” and “stomped” in succession. Dana and Chris were unimpressed:

Finding himself without an ethical leg to stand on, Jonah soon shifted to condescending prick mode:

At the beginning, one could’ve argued that Jonah was merely lazy when he wrote the column, compounded by his own biases leaving him disinclined to think twice about the version of the quote he read in “public reporting.” But now, after having it explained to him yet refusing (out of God-knows-what egotistical personality defect) to do the slightest courtesy of adding a one-sentence parenthetical note that Dana was referring to a rhetorical curb-stomping, he crossed the line into abject dishonesty.

Rightfully disgusted, the Loesches refused to back down. Jonah responded with a meltdown of whiny, nasty, faux indignation that any of his National Review pals would immediately recognize as downright Trumpian if it had been spewed by anyone outside the clique:

He even had the gall to suggest that he was the victim here:

But the sleaziest moment was him deciding to add that maybe Dana was hinting at violence after all:

It’s not a new revelation that Goldberg is dishonest—just to name a few, he’s previously misrepresented the words of Mollie Hemingway, Dennis Prager, and John Ericsson, who wrote that conservatives should “withhold this support or work to oppose” Trump when he errs, but not “reflexively oppose him, as Kristol does” (emphasis added). Goldberg twisted his argument into him calling for conservatives to go “full Gorka,” and pretended to wonder if Ericsson “want[s] me to lie” on Trump’s behalf.

It’s also not news that Goldberg is a lazy, thin-skinned jackass; just look at his stunningly bad take on social-media censorship (which was so spectacularly inaccurate on who was getting censored he wrote a follow-up admitting it wasn’t just cranks, yet doubled down on everything else), or the utter fool he made of himself last year defending his claim that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative.” But this latest scandal brought all of his character flaws together in stunning fashion.

There’s something fitting about this dustup coinciding with Goldberg’s departure from National Review to start a new website with Weekly Standard co-killer Stephen Hayes, which Goldberg envisions—I kid you not—as a news source that his kind of conservative “won’t be embarrassed to invoke when speaking to liberal relatives around the dinner table.”

Demonstrating that you’ll not only refuse to issue clarifications when you publish something misleading, but will launch into defensive histrionics against the victim of your “error,” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that your new journalistic venture will be factually reliable…or that it won’t embarrass anyone.

David French Unwittingly Demonstrates Why Conservatism Has Conserved So Little

Whether one considers Donald Trump a flawed partner or existential threat to conservatism depends largely on how one saw our situation before he came along. Most Trump voters were under no illusions about pre-Trump Republicans being honorable men or effective conservatives, while most NeverTrumpers cast 45 as deviating from a principled, competent—and fictitious—national GOP tradition.

National Review’s David French perfectly demonstrated that disconnect last month with a less-than-reassuring attempt to answer, “Before Trump, What Did Conservatism Conserve?” He opens by sharing a tweet he wrote the week before:

Scratch the surface, and this isn’t much of a comparison—the 2002 born-alive law sailed through Congress unopposed in a very different time, the partial-birth abortion ban stops less than 1% of annual abortions, Bush-appointed judges are hardly guaranteed to be originalists (Exhibit A: the disgraceful John Roberts), and Trump reinstated Mexico City too. Bush also made no serious effort to defund Planned Parenthood domestically.

Yes, state-level heroes have meaningfully reduced abortions. But national Republicans clearly don’t share their commitment, states can only do so much under Roe v. Wade, and for all our efforts, public opinion remains roughly tied between “pro-life” and “pro-choice” (with infanticide in the news, Marist did find an encouraging spike towards life, but whether it represents a lasting change remains to be seen).

Bush’s abortion record—delivering easy stuff, resisting some leftist extremes, but doing almost nothing to advance the main objective—is the same pattern we see on issue after issue, despite French’s efforts to convince us otherwise.

He shows impressive progress on gun laws, right to work, charter school attendance, homeschooling, judicial wins on free speech and religious liberty, and various leftist policies Barack Obama didn’t enact. But behind each example lies a deeper, unaddressed threat.

Policy wins can be reversed by a judiciary we’ve done nothing to rein in. Conservatives’ kids exiting public schools doesn’t address the indoctrination of the millions who stay, then go to even worse college (especially when people like French attack those conservatives who are working to expose fanatical leftist professors). The primary threat to free speech today isn’t government; it’s tech companies stacking debates and suppressing ideas. Preventing bad legislation is small comfort as Democrats increasingly turn to courts and bureaucracy to achieve their ends.

And looming over all of it is how little we’ve done to get immigration under control and stop Democrats from using it to permanently transform the electorate.

But foreign policy is where French’s straw-grasping is most obvious:

Has there ever been a great-power conflict whose end was handled as deftly as the Cold War’s? And as for all the hate piled on George W. Bush, his critics ignore two huge accomplishments: a foreign-aid program to combat AIDS in Africa that may be one of the most life-saving foreign-policy initiatives in all of human history, and an effective post-9/11 defense of America from large-scale jihadist attack.

I don’t know what’s sadder: French suggesting that most dissatisfied conservatives include Ronald Reagan (amnesty mistake aside) in their indictment of the GOP, or resorting to citing foreign-aid spending in what started out as a showcase of conservatism. (Whatever one thinks of Bush’s AIDS program, it’s no more indicative of a specifically-conservative agenda than presidents declaring holidays or dispatching disaster-relief efforts.)

More importantly, while French is right about post-9/11 terror prevention, that’s only half of Bush’s foreign policy legacy.

43 was right to topple Saddam Hussein, but by failing to clearly articulate the occupation’s purpose and refusing to commit enough troops until death tolls forced the 2007 surge (among other misjudgments), Bush did more than just preside over needless loss of life, provoke a Democrat congressional sweep, and pave Obama’s path to the White House. He left the Right more fractured and confused than on any other issue, torn between hawks putting too little thought into our “allies” and objectives in the Middle East, and reflexive non-interventionists echoing Code Pink-esque “warmonger” rhetoric.

We know the GOP isn’t a conservative party, but the problem runs so much deeper than that. By and large, conservative thought leaders and activists have neglected to hold Republicans accountable for failure and betrayal, treated candidate selection and vetting like a game, let countless maladies fester while doing little more than complaining in echo chambers, and repeatedly defined down expectations for what we can achieve.

Alas, Donald Trump isn’t the answer to those problems, but he’s not the source, either. Trump never would’ve become president if conservatism had been successfully conserving life, liberty, and prosperity, and until elites can be honest about that, the base will keep searching for champions beyond the “respectable” bench that swampcons keep asking us to settle for.

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.” The work of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because neither choice on the ballot is pure enough for our liking, and 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.”

New at LifeSite: In Defense of Religious Conservatives’ Alliance with Trump

Last week, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf launched a vicious attack on Vice President Mike Pence, Hillsdale College, its president Larry Arnn, and by extension every conservative and religious American who supports Donald Trump. The attack echoed a slur we’ve heard far too much from the “respectable” wing of the Right, so I took the opportunity to respond at LifeSiteNews.

You can read the whole thing at LifeSite, but here’s the gist:

[B]ut while justifying [Trump’s] sins would be a moral compromise, neither Christianity nor conservatism has ever held that a man must be perpetually shunned or endlessly condemned for what he did or was in his past. We’re all sinners, and all capable of redemption […]

Yes, we’re supposed to seek the most virtuous leaders we can. But the Founders also taught, as in Federalist 51, that if “angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

This was one of first lessons drilled into me at Hillsdale: human nature is fallen. The Founders knew self-serving leaders would be such a constant of American history that they baked it into the Constitution, balancing the various parts of government so that ambition would be “made to counteract ambition.” They expected checks and balances to work through officeholders’ self-interest, not their high-mindedness.

In other words, they never expected selfless moral exemplars to be the norm, and understood that the task of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because we dislike the finite choices the democratic process has given us. The question remains whether to attempt to do good through a flawed vehicle, or accept an administration committed to massive evil.

Again, please read the rest at LifeSiteNews. For related reading in which I elaborate on all the above, you can check out my 2016 assessment of all the reasons for and against voting for Trump in the general election, my 2016 Stream article on what casting a vote is and isn’t about, and my Federalist Papers Project response to the attacks on pro-Trump Christians in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Roger Kimball also wrote a great response to Friedersdorf at American Greatness. A snippet:

Conor Friedersdorf’s real objection is that Larry Arnn should engage in “moral compromises in order to achieve political outcomes.” But what is the “moral compromise” he has in mind? Is inviting the vice president of the United States to campus such a compromise? Is taking pride in seeing graduates of the college one presides over work for the president such a compromise? For no other institution or administration in history would this be true.

Friedersdorf, meanwhile, followed up his first two pieces of the subject with a compilation of messages he got from anonymous Hillsdale alumni — most of which just happen to mindlessly parrot his central attack. I suspect (and desperately hope, for the sake of Hillsdale’s intellectual seriousness) that either they were cherry-picked, or that #NeverTrump students were disproportionately likely to respond to his feedback request in the first place.

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