Sanity vs. Sickness: the Conservative Movement’s Dueling Reactions to Putin’s War on Ukraine

The confusion and bitterness that have entangled conservatives over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are the inevitable consequences of a festering problem I’ve been watching and dreading for a decade now: a long train of mistaken foreign policy decisions—and equally mistaken reactions to those decisions—that the American Right has never properly adjudicated.

There is a widespread consensus (with which I concur) that George W. Bush made a series of extremely costly and tragic mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our movement never really had a sober, nuanced accounting of what those mistakes were and were not. Instead, in the absence of serious Republican leadership, the predominantly (and understandably) emotional reaction to those years of excessive bloodshed for seemingly little return grew and hardened over the years into an overcorrection in the opposite direction, taking the form of a false choice: we either bomb and invade and nation-build everywhere, or we withdraw America from the world and steer clear of any foreign conflict.

For some on the Right (mostly its populist, paleoconservative, or “New Right/post-liberal” factions), a disposition toward the latter extreme has made washing their hands of conflict so important, even in cases where nobody of consequence is seriously pushing for American military intervention, that they have adopted logical and sometimes even moral contortions to sustain it. From the uncritical recitation of Kremlin justifications for the invasion, to the presumption that Vladimir Putin is somehow more trustworthy or less objectionable than Volodymyr Zelensky, to the idea of some correlation between American concern for the outcome and negligence toward our domestic problems (an ironic flip side to Joe Biden’s attempts to scapegoat the conflict for the crushing gas prices his own policies have caused), to the simply obscene notion that a murderous KGB thug like Putin is some kind of Christian bulwark against wokeness, post-hoc rationalization is the only explanation I can think of for why anyone not actually devoted to the Kremlin would twist themselves into these knots.

The moral relativism associated with that last contortion deserves special focus. As sick as American culture and corrupt as the federal government currently are, morally there’s still no contest between us and the Kremlin, from their rigged elections, to the laundry list of political enemies Putin has had killed, to their persecution of Baptists and Evangelicals, to their torture of Jehovah’s Witnesses (on top of Putin’s support for legal abortion and the rampancy of Russia’s surrogacy industry). While the American Democrat Party is absolutely evil, and I have no doubt they would emulate the Kremlin a lot more if they could get away with it (we’ve seen signs of that in their abuse of the Justice Department and support of vote fraud, for starters), the fact remains that they have yet to even attempt to cross most of the lines that Putin not only crossed a long time ago, but can no longer see in the rearview mirror—not out of the goodness of their hearts, mind you, but because our people and institutions, deeply flawed though they are, still would make those things much, much harder to get away with here.

The “Christian Putin” meme seems to mostly originate with his regime’s hardline stance against homosexuality. But even there we should be very careful — pandering to prominent social mores is one of tyrants’ classic tools to stay on a population’s good side. And while I don’t presume to have complete knowledge of everything Putin has done on the issue, given his broader human rights record it would be beyond foolish to trust him to model proper Christian treatment of people in sin, and monumentally irresponsible to give the public the slightest impression that he might be a model for what conservatives would do if we had our way. When an evil, murderous tyrant supposedly uses a few good values for his own ends, he ultimately undermines those values by wrongly associating them with evil, murder, and tyranny in the eyes of onlookers in the rest of the world.

Further, I’m sorry to say, the rise of much of the above has correlated with, and no doubt been informed substantially by, a deterioration of far too many conservatives’ ability to discern the credibility of claims or the trustworthiness of sources, a forgetting of Chesterton’s advice that the purpose of an open mind is to eventually close it on something solid. Far too many minds (at least online) have instead closed on a Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Alex Jones-style view of the world filled with conspiracy theories in which world events are dictated by shadowy globalist cabals and bloodthirsty defense contractors, narratives that are right at home alongside the Code Pink/Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky talking points and historical revisionism of the Bush years.

Unlike David French, I’m not about to pretend this reflexive contrarianism came from nowhere (or that it applies to unrelated issues on which the contrarians happen to be correct, but I digress). Nothing fuels contrarianism more than the chronic refusal of establishmentarians to admit or correct any of their mistakes, which drives people to look elsewhere for guidance—and sometimes find it in figures who merely trade one form of awfulness for another. But the fact that establishmentarians provoked the initial distrust doesn’t excuse contrarians for blindly trusting their new friends and thought leaders. You’re still functioning human beings with the ability and responsibility to apply morality, evidence, and common sense to the stories you’re told. Act like it.

That applies tenfold for anyone in the public eye. It is of the utmost importance that conservatives in government, punditry, journalism, or advocacy not give the slightest indulgence to crackpots, conspiracy theorists, or demagogues, especially at a time when crying “misinformation” is one of our enemies’ most potent weapons. It would be the height of political malpractice to give leftists an opening to legitimately apply the label to us, to give either current followers or persuadable newcomers a reason to distrust us, or to lead followers astray by giving excessive credit to a crank like Paul, Buchanan, or Jones for something they might coincidentally get right, inadvertently leading the uninitiated to be less skeptical of the mountain of things they don’t.

If there’s any silver lining to this grotesque situation, it’s that the pro-Putin sentiment is, near as I can tell, all-but nonexistent among Republicans in Congress, except for the occasional idiot freshman House gadfly (this lack of elected support, naturally, has provoked all sorts of ranting on social media about the “neocon” boogeyman). Of course, aside from a few radio hosts like Dennis Prager and Mark Levin, there’s also no real concerted effort to stand up to this poison, untangle the years of confusion and negligence that led up to it, and reassert a sane, conservative approach to foreign policy.

Sadly, history suggests that paradigm shifts in how we approach the world beyond our borders tend not to come unless forced by dramatic tragedies. I pray that is not the case this time.

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.”

Harvard Republican Club Wants Hillary Clinton to Be President

They don’t say so, of course. In fact, the name Hillary Clinton doesn’t appear anywhere in their announcement that they won’t endorse Donald Trump. But that’s the inescapable conclusion of their sanctimonious, tunnel-vision screed.

“[F]or the first time in 128 years, we, the oldest College Republicans chapter in the nation, will not be endorsing the Republican nominee,” they declare…a decision so well thought out, with the consequences of the election’s outcome so carefully weighed, that not once do they mention who will become president if the Republican nominee does not. Continue reading

New at American Clarion: Disappointment in Paul Ryan Provides Clue to America’s Current Mess

Wilfred McClay of the University of Oklahoma best summarized the root cause of conservatives’ unpleasant choice for president this fall: “when a political culture forbids respectable politicians from raising essential topics, the electorate will soon turn to ‘unrespectable’ ones” like Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, the punditry remains slow to recognize this, and nothing symbolizes its cognitive dissonance more than the reactions to House Speaker Paul Ryan supporting Trump despite Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel. The past few weeks have been filled with fears and lamentations over the threat to Ryan’s standing as, Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes puts it, “the intellectual leader of the conservative movement in the GOP.”

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg sums up the sentiment in writing that it’s “more difficult for me to write than it should be” that Ryan’s “a disappointment”:

[P]hilosophically and temperamentally, I’ve long felt that Ryan is my kind of politician, and that judgment didn’t change after getting to know him (which is rare, given how most politicians are all too human). His vision for government’s role and the kind of party the GOP should be has always resonated with me, even if I didn’t agree with him on every policy or vote.

It should tell you all you need to know about the sorry state of the Right that disappointment in Ryan took this long for so many.

Read the rest at American Clarion.

Stephen Moore on GOP Elites’ Sheer Idiocy

Stephen Moore of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity nails it at the American Spectator:

What is maddening about the Clinton and Trump gaffes is the reaction by the brain trusts of their respective parties. When Hillary promised to lay off tens of thousands of coal miners, the left knew she had stepped in it. But did you hear Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid denounce her as an an out of control imbecile who has just threatened the jobs of middle class union workers?

Did they clamor that one more of these unforced errors and she would be “disqualified” from the race? Did they rush on MSNBC and CNN and demand a retraction?

Of course, no. No. And No. Never. They aren’t stupid. Like the worker bees, they did everything to protect the queen bee. They worked together to change the subject, denounce Trump, reassure voters that Hillary really does care about working class people. She’s even met some.

Nearly everyone dutifully parroted the party line: what Hillary really meant to say was blah, blah, blah.

That’s called damage control.

The Republicans are, by contrast, pathetic wimps. They are so terrified of and traumatized by the “racist” charge, that they threw the GOP nominee under the bus so that the media wouldn’t label them bigots too. They foolishly piled on to the media and Democratic attack. The media didn’t have to call on Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton ‎to excoriate Trump. House Speaker Paul Ryan lashed out at Trump for his “racist comment.” Marco Rubio and others did the same. Jeb Bush called for Trump to “retract” his comments.

They seemed to be saying: see how racially progressive I am. I just denounced Donald Trump. He’s the Republican racist, not me. ‎That’s statesmanship for you.

Question: Does anyone believe that this strategy will bring a stampede of black and Latino voters into the party? Do they think this will get the media off their back?

Amen. All they had to do was say something along the lines of, “I believe Mr. Trump was merely referencing Judge Curiel’s membership in an organization with a political agenda against him that they themselves frame as advocacy of their Hispanic identity, and he simply chose his words poorly.”

Just say that, and voila! You’ve criticized Trump and put his comments in perspective without giving hundreds of reporters an excuse to write headlines about you advocating the election of somebody you just called racist.

This is not complicated, Speaker Ryan. Not complicated at all. Donald Trump is horribly wrong about a great many things, but one of his favorite lines is dead right: “our leaders are stupid.”

Why is Truth Obvious to Conservative Readers but Not Conservative Pundits?

It’s really remarkable, in a depressing sort of way, how many of the comments on articles at leading conservative websites are consistently more insightful than the articles themselves. Today’s example comes from Dan McLaughlin’s recent National Review piece on how #NeverTrump needn’t have been inevitable — not because the people who knew better had numerous opportunities to prevent Trump’s rise, mind you, but because Trump could have been someone he’s not.

Thank God commenter Patrick could see the obvious:

Flip it around: NeverTrump needn’t have been inevitable if mainstream Republicanism, including other major presidential candidates, had recognized the same important issues that Trump and Santorum realized and championed them in a more mainstream way than Trump is capable of doing.

In retrospect (except that retrospect was actually spect to millions of us a year ago) NeverTrump could have been avoided and Trump could have been stopped just by, as Ann Coulter forcefully prescribed last summer, “Taking his issues away from him and beating him with them.” But 14 Trump rivals ignored or mostly protested his policies. Cruz followed along timidly in his wake, doing nothing to make Trump voters prefer his half measures to Trump’s full ones. Santorum himself had always been leading the way on working class conservatism, but he was damaged goods having been caricatured as a religious obsessive with no other interests, and few Republcians were even aware of what he stood for.

As for Ryan, McConnell, the RW pundits, think tanks and donors, they were Trump’s best allies in assuring voters that they wouldn’t dream of adopting any of Trump’s policies. They went on record as giving him a monopoly on populist conservatism. And the voters believed them.

In putting the onus on Trump, you’re assuming this 70 year-old dog is capable of learning new tricks. That’s not realistic. He’s been an erratic, bombastic blowhard and gadfly his entire life. The solution never was for Donald Trump to become someone he’s not. It was for someone who’s not Donald Trump to start standing up for ordinary Americans instead of Wall Street and other special interests. That didn’t happen, so Trump won by default, the two sweetest words in the English language.

I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that comment is the single best thing I’ve read on the Internet in a month.

Sadly, instead of starting the Right’s long-overdue housecleaning to make sure we never wind up in a mess like this again, so many of the people whose shortsightedness forced us into this ugly choice are instead devoting all their energy to increasingly-implausible fantasies about convention revolts and third candidates that will correct none of our root problems and instead give Hillary the opportunity she needs to make us all irrelevant by turning the Supreme Court solidly against our freedoms and amnestying enough new Democrat voters to keep control for generations.

Sigh.

New at American Clarion – Trump Won Because Conservatives Let Him

Now that we’re stuck with the ugly choice of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we’re long overdue for a chat about just how easily this mess could have been avoided. Shocking though it may be that such a cartoonishly unqualified and un-conservative figure could sweep the Republican nomination, it was inevitable that the mistakes and blind spots that establishmentarians and conservatives allowed to fester for years would eventually blow up in our faces.

Most agree on the first cause: feckless Republican leaders, whose record of surrender has made their base desperate for someone to take a wrecking ball to Capitol Hill, and doubtful that anyone from within the party could suffice. So when Trump swept in sounding like that someone—and making immigration, the issue on which party and base are most divided, his centerpiece—of course he forged an emotional bond impervious to subsequent reviews of his record.

It’s not Trump’s fault nobody stepped in to fill that demand first—even Ted Cruz, who fought the establishment from day one, underestimated the stridency he needed to project, or how moves like his poison pill amendments to the Gang of 8 bill would backfire.

Read the rest at American Clarion.

The GOP Predicament: Outraged by Conservatism while Indifferent to Evil

Former House speaker John Boehner recently came up in two items that, taken together, powerfully illustrate why the national GOP has been such a joke.

First, he denounced Ted Cruz as “Lucifer” and a “miserable son of a b****.”  Second, he joined Barack Obama in a cutesy video skit about how the outgoing president will pass the time after stepping down.  They laugh, watch Toy Story 3 together (yes, really), and joke about being able to drink and smoke in private life.

Previously, Boehner has gushed that he “absolutely” trusts Obama.  Since he broached the subject of comparing politicians to demons, note that Boehner’s buddy is so devoted to slaughtering babies that he repeatedly voted to let hospitals starve newborns to death and routinely demonizes Boehner’s pro-life constituents.

What is Cruz’s sin?  Preferring a more aggressive strategy to defund Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and executive amnesty through the appropriations process.  That’s it.  He’s “Lucifer” for refusing to follow Boehner’s fear of getting blamed for a government shutdown…never mind that blame easily could have been pinned on Obama, or that past Republicans successfully did the same thing to get Bill Clinton to accept their budget.

Read the rest at American Thinker.

Should You Vote for Donald Trump?

After decades of lackluster presidential nominees who embodied various diluted forms of center-right thought, this year we finally had an authentic, passionate movement conservative to rally around in Ted Cruz. Finally we had an opportunity to restore the Constitution, liberty, and prosperity; to take real steps toward ending the massacre of abortion, to shrink government rather than slow its growth, to turn the tide of America’s culture war and put the Left on the defensive for a change. Finally we had our chance to vindicate conservatism against the cancerous moderation espoused by the Republican establishment.

And we blew it. Thanks to a perfect storm of primary voters letting themselves be conned by a clown and divided among a half-dozen mediocrities and vanity candidates, and too few conservative leaders willing to show leadership and make clear that Cruz was the only serious choice, instead we’re now stuck with Donald Trump as the GOP nominee for President of the United States. A choice so manifestly terrible that it seemed inconceivable a year ago. Yet here we are.

So patriots have a decision to make: hold our nose and vote for Trump to protect the country from Hillary Clinton, or stay home to protest Trump’s lack of character, competence, and conservatism? My answer has wavered back and forth over the past year, so I hope this review of all the arguments for and against will help similarly conflicted conservatives find a definitive answer.

Before diving in, let’s dismiss two unserious options out of hand: voting for Hillary Clinton (such a despicable, asinine idea that those who’ve written and published it should be ashamed of themselves), and voting for a third-party or independent candidate (no, not even that obnoxious imbecile Austin Petersen who gives Glenn Beck such a tingle up his leg). It’s simply delusional to believe the latter could actually become president, so if you’re doing it for the symbolism it’s functionally no different than staying home. If you absolutely must put down another name at the ballot box, at least choose a deserving and likely future nominee by writing in Ted Cruz.

(Caveat: if by some bizarre, infinitesimal, miraculous twist of fate a quality conservative somehow uncovers the secret path for an independent candidate to reach the White House, I of course reserve the right to take that back and revise the conclusion of this post.)

That said, let’s begin. Continue reading

Rick Santorum Abandons His Own Principles to Endorse Marco Rubio

For a while in 2012, I enthusiastically supported Rick Santorum for president. He made some blunders that forced me to reevaluate his viability, and his blend of fiscal, social, and defense conservatism was largely obsolete this time around thanks to Ted Cruz, but I always retained a soft spot for Rick, thanks to him being a pro-life, pro-marriage champion, rock-solid on national defense, and having the strongest immigration record in the 2016 field.

Well, I’m sorry to say my respect for the man is gone for good, now that he’s decided to endorse Marco Rubio, and in doing so signaled that the values he’s spent his career fighting for aren’t so important after all.

During his latest (and hopefully final) presidential campaign, Santorum’s message was that he was the truest true conservative in the race, so much so that Cruz just wasn’t strong enough on same-sex marriage (the National Organization for Marriage disagrees) or immigration (Jeff Sessions, Tom Tancredo, and Steve King disagree) to measure up to him.

So what does he do once he drops out? Endorse the worst major candidate on both of those issues. Continue reading