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.

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A Belated Reply to Ramesh Ponnuru on Kavanaugh and Roe

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to my column last week at LifeSite, in which I take issue with his defense of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding Roe v. Wade. I appreciate the opportunity for a serious exchange on the subject; hopefully we can clarify some of the Right’s thinking on a tradition that’s caused so much trouble.

Ponnuru accurately summarizes my position; I think he can be fairly summarized as believing nominees shouldn’t commit to overruling specific precedents, but should be more willing to discuss a precedent’s strengths or flaws (from which senators and voters would obviously be able to draw more useful inferences).

Certainly, I agree that it would be improper for a judge to promise, for instance, “I’ll always rule however the National Right to Life Committee wants me to.” I also recognize the legitimacy of certain qualifiers, such as noting that a case involving abortion in some way doesn’t necessarily mean Roe’s legitimacy will be the question it hinges on.

Beyond that, though, I have never heard a persuasive reason why it would be improper for a nominee to commit to ruling certain ways on known legal questions. If a precedent is in fact illicit, I’ve never gotten a good answer why it’s wrong in principle to make reasonably sure that a nominee would overturn it.

Obviously, I can see potential danger in a judge agreeing to deliver a particular outcome in exchange for an appointment, but a bad ruling is hardly mitigated just because its signatories honestly believe in it. So shouldn’t the legitimacy of a pre-confirmation commitment depend entirely on whether the judgment being committed to is correct?

It seems perfectly straightforward to me that a judge’s explanation for his position would demonstrate to fair-minded observers whether it’s rooted in illicit partisanship or defensible legal philosophy, regardless of what conversations he and the president might have had beforehand as to whether they’re on the same page.

It also seems to me that consistently applying the no-commitment principle would take us to some pretty absurd places. Is anyone who’s ever openly criticized Roe, like William Pryor or Michael McConnell, automatically disqualified from joining SCOTUS? Sitting justices who’ve previously declared themselves for or against Roe in majority or dissenting opinions also have a “commitment” on the record that will telegraph their disposition in future abortion cases; how is that meaningfully different?

What’s the limiting principle to the no-commitment rule, and what do the above questions say about the rule’s merits for judicial nominees?

Finally, I’d like to make clear that despite my reservations about nominating Kavanaugh in the first place, I fully support confirming him in light of the Left’s vile campaign to destroy him.

It’s all-but inconceivable that withdrawing him at this stage would lead to confirming anyone better, his powerful testimony calling out “the Left” by name for its “calculated and orchestrated political hit” gives me some hope that he’s more of a movement conservative than he let on during the first round, and most importantly, the Left’s tactics of demonization and intimidation cannot be rewarded.

New at LifeSite: Our GOP Congressional Leaders Are Lousy on Life

Here’s my latest piece, highlighting some of the details NRLC and SBA List left out of their statements slobbering all over Paul Ryan:

Over the years, Ryan voted for and presided over multiple budget resolutions that continued the more than $500 million Planned Parenthood receives from taxpayers annually. Pro-life leaders called onthe GOP to make defunding Planned Parenthood “non-negotiable” in budgets passed under Barack Obama, but Ryan defended not doing so on the grounds that “in divided government, no one gets exactly what they want.”

Last month, Ryan said that supporting the most recent budget was necessary to fund the military. But critics like Rep. Thomas Massie, R-KY, argue that under Ryan, the House forbade lawmakers from voting on amendments concerning Planned Parenthood or any other conservative objections to the bill.

“A more complete betrayal of the electorate I have not witnessed,” Massie tweeted.

Moreover, while Ryan’s House passed several pro-life measures, only the one letting states defund Planned Parenthood ever became law.

There’s a lot more at LifeSiteNews. And here’s a snippet of my piece from earlier this week detailing how ostensible Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (for all intents and purposes, Chuck Schumer is really calling the shots) continues to let Democrats slow-walk judicial nominees, in the hopes of delaying as many as they can until Donald Trump no longer has a GOP Senate majority to confirm them:

An October 10 memo signed by more than one hundred conservative leaders, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, and Tea Party Patriot’s Jenny Beth Martin, blames part of the problem on the McConnell Senate’s “continued insistence on working no more than 2 ½ days a week – arriving on Monday evening for a handful of votes, and departing, on average, by 2:30 p.m. each Thursday afternoon.”

Even under the 30-hour rule, the leaders add, McConnell could “easily make this painful for them by forcing continuous session overnight and through the weekend.” They estimate this would enable the Senate to confirm up to five nominees per week even with the added hours of debate.

On a related note, the insipid myth that McConnell is the real hero in getting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court continues to make the rounds, even among people who should know better like Matt Walsh:

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

Last Night, Ted Cruz Told Conservatives That Saving America Is Optional

Ted Cruz is by far the best candidate I’ve ever had the opportunity to vote for…and still, he let me down last night. He let his country down last night.

I know Donald Trump’s moral, intellectual, and philosophical deficiencies by heart. I was #NeverTrump for a few days after he secured the nomination. But a few days was all it took for me to confront, process, and admit two realities: first, that on every issue, the wrong things Trump may do are negated by the wrong things Hillary Clinton will do; and more importantly, that we may not have the opportunity to reverse Clinton’s actions in a term or two, because she will stack the Supreme Court for decades to come and grant amnesty to enough future Democrat voters to prevent conservatives from winning another presidency or Congressional majority in our lifetimes.

Ted Cruz understands this, because he himself has referenced both: Continue reading

Awful #NeverTrump Arguments, Part 1: Steve Deace

The intense disgust Donald Trump inspires in most conservatives is unquestionably valid, seeing that he’s a loathsome, unqualified buffoon who ruined the best chance we’ve had since 1984 to put a truly worthy movement conservative, Ted Cruz, in the White House. The emotional difficulty of looking past his offenses and weaknesses is understandable, and there are legitimate concerns about Trump’s fitness for office, chances against Hillary Clinton, and representation of the Republican Party.

However, it’s increasingly apparent that Trump Derangement Syndrome has so consumed most of the #NeverTrump movement that they’ve lost the ability to objectively evaluate both Trump’s weaknesses and the consequences of another Clinton presidency. Not only are opposing arguments ignored without serious consideration, many NeverTrumpers hurl indignation and condescension at any suggestion there are opposing arguments. Ugly though it sounds, it’s hard not to conclude that some have decided that the future of their country is less important than projecting their self-image as morally and ideologically purer than the rest of us.

It’s time to start calling out this arrogant negligence. The following is the first in a series of posts calling out the shoddy logic and irresponsible flippancy dominating #NeverTrump arguments. To be clear, not everyone we’ll discuss is guilty of all the sins described above, but all display a distinct lack of seriousness unworthy of the future generations who will suffer if they get their way and Hillary wins. Continue reading

National Disgrace Marco Rubio Wants to Inflict Himself on America Again

The one silver lining to this disaster of an election was supposed to be that at least we’d be getting rid of Marco Rubio. Unfortunately, Rubio has just decided he wants to stay in the Senate after all.

If the Right really held honor at a premium, the very possibility would have been met with such a unanimous hail of incredulity and disgust that Rubio never would have considered it (then again, if that were the case his presidential ambitions never would have gotten past a momentary delusion of grandeur).

Rubio ran for Senate claiming to be an anti-amnesty candidate, then when he got there he repeatedly lied to the country on behalf of the Gang of 8 amnesty bill. That left the GOP base even more distrustful they could trust anybody in elected office, giving Donald Trump his opening to gain a real foothold with the electorate. Not once has Rubio taken responsibility for his dishonesty.

Then, when he ran for president, he repeatedly lied about Ted Cruz, the only plausible alternative to Trump. Finally, he ensured Trump’s victory by helping to split the conservative vote and screw over Cruz’s delegate prospects long after it was clear he wasn’t going to become the nominee…and yet, after all he did to both Cruz and the country, Rubio has the gall to ask Cruz to help his new vanity campaign?

You have no honor, Mr. Rubio. The country cannot trust you. For the incalculable harm you’ve done to your country, the only way you could regain a sliver of your honor would be to acknowledge you don’t belong anywhere near public office.

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.

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.