Correcting the Record on Nick Frankovich

A particularly salty Twitter brawl broke out last Thursday night over a video clip from Jonah Goldberg’s appearance last week at UW-Madison, during which a student became the target of some SwampCon indignation by bringing up a high-profile National Review embarrassment which the magazine and its brethren would very much rather conservatives politely forget about: Nick Frankovich’s knee-jerk smear of the Covington boys.

For those who need a refresher, the Covington boys were Catholic high school kids who attended the March for Life in January, some of whom were wearing MAGA hats while harmlessly waiting for their bus afterward. During the wait, they were approached and harassed by Native American activist Nathan Phillips and some creeps from the Black Hebrew Israelites group. Video of the incident quickly spread, as did a narrative that it depicted a bunch of white pro-Trump teens harassing an elderly minority gentleman.

It was a lie from the start, and within days a bunch of people tripped over themselves to walk back their “rush to judgment.” Among the offenders was National Review deputy managing editor Nicholas Frankovich, who wrote a post containing the following claims:

“Bullying” is a worn-out word and doesn’t convey the full extent of the evil on display here…

Read the accounts again or, if you’d rather not, watch the video. The human capacity for sadism is too great…

…boy who makes himself the co-star of the video by stepping forward and getting in Phillips’s face…

Decide for yourself who is more pleasing to Christ, Phillips or his mockers. As for the putatively Catholic students from Covington, they might as well have just spit on the cross and got it over with.

The next day, after a consensus settled that the kids were innocent, Frankovich wrote an “apology” post. Here’s the entire statement:

Early Sunday morning, I posted a “strongly worded” (Rich Lowry’s description) condemnation of the conduct, seen far and wide on video, of a group of high-school students at the conclusion of the March for Life on Friday afternoon. I was preachy and rhetorically excessive, and I regret it. The overheated post I wrote has been taken down. Let this apology stand in its stead, both here on the Corner and in the memory of readers who justifiably objected to my high-handedness.

We’ll dig into all of this soon. Here’s the video of this week’s exchange revisiting it:

STUDENT: As I’m sure you know, in January of this year, while attending the March for Life event, a group of students from Covington Catholic High School were involved in an incident with Native American activist Nathan Phillips. It would later come out that Phillips provoked the confrontation by approaching the students, but it was too late. The damage had been done. The left-wing media attacked the kids as racist and left-wing film producer Jack Morrissey tweeted his desire to see the kids thrown into wood-chippers.

All of this is to be expected from the left wing, but much to my surprise, the right wing’s initial reaction was also the same, to attack the students. Your colleague at the time, Nicholas Frankovich, wrote an article titled, quote, “The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross,” in which they [sic] condemned the students as, quote, “evil.”

My question for you is, instead of tacitly defending this piece on Twitter, why didn’t you stand up for innocent young American patriots?

Goldberg’s response begins:

[sighs] So you’re one of the kids I’m talking about. [Audience laughter, moans] That’s fine, I’ll answer the question but I think it’s moronically loaded and idiotic and bad-faith, but I’ll answer it, I’ll answer it, [inaudible].

Give Jonah credit for this much, at least: he lets the audience know up front that he’s an ass.

I don’t think I knew about the Nick Frankovich piece until, I don’t know, twelve hours after or something like that, he made a mistake, as did an enormous number of other people. If you actually read the rest of National Review, a lot of people like you and friends of yours have this desire to turn one mistake that one of, a really decent guy made in a blog post late at night, into representative of what all of National Review stands for. And that’s bad-faith garbage if you read all of the other things that people at National Review wrote about that story. It’s just flatly untrue.

And so what you’re doing is what, it’s a version of what my friend David French calls “nut-picking.” You are picking one example and holding it up as a Medusa’s head, and saying, ‘this condemns the entire Right.’ And it’s logically garbage. Moreover, he apologized for it, you are bringing it up as if it’s this incredibly important moment in American culture and the American Right, when it is utterly trivial [inaudible]. Most conservatives freaked out about the Covington thing, you don’t have to be part of some new subversive sort group of young conservatives, alleged conservatives, and take this up as your banner to prove your authenticity over the establishment Right, when everybody from Fox News to National Review lost their minds about that thing.

Goldberg’s rhetorical sloppiness (condemning National Review “condemns the entire Right”?) requires a bit of parsing, but by “everybody…lost their minds about that thing” he apparently means that we all agree now about the Covington story, so there’s nothing to argue about. But the issue is not whether the Covington facts are in dispute now; it’s that the role of conservatives like Frankovich in smearing the students has not been adequately addressed.

“Mistake” makes it sound like Frankovich merely believed erroneous early reports or drew defensible inferences from incomplete information (we’ll be generous and stipulate that that was theoretically possible). But the video he linked in his article and used as the source of his claims doesn’t support them at all.

It shows a bunch of kids mostly standing in place, laughing and cheering, at points keeping time with the drumming of Phillips and his colleagues. It is not at all obvious that any “mockery” is taking place, let alone anything that could be semi-plausibly interpreted as “bullying,” “evils,” or “sadism.” The video even contains a a clear clue against the idea that the kids are any sort of aggressor, as partway through several of them display visible confusion about the situation, asking “what’s happening” and “I don’t know what’s going on.”

It’s an unusual scene, to be sure, but a scene to which the natural reaction is curiosity as to what’s really happening, not hallucination of things that aren’t.

The most egregious line is Frankovich’s reference to the “boy who makes himself the co-star of the video by stepping forward and getting in Phillips’s face,” Nick Sandmann, for one simple reason: Sandmann is standing in place when Phillips approaches him and gets in his face. Frankovich’s own source shows the opposite of what he claimed it showed, and it’s not a particularly close call. And throughout the face-off, Sandmann looks nothing like some confrontational punk; he starts out with a grin, and clearly becomes more uncomfortable as Phillips continues to beat a drum inches from his face.

“Rush to judgment” and “mistake” don’t begin to explain the glaring discrepancies between Frankovich’s characterization and his own linked source, but that’s not even the worst part. No, that would be the fact that his subsequent mea culpa post is a classic example of the non-apology.

In it, Frankovich expresses regret for being “preachy,” “rhetorically excessive,” “overheated,” and “high-handed.” But no matter how many times you reread it, you will not find any of the following:

  • An acknowledgement that he unjustly harmed the Covington boys. Frankovich’s “apology” isn’t even addressed to a specific wronged party, and could easily be read as merely apologizing to NR readers for upsetting them.
  • An admission that his claims were not just poorly expressed, but untrue. In fact, his wording (“the conduct, seen far and wide on video, of a group of high-school students at the conclusion of the March for Life on Friday afternoon”) makes it sound as if there isn’t even a factual question about his original screed.
  • An explanation for how he came to so spectacularly misrepresent the video’s contents, or for why he felt justified subjecting pro-life teenagers to such venom.

Despite missing every element of an authentic apology, Frankovich’s follow-up was good enough for National Review, which preposterously claimed in its official editorial on the debacle that “Nick was operating off the best version of events he had on Saturday night.” It was a lie, but a lie the NR team decided was sufficient to close the case.

In the real world, however, how such a smear got published at a top conservative website remained a very real, very troubling question. If one wants to give Frankovich’s motives the benefit of the doubt, the only possible explanations are (a) he didn’t actually watch the video and cribbed the details entirely from the mainstream media, in which case his recklessness remains unaddressed; or (b) he isn’t competent enough to to watch videos and accurately convey their contents, which is kind of a problem for anyone in an editorial position.

If you don’t believe Frankovich is a lazy moron, however (which I don’t), questioning his motives and biases is unavoidable. Goldberg blames it all on social media for ginning up a “race to be wrong first” (yes, really), but in light of everything the Right has been through since Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, there’s another more logical explanation for why “conservatives” like Frankovich talked about kids in Trump hats the exact same way the MSM did: because they share the MSM’s prejudices against wearers of Trump hats.

The theory is certainly consistent with Frankovich’s past writings—the former #NeverTrumper tried to rationalize conservatives and even pro-life Catholics voting for Hillary Clinton, and suggested that Trump’s election might be divine punishment—and would explain why he couldn’t bring himself to admit the Covington kids weren’t the monsters he painted them as. They still wore that horrible man’s hats, didn’t they?

But don’t you dare bring it up to Jonah! After he answers, a student asks which “subversive group of young alleged conservatives” Goldberg was referencing. Goldberg replies:

I don’t know the name of it, the kid who like, whatever, runs it, all I know is that every time one of these groups, where someone comes with one of these detailed questions, reading from their iPhone, tends to be part of it. And it’s part of a game.

Think about that: the mere fact that a student takes the time to prepare a detailed question and reads it (as opposed to what, memorizing it or rambling/stammering at the mic?) makes a question suspect? Aren’t preparation and coherence what you want at these things, instead of wasting everybody’s time with incoherent nonsense?

And because Jonah apparently decided he didn’t make quite a big enough ass of himself during the Q&A, he also fit some more invective on the subject into his Nov. 20 newsletter, calling the “whiny” student a “pasty troll” with a “really stupid” question, and even suggesting he was part of the “alt-right”—solely because he disputed whether a group endorsed by Michelle Malkin warrants the label (The Dispatch’s Nov. 18 morning update also calls the kid an “alt-right protester”).

We need to note here that this exchange coincides with another controversy surrounding Malkin’s defense of “new Right leader” and loathsome worm Nick Fuentes (I have already said Malkin should disavow him and repeatedly criticized her for not doing so).

However, while it is now (sadly) fair to accuse Malkin of coddling elements of the alt-right, at the time of the Goldberg Q&A the uproar over her comments had not fully blown up Twitter and Malkin had not yet doubled down so hysterically about Fuentes himself. So it’s entirely possible that the kid was merely referring to Malkin’s defenses of students who’ve questioned Young America’s Foundation and Turning Point USA speakers about immigration, and wasn’t aware of the Fuentes stuff at all.

One might reasonably expect a longtime center-right pundit (particularly one who just launched a media venture that purports to “describe the opposing points of view with honesty and charity,” and whose own definition of the group in question was vague enough to encompass anyone reading a question off an iPhone) to exercise a modicum of patience and nuance on this stuff, to attempt to understand where a young critic was coming from and clarify whatever confusion he might have. These are confusing times full of blurred battle lines, dozens of righty factions, and countless lunatics and grifters looking to smuggle themselves into the mainstream by latching onto valid grievances and causes.

It’s way too easy for young people to get lost in all this noise. They need serious, mature conservatives to help them navigate it all, to separate the conservative factions from the cranks, to learn how to pursue their conservative values and legitimate question while recognizing which players are just bigoted clowns who have infiltrated and are exploiting rightful anti-establishment discontent for their own ends.

Or, if you’re a thin-skinned, tribalistic hack who sees large swaths of the movement’s base as a peasant class that should sit down, shut up, and defer to the nobility and genius of your fellow travelers, you can just call that kid a bunch of names, write him off as a bigot, and call it a day. What could go wrong?

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.

National Review’s Decline Continues With Jonah Goldberg’s Lazy, Dishonest Censorship Screed

If it’s a day ending in Y, odds are that Jonah Goldberg is lying about something or someone.

The latest example is his May 10 G-File at National Review, which discusses the latest round of right-wing personalities to be banned from Facebook as “dangerous individuals.” As has become Goldberg’s trademark over the last three years or so, it’s high on condescension and low on familiarity with the actual facts and arguments in dispute.

We’ve never been in this kind of situation before and that should cause thoughtful people to have a little humility before setting their hair on fire about the obvious injustice of denying, say, Laura Loomer the “right” to spread bigoted lies and conspiracy theories about staged mass shootings on a privately owned platform. And I think it’s deeply revealing that so many people can muster blind rage for the “silencing” of people like Loomer and Milo what’s-his-name but can’t rouse themselves to criticize any of the stuff these people did or said that got them in hot water in the first place. Most of the same people wrapping themselves in the First Amendment for Milo cheer every time the president talks about opening up the libel laws and taking away broadcast licenses. So forgive me for not seeing them as champions of principle here.

First, an aside: there are few more grating examples of SwampCon mindlessness than their hysteria about “opening up the libel laws.” Apparently Jonah forgot that Roger Kimball set him straight on this very point in January.

Anyway, I’m perfectly willing to criticize Milo, Loomer, Jones, Watson, and Nehlen. Their banning troubles plenty of mainstream conservatives who are clearly against cranks, like Ben Shapiro. So fixating on the dubious company kept by some Facebook critics won’t work as a shortcut around the “debate” part of the debate.

But to hear Goldberg tell it, the issue is just a bunch of people who “believe they have an unalienable right to have their jackassery boosted over someone else’s microphone,” whining that “any consequences for our own asininity are definitionally unjust.” As long as you don’t “lie,” “be a jerk,” or “encourage bigotry and thuggery,” he suggests, you should be fine. Continue reading

Reminder: The ‘Respectable Right’s’ Civility-Policing Is 100% Insincere

Content Warning: This post quotes a range of crude, vulgar language.

Last night saw a dustup on political Twitter over conservative writer Denise McAllister’s responses to a swipe at her from HuffPost contributor Yashar Ali (the guy who the day before exposed pro-DNC bullying by NBC News political bigwig Dafna Linzer). It appears these tweets are where it started:

McAllister was understandably miffed at condescension being slung at her marriage over an innocuous, lighthearted, and personal tweet, but she responded in a, shall we say, less-than-productive way. In a pair of tweets that have since been deleted, she shot back:

I think @yashar has a crush on me. Maybe I’m making him doubt his love of penis.

Oh so sad. @yashar is lost. He doesn’t know his purpose as a man. He doesn’t know his purpose as a human being. He doesn’t know his purpose as an Individual. So he wallows and tries to find himself in another man’s asshole. Sad.

Pretty much everyone you’d expect to chime in promptly chimed in, culminating with the news that The Federalist and The Daily Wire were dropping McAllister in response:

McAllister apologized the next day. Ali has not, and doesn’t appear to be under any pressure to do so.

To get my reaction out of the way: I think responding by emphasizing Ali’s sexuality at all, let alone in such crude terms, was gross, vindictive, and distracted from the clear moral high ground she had held when the story was just him being an unprovoked jerk. That said, responding nastily to nastiness doesn’t strike me as an automatically-fireable offense (in fairness, I don’t presume to know what other history or behind-the-scenes discussions may have factored into The Federalist or Daily Wire’s decisions).

Regardless, my interest here is not the merits of the responses to McAllister, but what the rules are and the true motives of the people enforcing them. Among the rungs on the moral ladder, it’s not at all clear to me that mocking a man’s sexuality is lower than any of the following (a list that may be updated):

  • “The thing is, given his proclivities, [Roger] Stone would enjoy prison” —Commentary editor John Podhoretz (the above-quoted Mr. Goldberg dismissed objections to this one as “PC/snowflake arguments” that “make me laugh”)
  • Kimberly Guilfoyle left Fox News “to spend more time with her plastic surgeon” — Podhoretz again
  • “I still think ‘Uday and Qusay’ are perfectly good nicknames for the elder Trumpspawn” — National Review’s Kevin Williamson
  • “The Christian right was able to make its peace with Trump with relative ease, because it is moved almost exclusively by reactionary kulturkampf considerations. ‘But Hillary!’ is all that Falwell and company need to hear, and they won’t even hold out for 30 pieces of silver” — Williamson again
  • “Does Trump pay you more for anal?” — Republican consultant Rick Wilson to Ann Coulter
  • “The donor class […are] still going to have to go out and put a bullet in Donald Trump” — Wilson again
  • “Go on Amazon, order yourself a pointy white hat, head down to Home Depot and get the wood to build a burning cross […] you are a weak, impotent person who can’t handle the fact that there are people who don’t look like you […] your argument is based entirely on the fact that these people are brown” — Wilson yet again, to a Republican who had said nothing of the kind
  • “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her real father’s Janet Reno” — Sen. John McCain
  • “To stand up and take on the forces of evil, that’s my job, and I can’t steer the Republican Party if those two individuals have the influence that they have on the party today. You’re supposed to tolerate evil in your party in the name of party unity?” — McCain again, referring to then-Religious Right leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson
  • Spreading the phone number of a politician’s attorney to incite harassment — Weekly Standard destroyer/The Bulwark founder Bill Kristol (Goldberg’s reaction: “Bill can defend himself quite ably. But on the major questions facing conservatism, I agree with him — if not with all of his tactics and techniques”)
  • Tucker Carlson “is close now to racism, white — I mean, I don’t know if it’s racism exactly — but ethno-nationalism of some kind, let’s call it” — Kristol again
  • “Adolf Hitler, one of the 20th century’s other mega-mass murderers, also found his share of admirers in the academy, among them such brilliant minds as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger […] If such monsters could find admirers among the highly educated, it is unsurprising that our infantile, ignorant leader has found an assortment of professors to sing his praises” — The Bulwark writer Gabriel Schoenfeld, accusing Victor Davis Hanson of “sophistry in the service of a genuine evil”
  • “The nation loses the only goat fucking child molester to ever serve on the Supreme Court in David Souter’s retirement.” — The Resurgent editor Erick Erickson
  • Countless tweets deriding heartland conservative voters as “Gun Culture ‘Murica” and “Rube Nation,” complete with redneck stereotypes of missing teeth and racism — Twitter academic Tom Nichols

This list is far from comprehensive, and only covers a select few flavors of crudity and nastiness. It ignores countless examples of mistreating other conservatives in more mundane ways, or of these paragons of virtue misrepresenting or outright lying about the conservatives they criticize.

Some of the above apologized for, deleted, and/or got varying degrees of criticism for these examples. But none of them got fired, disavowed, or subjected to anything like the avalanche that fell on McAllister (in McCain’s case, it didn’t even stop him from being immortalized as some sort of ideal). Typically, the scolds never even mention offenses by like-minded offenders — not even when the target is a colleague at the same magazine.

I’ve harped on this before, and I’ll keep harping on it as long as it remains true: swampcons (my term for the pseudo-elite, establishmentarian, predominantly #NeverTrump clique of the Right that dominates her most prestigious publications and the consultant class) don’t actually give a damn about character, and their frequent lectures about “tribalism” are largely projection.

Their admonishments about bad behavior, meltdowns, debasing discourse, and “norms” are excuses to trash people they dislike anyway for crossing their tribe. If you’re in the tribe, you’re golden — you can be as coarse and as vicious as you want in advancing the tribe’s shared biases, and they’ll happily pretend not to notice.

Enough. These cretinous phonies who presume to set the standards for conservatism are in reality blights on the movement. We will never be able to truly heal conservatism or save America until we discredit the lie of their moral authority and shatter their claim to lead us to the victories they’ve so consistently failed to deliver in the past.

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.”

Jonah Goldberg Fires at Me, Somehow Shoots Own Foot

Last month, I called out Jonah Goldberg’s foolish Twitter declaration that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative” at LifeSiteNews, and reacted here to his subsequent tweetstorm about a LifeNews piece compiling unfavorable Twitter reactions to him. This was one of his follow-ups that most stood out to me:

The issue, of course, is that Goldberg has never been shy about touting National Review’s record of kicking out beyond-the-pale apostates.

So I replied:

Goldberg never responded, directly or indirectly, to my article or any of my rebuttal tweets. I don’t know whether he simply missed it or he decided to concentrate fire on the easier target, but given his Twitter habit of responding to softballs from anonymous fringe types while strenuously ignoring substantive counterpoints, I have my suspicions.

Anyway, he displayed his selective support for kicking out apostates once again with a recent G-File. Here are some key quotes:

  • From the very beginning, NR has stood against the ‘irresponsible Right.’
  • And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right.
  • Like water seeking its level, bogs claim whatever they are allowed to claim until stopped by nature or man. That “supposedly” is the rhetorical device that says, “Let the swamp grass grow, it’s not my responsibility to prune it.”
  • My view then, and now, is that everyone should not only be forced to choose between traditional conservatism and the alt-right but that they should force that choice on others.
  • Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
  • By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Huh. Apparently there is a “thing” apostates can be kicked out of after all.

As should be needless to say, I fully support excommunicating white nationalists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, etc. from conservatism (I’ve written plenty about that myself). Where I and Goldberg’s other critics differ is that we believe that defenders of violence against children deserve the same treatment, on both conservative dogma and human decency grounds.

So, in response to the G-File, I reminded Goldberg of his own words (again). This time finally got a response:

As funny as it was to see Jonah slap the “gibberish” label on a tweet that’s mostly one of his own quotes, the invocation of his podcast was more interesting. Had he finally confronted the meat of the issue? Did he put me in my place with a superior review of embryology, natural law theory, conservative history, or the Founders’ thinking?

After listening to the podcast he cited…not exactly. During the segment (starting at 50:40) devoted to complaining about the pushback he got with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (not exactly an authority on conservatism), Goldberg merely says that “a pro-life website went hammer and tongs after me” (presumably LifeNews) and mentions a couple writers at The Federalist. 

At no point do Goldberg or Douthat address, directly or indirectly, anything I said on the matter or any variation of the objections I raised (they don’t get specific about anything any of Goldberg’s other critics said, either). So how does he know I “made a fool of” myself? How does the podcast demonstrate it? Apparently Goldberg either (a) confused me with the LifeNews author, (b) didn’t know my reasoning but lazily assumed it was probably covered in the exchange, or (c) did know and was deflecting with simple ad hominem.

None of these possibilities are a great fit with the image of one of “serious” conservatism’s best and brightest.

As for the points Goldberg did make, none of them vindicated his original thesis. If anything, they reinforced my own observations at multiple points (you might even call it gibberish):

As a matter of political strategy it is insane to me for pro-lifers to say “you have to be a conservative to be a pro-lifer.” Because that way you’re basically telling every socialist, every good Catholic, every Nat Hentoff type, everyone who wants single-payer healthcare, that they also have to be pro-choice, right? You want to make it a separate track.

That would be insane…if any of Goldberg’s critics had said it. Maybe he heard it from some random troll (he does love his random trolls), but “pro-lifers must be conservatives” is a pretty glaring reversal of the actual proposition in dispute, “conservatives must be pro-life.” Of course pro-lifers should want non-conservatives to oppose abortion, but simply stressing that abortion is incompatible with American conservatism’s first principles hardly implies otherwise.

There are so many different kinds of conservatism, many of which I despise, right? I mean, read Friedrich Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” something the libertarians love to quote the title of, but never quote the essay […] He says that America is the one place in the world where you can call yourself a conservative and still be on the side of liberty, because we’re trying to conserve a fundamentally liberal institution, which is the American Founding […] a “conservative” in America means something profoundly different than a “conservative” in Portugal, you know? A conservative in Portugal might want to restore the throne; a conservative in America wants to uphold the principles that overthrew the crown. Very different things. Radicalism and conservatism are the two most contingent ideologies; they depend entirely on where and when you’re talking about.

In retrospect, I should have expected the Hayek tangent to make an appearance here. I enjoy a good chat about what conservatism conserves across different nations and eras, but…we’re not in Portugal. It’s not the seventeenth century. The “where and when [we’re] talking about” is 2018 America, where conservatism is generally understood to have something to do with conserving the principles of the American Founding.

So why rest his defense on some rambling about what conservatism might mean in other parts of the world? Why completely ignore the intellectual tradition and first principles that could shed light on the question? Perhaps because (as I showed) where American conservatism falls on the right to life is so utterly straightforward that Goldberg knew he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if he did anything other than obfuscate.

The reason abortion makes me uncomfortable at the second and third trimester is because I think it’s a moral horror. The reason why abortion makes me uncomfortable in the first two weeks of conception is, I don’t like the state being involved in the process of deciding who is and who is not a human being. So it’s a very libertarian point on the beginning of life. I cannot muster anything like the moral horror I have for things like partial-birth abortion for the aborting of blastocysts. The morning-after pill doesn’t shake me to my core and fill me with a sort of morally-generated disgust the way essentially infanticide does in the eighth or ninth month. And so I’m just willing to admit my intellectual weakness about the beginning of the argument.

Alternate headline: Jonah Goldberg admits he’s not qualified to be commenting on abortion in the first place.

This is pure emotion. There’s no appeal to evidence, no attempt at reasoning, and no serious application of conservative dogma…on one of the most fundamental, most straightforward natural-rights questions possible. Didn’t the Right use to pride itself on following reason over feelings, in contrast to the Left?

There are lots of people who came after me, including people I’m friends with, who see conservatism as a sort of industrial analogue to the Republican Party, that it’s a movement, that it’s a network of institutions. And so, to me what they were doing is they were replacing an intellectual, philosophical conception, with the Young America’s Foundation and the NRA, this network of institutions, right? And those are just different things to me.

First, conservatism quite obviously is a movement (whether specific organizations are effectively reflecting its first principles are a different story). Second, where does Goldberg get off claiming he sees conservatism as an “intellectual, philosophical conception” and his critics don’t, when his critics are the ones arguing philosophy and he hasn’t made a single philosophical counter-argument?

He strenuously avoided any exploration of any concept or work — purpose of government, natural-law theory, individual rights, constitutional interpretation, American conservative thought since the Founders, etc. — that would have produced a reviewable argument as to whether there can be a conservative case for legal abortion.

What an inspiring example of the intellectual caliber that apparently merits a slice of a $2.4 million grant for “reconciling individual freedom with cultural values that make freedom and progress possible” these days…

A lot of these outlets and institutions thought I was the better target of their ire than Tomi Lahren, because there is this unbelievable deference to clickbait warlords out there. And so I’m throwing her under the bus for saying something stupid, that is contrary to the strategic argument, that is contrary to the moral argument, and instead, because I made some rhetorical concession to something that they didn’t like, and because I’m in this anti-Trump box for a lot of these people, they’d rather attack me than attack her, even though they didn’t realize that I was actually carrying water for them. And that’s part of the weird moment that we’re in.

This is, to use one of Goldberg’s favorite terms, horseshit.

Sean Davis, Kimberly Ross, and Micaiah Bilger were among the voices to criticize both Goldberg and Lahren (I tweeted about her latest stupidity herehere, and here, and wrote about her here, here, and here last year). The conservative commentariat torched her Roe comments (for instance) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in countless tweets. So it’s not as if taking some time to slam Goldberg’s comments somehow detracted from holding her accountable.

As I said at LifeSite, in the grand scheme of things the stupidity of a provocateur pandering to the lowest common denominator is less concerning than someone who supposedly knows better, speaking with the perceived credibility of one of the Right’s most esteemed publications. If anything, the Right focused too much on Lahren’s poison and not enough on Goldberg’s.

So what’s the root cause of all this nonsense? Why is Jonah Goldberg so hellbent on carving out space for pro-aborts under the conservative umbrella, and why is he so abysmal at backing it up?

Like I’ve acknowledged in the past, I appreciate that he has written insightful pieces on abortion, and that he takes his uncertainty as a call to err on the side of caution rather than a license to kill. But between the above, his April admission that he disagrees “to some extent” with the “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” for thinking “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and his suggestion last year that there’s some substantive moral difference between Doug Jones supporting abortion-on-demand and Roy Moore being “the more evil man in his personal conduct” for his alleged crimes, it all paints a distinctly squishy picture.

I believe there are ultimately two things going on here, neither of which are intellectual. The first is that Goldberg simply doesn’t want to give up any of his own claim to the conservative label (not that his stance makes him not a conservative, but it does make him less conservative). The second is that he doesn’t want to admit that more than a few of his personal friends in this industry hold a position every bit as repugnant as the worst the John Birch Society peddled at its height.

This whole affair is another example of what so many of Cruise-Ship Conservatism’s lectures to the Results-Oriented Right boil down to: double-standards. None of it is about upholding first principles or wiping clean parasites. It’s about tearing down competitors for the soul of the movement by any means necessary, while insulating themselves and their allies from criticism for the exact same offenses.

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.