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?

David French Lies Some More, Calls for a Democrat President

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonah Goldberg: Shameless Liar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quotes come from the following video:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David French Unwittingly Demonstrates Why Conservatism Has Conserved So Little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.