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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Assorted Musings on Kevin Williamson and the ‘Respectable’ Right (UPDATED)

Rarely do we see a story that has so much to teach, from which so little is learned, than the saga of Kevin Williamson’s firing from The Atlantic. The nonsense continues to pile up, so let’s see if we can sift out some truth.

One and Done

Lost in the uproar so far has been the fact that Williamson’s one and only Atlantic essay was crap. It was little more than a regurgitation of his longstanding contempt for Donald Trump and rank-and-file conservative voters, all wrapped in his trademark long-windedness that he tries to pass off as sophistication. The best I can say about it is that he dings libertarians for the delusion that they matter, but even that’s tainted by the delusion that they deserve to matter.

Still, it contains a couple of noteworthy nuggets:

  • His gratuitous and misleading swipe at someone who actually possesses the intellect Williamson imagines in himself, Victor Davis Hanson. I can’t add anything to Hanson’s prophetic response, but I do have to say how remarkable (and, I confess, gratifying) it is to see one of the Right’s most respected figures finally mention — in National Review, no less! — what most conservatives have spent years pretending not to notice: Williamson’s tendency to be “incoherent and cruel.”
  • “Self-professed libertarian voices such as Larry Elder have become abject Trumpists.” I don’t hear Elder enough to judge his overall take on Trump, but I can use Google — which is apparently more work than Williamson bothered to do. It took me less than 30 seconds to find this column in which Elder criticizes the “economic illiteracy” of Trump’s tariffs. Especially since it’s not the first time Williamson’s misrepresented a fellow conservative over Trump, his dishonesty makes all the odes to what a wonderful guy he is doubly grating.
  • “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.” Anyone else see the irony of Williamson sneering at religious conservatives’ judgement that abortion (among other issues) was important enough to justify voting for Trump over Hillary Clinton (a call that’s since been vindicated), just before getting sacked for an abortion statement more extreme than anything they’ve ever said? Williamson understands that abortion is literally murder (and in his saner moments has written eloquently about how being born just a few months later, after Roe v. Wade, might well have killed him). Yet not only did he ignore the moral imperative this gave the 2016 election, he lacks any discernible charity for others motivated to vote Trump by a concern he claims to share.
  • One wonders if throwing in the German for “culture struggle” (or “culture war,” as we’d say) above was meant to evoke the vile smear of Trump supporters as Nazis, or to provide another bit of foreign language faux-sophistication. Knowing Kevin, probably both.

Kevin D. Trump?

I’ve long suspected that one of the reasons Williamson’s animosity toward our vulgar, impulsive, nasty, big-mouthed, thin-skinned president is so visceral is because, on some level, he recognizes some of those qualities in himself. His hanging comments are a perfect example not only of that, but of his #NeverTrump colleagues’ selective outrage.

One of the most glaring (and, so far, unspoken) ironies in all this is that Williamson’s defenders know damn well they never would have tolerated Donald Trump saying anything half as inflammatory. In fact, it’s not hypothetical — they didn’t tolerate it. Remember when Trump told Chris Matthews there “has to be some form of punishment” for women who get abortions? Conservatives uniformly (and rightly) came down on him like a ton of bricks. National Review’s editors said he “managed to damage his own campaign, the Republican party, and the pro-life cause at a single go.” NR’s David French called it an example of Trump doing “what he does best: open[ing] his mouth and insert[ing] his foot.”

Curiously, though, that doesn’t seem to be the verdict for Williamson saying — and sticking to — a more extreme version of what Trump said and recanted. Now, French meekly says “we might differ about the laws in hypothetical-future-America.” Jonah Goldberg (a senior editor who presumably had some input in the Trump denunciation) says simply that “You can agree or disagree with” Williamson’s position, but what really matters is that “He never made that argument for National Review.”

What’s the difference? That Williamson thought it through and Trump was just spouting what he assumed pro-lifers wanted to hear? True, but irrelevant — if punishing women is the wrong answer, it’s wrong no matter who gives it or why. That a presidential candidate is a bigger PR liability that a conservative opinion writer? Also true, but only a question of degree — the Left made sure to publicize it just the same, and again, it cannot be harmful for one person to say something but harmless for another to say the same thing, only harsher.

Indeed, many of Williamson’s other defenders are actually doing more harm by suggesting he was fired merely for being pro-life — lending credence to the leftist smear that punishing women (up to and including death) really is what opposing abortion’s all about. (UPDATE: Here’s my explanation for why Williamson is wrong about punishing women, and why most pro-lifers are logically consistent on the subject.)

Say, isn’t there a word for holding a like-minded friend to one standard, and a hated opponent to another? Oh yeah…tribalism.

Not Quite a Victim

The Atlantic and Jeffrey Goldberg are absolutely the bad guys here; the left-wing filth they’re willing to both publish and tolerate from their writers proves that leftist mob outrage, not some sincere or consistently-applied editorial principle, is why they canned Williamson. That said, let’s not exaggerate Williamson’s victimhood or overlook his own contribution to his current situation.

First, as Ace wrote Friday (in a post that’s a must-read for points beyond what I’m covering here), an opinion magazine terminating a writer for his opinions is hardly a matter of censorship, and going too far down that road carries a strong risk of hypocrisy:

The Atlantic is a magazine of ideas. Obviously, ideas being its stock in trade, it has the right any business does of deciding what ideas it wishes to sell and which ideas it thinks it can sell to its customer base.

Its ideas and the writers typing up those ideas are its stock in trade and its entire brand identity.

It has a very strong interest in defining not only what its brand identity is, but what its brand identity is not […]

I asked someone at the National Review during general campaign season of 2016 (not primary season — general election season) why they were hiring nothing but NeverTrumpers. They were hiring both writers of quality, like Heather Wilhelm, and trash level writers, who I won’t name.

The quality varied but their politics did not: They were all vociferously anti-Trump. Again, during general election season, when the only alternative to Trump was Hillary Clinton […]

Fair enough.

But then: Doesn’t The Atlantic have that exact same right to choose which writers it wants to tell its audience are worth reading (and, indeed, worth paying cash money for)?

Second, Williamson is only jobless (for the moment) because he chose to leave NR — a platform that, by all appearances, rubber-stamped damn near anything he wanted to say under its masthead, without regard for its reasoning or accuracy, no matter how unprofessionally he conducted himself on Twitter or elsewhere  — for a platform where it was entirely predictable that his days would be numbered.

Why did he make such a shortsighted trade? That brings us to the last item of this rundown…

Jonah Gives Away the Game

In just a few days, the righty blogosphere has filled with gushing defenses of Williamson, including one from his NR pal Jonah Goldberg. Its reviews as the best must-read reaction yet are dead-wrong (John Nolte’s, Scott Greer’s, and Ace’s are all smarter and more important), but it does illuminate a couple of extremely important points Goldberg didn’t intend to.

First, throughout the piece Jonah showers Jeffrey Goldberg (no relation) and The Atlantic with eyebrow-raising praise. Jeffrey “courageously hired Kevin because he wants his magazine to be a public square for different points of view.” Jonah “still think[s The Atlantic] is an excellent magazine, for now.” Jeffrey is one of “many smart and thoughtful liberals.”

Does Jonah really think excellence can be compatible with people and organizations dedicated to undermining the Constitution, individual rights, limited government, and free markets? Or is he stoking liberal egos for elite respectability? Neither possibility is flattering.

And it would be beyond naiveté to honestly believe Jeffrey had such lofty motives. Since the primary Williamson has established himself as one of the nominal Right’s nastiest (and shallowest) critics of Donald Trump and Trump-sympathetic conservatives. That’s what The Atlantic really wanted: a pet conservative to regularly dump on the Right, their own Jennifer RubinBret Stephens, or Charlie Sykes.

It says a lot about Kevin Williamson that “tool of the Left” was a job opening he was happy to fill, and that he thought getting in bed with vipers would spare him their wrath.

Finally, consider the following:

His point is that abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such. You can agree or disagree with that position, on moral, practical, or legal grounds. I disagree with Kevin on all three grounds to some extent, even though I am what you might call mostly pro-life (I know, I know, but we can argue about all that another day).

And:

There are writers at National Review who are pro-choice, but they aren’t fired for it. They just don’t typically make that case in our pages.

All of a sudden, the past two years make a lot more sense.

Ever since Trump won the nomination, we’ve been inundated with lectures about how accepting Trump would corrupt conservative principles. Yet here we have one of the most prolific peddlers of those lectures admitting that “to some extent” he rejects the most foundational of those principles (the Declaration of Independence lists the right to life first), and that some other NR writers reject it outright.

No wonder he and so many other #NeverTrumpers downplayed the threat Hillary posed to the country and turned up their nose at the idea America’s survival was at stake. No wonder Goldberg lazily dismissed the moral dilemma of throwing a Senate seat to pro-abortion Doug Jones rather than leaving the Roy Moore accusations for an ethics panel to decide. Because #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary were operating from different starting assumptions not about either candidate, but about the causes we supposedly share.

They were the ones taking the conservative principles at stake less seriously than those of us who supposedly “sold out” or “bent the knee” to Donald Trump. And now, on at least one issue, we have one of them inadvertently admitting it.

So in a very roundabout way, we actually owe Kevin Williamson our thanks. His antics turned out to be the catalyst for his fellow travelers to display #NeverTrump’s moral and philosophical bankruptcy with some of the clearest examples yet.

Just imagine the rant we’ll get if he ever realizes it.

New at LifeSiteNews: The Atlantic Hypocrites Fire Kevin Williamson

Here’s my latest commentary at LifeSiteNews. Spoiler alert: Jeffrey Goldberg isn’t the only one I have words for.

Well, that was quick. After publishing just one piece at his new gig, liberal magazine The Atlantic has already fired conservative columnist Kevin Williamson.

On March 22, Williamson announced his departure from National Review, saying he viewed the new job as an opportunity to “be an apostle to the Gentiles,” taking his commentary to an audience where exposure to conservative ideas was the exception.

That might have been a nice theory, but how it fared in practice was entirely predictable. A left-wing mob immediately swarmedThe Atlantic, ostensibly outraged that a “reputable” publication would allow an extremist to supposedly darken its door (though Huffington Postwriter Noah Berlatsky let slip liberals’ real motivation with the simple declaration that “conservative ideas aren’t worth debating”).

The mob has gotten its wish. A memo to Atlantic staff has gone public, in which editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that the publication has fired Williamson. Goldberg said some of Williamson’s past “intemperate” tweets were not initially deal-breakers, but that was before the left-wing Media Matters unearthed a 2014 podcast in which Williamson doubled down on one of his most controversial remarks: that women who have abortions should be hanged (pro-life leadersdenounced Williamson’s comments at the time).

“My broader point here is, of course, that I am a – as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general – but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code,” Williamson elaborated in the podcast.

Read the rest at LifeSiteNews.

Related reading: Ace on what Williamson’s original writing said about the “respectable” Right, and Victor Davis Hanson refuting a swipe Williamson made at him in his only Atlantic piece.