The “Against Trump Special Issue” is not unprecedented.
National Review has a special issue Against Donald Trump, with columns by 22 people, most of whom are familiar conservative writers and media personalities.
I skimmed a few of the columns and they make the case persuasively that Trump is not a conservative. You know the arguments already. He’s for activist big government, a populist with no conservative ideological compass, and is not what he purports to be even on his core issue of immigration (where he may be to the left of Marco Rubio in reality).
(This is the point where I disclose that I’ve written a few posts for National Review and was a guest speaker on one of its cruises.)
The issue I have with the Special Issue is it smacks of top-down condescension, of an intellectual elite telling people what they must believe to be true conservatives.
It’s the opposite of the method I adhered to when I was in private law practice and I teach my students. People don’t like being told what to think; it often creates the opposite result. More important is to provide the facts and reasoning that lead people to the conclusion you want. That way they own the decision and embrace it.
I agree with this assessment by Ben Shapiro:
Now, I have my own biases on this issue – this week alone, I’ve characterized Trump as the establishment pick over Ted Cruz, slammed Trump for his establishment-style attacks on Cruz, and stated that he has “no central guiding values other than his own glorification.” And I agree with virtually everything written about Trump in this National Review special edition.
But I still think the National Review issue does Trump more good than harm.
Here’s the reason: instead of allowing the building groundswell of anti-Trump commentary to consolidate organically, National Review forced the issue to “get on the record.” They made the resistance to Trump look astroturfed by an intellectual elite. They gave Trump cannon fodder for his disenchanted base, which rightly feels disrespected by conservative thinkers.
The National Review special issue is being portrayed as unprecedented. But it’s not. When I saw on Twitter that the special issue was coming out, my immediate thought was to the December 2011 Issue Against Newt:
Might as well let it all hang out. Inside the new December 31, 2011 issue is Mark Steyn’s “The Gingrich Gestalt,” Kevin Williamson’s “How Speaker Newt Balanced the Budget, And Why President Newt Would Not,” Kris Kobach on how Gingrich’s amnesty plan would reward criminals and make the law arbitrary, and Jonathan Adler on Newt’s “longstanding love-hate relationship with environmental reform.” Plus other pieces and columns from John Yoo, Jay Nordlinger, James Lileks, Dan Foster (on Tim Tebow), Matthew Spalding, Florence King, Ross Douthat, Rob Long, and more.
That issue came at a time Newt was rising in the Iowa and national polls, and had grasped the momentum through his confrontations with debate moderators. Newt was a risk. He had issues in his past. But he was conservative, and worth the risk. I wrote, Why I Support Newt Gingrich (November 16, 2011):
I have been agnostic on the Republican primary so far, but the time for choosing has arrived.
For the reasons set forth below, I believe that the primaries will come down to Mitt Romney versus Newt Gingrich. As such, the choice is not between Newt Gingrich and some hypothetical more perfect conservative candidate, as Newt’s most vocal critics would have us believe.
I’m supporting Newt Gingrich as the most conservative Republican who is electable and most qualified for the position of President….
In many ways this is the riskiest of times to come out in support of Newt. Since he climbed to the top of the polls recently the long knives have come out for him. Newt is the first to acknowledge that such a process of extreme scrutiny is a good thing, which shows an electoral maturity that some others have lacked.
If my judgment proves incorrect, and Newt cannot survive the scrutiny, so be it. But it would not change my reasons for supporting him and for believing that he is the best candidate among the Republicans who are running.
We need someone who is conservative, inspirational, has command of the facts and arguments, and has the ability to bring it all together without fear of time clocks, debate moderators, or the mainstream media.
We need a message and a messenger. That is why I am supporting Newt Gingrich.
I supported Newt because at that time the choice was the inevitable Mitt Romney or Newt. I knew in my gut that Romney would lose. He was everything the Democrats hoped for in a Republican nominee. I knew he would lose nice and pretty. But lose he would.
Yet National Review demanded that Newt be stopped because Newt — whatever he might once have been — supposedly no longer was sufficiently conservative.
In the featured piece Mark Steyn complaint that Newt has a penchant for self-aggrandizement (true) and was not really conservative and too populist for comfort:
What exactly is so conservative about the Newt Gestalt? When Romney dared him to return his Freddie Mac windfall, Gingrich responded by demanding that Mitt “give back all of the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain.” That’s a cute line if you’re a 32-year-old Transgender and Colonialism major trying to warm up the drum circle at Occupy Wall Street, but it’s very odd coming from the supposedly more-conservative candidate on the final stretch of a Republican primary. When Romney attacked Perry’s views on Social Security by accusing him of wanting to shove Granny off a cliff, he was recycling the most shopworn Democratic talking point. Newt effortlessly trumps that by recycling the laziest anti-globalist anarchist talking point. At Freddie Mac, Newt was peddling influence to a quasi-governmental entity. At Bain Capital, Mitt Romney was risking private equity in private business enterprise. What sort of “conservative” would conflate the two? ….
After listing several Newt positions that were not in keeping with conservatism (S-CHIP, Medicaid, Climate Change), Steyn announced that Newt was not the conservative the liberals claimed he was:
Presumably this is what he meant when he told Newsweek that his Gestalt is “in many ways conservative, in many ways very moderate.” I’d prefer to formulate it this way: Gingrich is a pushover for progressivism who’s succeeded in passing himself off as a hard-line right-wing bastard.
Rich Lowry wrote of Newt in that December 2011 issue, The Myth of the New Newt:
His volatility makes it impossible to make any statement about him as a general-election candidate with assurance. Will he enthuse the Republican base? Yes, right up to the moment he stops enthusing it with some jarring provocation. Will he beat President Obama in the debates? Yes, right up until he makes an ill-tempered comment that washes away all his impressive knowledge and brilliant formulations. Will he be the bipartisan healer, the partisan bomb-thrower, or the post-partisan big thinker? Yes, yes, and yes. All that is predictable about Newt is that he is unpredictable, and, irresistibly, an election that should be about President Obama and his record will become about the heat and light generated by his electric performance. That’s the way it was as speaker, too. Eventually, he wore out his welcome in epic fashion. Benjamin Franklin said any houseguest, like a fish, stinks after three days. With the public and his colleagues, Gingrich became the houseguest who would never leave.
My post after that anti-Newt cover was Defeat National Review.
National Review’s anti-Newt issue didn’t stop Newt. A massive anti-Newt negative ad carpet bombing did that. Newt didn’t have the resources to fight back. The arguments against Newt were very similar to those against Trump.
Long ago I said that I was “not for Trump” but was “Trump-curious” and would sit back and watch the show:
I don’t know what to make of Trump. I understand fully all the criticisms, both ideologically and of the man. I share a sentiment I heard — I think on radio or TV — from Laura Ingraham, that you can’t not watch him, and he is by far the most entertaining politician we’ve had in memory.
It’s the Greatest Show On Earth. And for the first time in my adult life, I feel it’s bigger than me at the moment.
That’s why I’ve been mostly an observer to the show. About 10 rows back from the center ring, just enjoying. I figure the folks will figure it out at the voting booth. I trust the people on this more than I trust the media.
I’m not even Trump curious anymore, but I didn’t need National Review to tell me why.
I also said I trusted the voters to figure it all out. I still do.