By now readers are familiar with my position from my “You go to war against Obamacare with the President you have” posts.
Trump is the president we have, and while he’s not an ideological conservative, and certainly has unique personality traits, he is someone willing to do conservative things:
I would have liked to see a truly conservative alternative. But in order to do that we should have elected a truly conservative president.
That’s not a knock on Trump — he is what he is, and as pointed out during the primaries he never has been an ideological conservative. There are many things he believes and already has done that are conservative, but it’s not his nature. He’s always believed in big government, but big government that seeks to make America great again, not big government that seeks to make America weak again.
Ideological conservatives had their chance in the primaries. They lost. We lost. I supported Ted Cruz, but he couldn’t pull it off.
Also, in the absence of actual evidence of extremely serious wrongdoing or illegality, as opposed to innuendo and speculation, there is no basis upon which to try to undo the election by removing Trump from office via impeachment and trial.
I understand the motivations of Democrats, mainstream media, leftists, Antifa, and the others in the streets. For them, it’s a powerplay. They lost what they thought they should have won, and they are angry. Their world collapsed sometime in the very late evening of election night into the early morning hours of the next day.
Trump’s victory was challenged through an attempt to intimidate Electors into changing their Electoral College votes. For me, that effort was a clarifying moment that the Never Trump movement was a danger to our system of government and the stability of the nation.
Since election night, there has been a non-stop Democrat and media frenzy to undermine the Trump administration and to make it difficult to govern. Their endgame seems to be removal of Trump before his term expires.
Yet some of the most vocal attempts to sabotage the Trump administration come from conservative and Republican Never-Trumpers. But what is their endgame? Removal of Trump from office based on personal dislike of him? A paralyzed administration that accomplishes nothing, not even conservative agenda items? The ability to say ‘I told you so’ if and when Trump fails?
I’m so old that I remember when Never Trump conservatives and Republicans (and of course, Democrats and the media) considered it nearly treasonous for Trump not to immediately declare during a debate that he would not challenge the election result if he lost. Yet that is what they are doing.
The atmosphere is so toxic, and so much of that toxicity is generated by conservative and Republican Never-Trumpers, that people have to wonder what is the real motivation.
Dennis Prager wonders, and wrote a column at National Review, Why Conservatives Still Attack Trump. Prager attempts to find the core difference between conservatives who opposed Trump in the primaries but now support him as president, and those whose opposition has intensified, if anything. The core, according to Prager, is that he saw a Hillary win as an existential threat:
I have concluded that there are a few reasons that explain conservatives who were Never-Trumpers during the election, and who remain anti-Trump today. The first and, by far, the greatest reason is this: They do not believe that America is engaged in a civil war, with the survival of America as we know it at stake. While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.
To my amazement, no anti-Trump conservative writer sees it that way. They all thought during the election, and still think, that while it would not have been a good thing if Hillary Clinton had won, it wouldn’t have been a catastrophe either. That’s it, in a nutshell….
In other words, I believe that Donald Trump may have saved the country. And that, in my book, covers a lot of sins — foolish tweets, included.
I think Prager correctly puts his pulse on why many people support Trump even if he was not their primary choice.
Prager goes on to assess claims of conservative ideological purity, and he finds that moralizing a failure of perspective:
The Never Trump conservative argument that Trump is not a conservative — one that I, too, made repeatedly during the Republican primaries — is not only no longer relevant, it is no longer true….
So, why aren’t anti-Trump conservatives jumping for joy? I have come to believe that many conservatives possess what I once thought was a left-wing monopoly — a utopian streak. Trump is too far from their ideal leader to be able to support him.
There is also a cultural divide. Anti-Trump conservatives are a very refined group of people. Trump doesn’t talk like them. Moreover, the cultural milieu in which the vast majority of anti-Trump conservatives live and/or work means that to support Trump is to render oneself contemptible at all elite dinner parties.
In addition, anti-Trump conservatives see themselves as highly moral people (which they often are) who are duty-bound not to compromise themselves by strongly supporting Trump, whom they largely view as morally defective.
Finally, these people are only human: After investing so much energy in opposing Trump’s election, and after predicting his nomination would lead to electoral disaster, it’s hard for them to admit they were wrong. To see him fulfill many of his conservative election promises, again in defiance of predictions, is a bitter pill.
But if they hang on to their Never Trumpism and the president falls on his face, they can say they were right all along. That means that only if he fails can their reputations be redeemed. And they, of course, know that.
Prager ends with a call for conservative Never-Trumpers to get with the agenda:
They can join the fight. They can accept an imperfect reality and acknowledge that we are in a civil war, and that Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL. I beg them: Please report for duty.
Prager’s column generated a fast and furious reaction from conservative Never-Trumpers.
Jonah Goldberg wrote at National Review, Why Dennis Prager’s Analysis of ‘Never Trump’ Conservatives Falls Short. After taking issue with the phrase “civil war” finding the analogy inaccurate:
Dennis runs through a bunch of other motivations for why conservative Trump critics don’t recognize that Trump is “our general” in a “civil war” and “report for duty.” In none of them does he account for the fact that he is using the term at best figuratively and at worst wholly inaccurately. Nor does he wrestle with the myriad problems with his analogy and the assumptions that support it. Donald Trump is literally no one’s general, because the president isn’t a general. Even figuratively, the idea that conservatives should operate like loyal troops to a political leader is fraught with intellectual, philosophical, and historical problems.
Perhaps more fundamentally, Goldberg takes issue with Prager’s assessment of motivation:
Another explanation for why some conservative critics refuse to report for duty is, according to Dennis, spite, pettiness, or self-interest.
In short, he accuses the conservatives he says he admires of operating in bad faith. Indeed, one of their chief motives is — wait for it — the ability to attend elite dinner parties. C’mon. I thought we were done with this stale chestnut a long time ago.
He also says that because our predictions were wrong, we’re too bitter to admit error and that we’re undermining Trump to save our reputations. I’m not going to try to psychoanalyze Dennis’s motivations here. But I will say that this essay reads more like an effort to affirm what a talk-radio audience wants to hear than a good-faith effort to understand and persuade conservatives that he claims to admire. If Dennis is truly interested in persuading the very diverse group of conservative Trump critics on the right, my advice would be to call them on the phone and ask them why they — we — say what they say and do what they do. Insinuating that conservative thinkers and writers are vain elitists who are betraying their cause by not becoming spinners (never mind soldiers) is not, to my mind, the best way to persuade them — or me — of anything.
David French, also at National Review, objected to Prager’s arguments as answering the wrong questions:
But Trump’s stalwart defenders, it seems, want something else. They want members of the conservative movement to act, in effect, as Trump’s defense lawyers. That means praise him when he’s right, and find the most plausible possible defense when he’s wrong. That’s completely legitimate behavior when standing at counsel table or when hired as a public-relations representative, but when your goal is not only to speak the truth but also to advance a concrete set of values that can and should endure well past any given election cycle, then the world looks very different indeed….
Moreover, I’ll never defend conduct from Trump’s team that I would condemn in a Democrat. It’s sad to see the reflexive defenses of Trump’s conduct in, for example, the Comey firing when we know, we know, that similar conduct from Hillary Clinton would lead to nonstop calls for impeachment from the very same voices that so zealously defend Trump today. Either approach is wrong before the facts are in. Healthy skepticism and diligent investigation are mandatory. Culture matters more than politics, and a culture that abandons truth and the rule of law for the sake of short-term partisan advantage is a culture that sentences itself to death.
Jay Cost from The Weekly Standard took exception to Prager in a Twitter thread. He considers his opposition to Trump to be “prudential” not “moralistic.” Here’s part of it:
Erick Erickson wrote:
Who exactly is Dennis talking about?
See, if I say anything in defense of this administration, the President, or any of his staff I am presumed by some of just trying to suck up and ingratiate myself with Trump. Meanwhile, those who see themselves as apologists for Trump are ungrateful, badgering, and hope the supposed sucking up fails.
If I say anything critical about the President and his administration I am presumed to still be nursing a grudge over getting the election wrong. To Trump’s apologists, once Never Trump, always Never Trump, which is now short for treason to his tribe as much as the left presumes treason for supporting Trump.
Joe Scarborough — and many others — picked up and ran with the claim that Prager was pandering to his talk radio audience:
There were many other reactions, but I think the excerpts above are a good cross-section of the reasoned reaction.
What’s missing from all these analyses is an explanation of the endgame. So I emailed Goldberg, whom I respect, with two questions which I believe frame the issue:
1) Did you want Hillary to win, and
2) since she lost, what is it that you want to happen now? Trump removal from office, something else?
Here are his complete responses:
1) I didn’t want Hillary to win and I don’t think I’ve ever written a “pro-Hillary” sentence, never mind column. I did think she was going to win (so did a lot of people, including the Trump campaign). I thought he had a chance intermittently over the course of the campaign and wrote as much. But my position from the moment they secured their nominations was that the choice was between two crap sandwiches on different kinds of bread. When he won, I was pretty elated. (See my G-File right after the election.) I thought, somewhat rightly, that he could get some important things accomplished before the wheels came off his administration. But with the exception of Gorsuch and some excellent appointments, that was optimistic.
I should say that the constant invocation of Hillary as a standard by which to judge Trump’s behavior in office is insane. When have conservatives ever used that yardstick before? Did people say in 2007, “Well, at least he’s better than John Kerry?” Did the priests of conservative talk radio and cable say that Bush’s conservative critics were wrong and illegitimate because Bush was better than Kerry? If Trump’s actions can be defended by conservatives solely because they’re better than what we could expect from Hillary Clinton, then conservatism as a serious ideal — never mind as a political or intellectual movement — is dead.
I revere Dennis, but his use of that standard is so contrary to the kind of morally grounded principle I normally associate with him.
2) I don’t want Trump removed from office — at least not based on anything we know now. If we learn new facts we should respond accordingly. Removing a president from office is no small thing and it shouldn’t be based on smoke and emotion. What I do want is for Trump to grow up and do (most) of the things he promised. I want him to behave in an unselfish, un-narcisstic, professional way. I want him to listen to the professionals who want to get a conservative agenda accomplished.
I don’t have high hopes because I believe that character is destiny and the challenge Trump poses is Aesopian. The scorpion must sting the frog and Trump must be Trump.
That said, if he were removed (for legitimate reasons) or if he resigned, the specter of Hillary isn’t waiting in the wings. I do think Mike Pence would be a better president and would get more accomplished.
And since we’re on the topic of what I want, I want conservatism to survive this mess with its integrity and viability intact. Defending whatever Trump does threatens that (polling shows that whatever issue he embraces becomes unpopular, which is a disaster).
I don’t think America was one election away from oblivion in 2016. If it’s one election away from oblivion, America is already lost because the whole idea of America is bound up in the notion that elections do not and should not matter that much. But I do think America will be lost if the conservative movement is reduced to blind loyalty to a politician who feels little need or ability to reciprocate that loyalty.
Those are thoughtful answers, but not practical enough for me.
What do Never-Trump conservatives and Republicans want to happen?
As in the general election, a more perfect choice is not available. You either work to direct the administration into the most positive and least damaging actions possible given that Trump is what he is, or you seek to remove Trump.
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