Scarborough v. ‘The Elites’

by Jonah Goldberg

Before I get started, I should say that Joe Scarborough has revealed himself to be a pretty darn good columnist since he started his stint at the Washington Post, something I would not necessarily have expected. 

Today’s column is no exception. It’s well done. It’s also annoying. 

His complaint is a familiar one at this point: Don’t attack Trump’s supporters! I get the argument, and broadly speaking it’s a good, albeit imperfect and very familiar, one. Politics is about addition. The GOP needs Trump voters almost as much as it doesn’t need Trump. Fine, fine.

That said, Scarborough’s critique (and his discussion of it on Morning Joe earlier today) work from some common false assumptions. For starters: the assumption that conservative intellectuals and journalists should in fact be spinning for the GOP. Throughout Scarborough’s piece and his comments this morning, he uses “Republican” and “conservative” as synonyms. They’re not. Indeed, wasn’t the whole indictment — overblown or not — of the “establishment” (at least prior to Trump’s candidacy) that “real” conservatives shouldn’t support it? I could swear that was the gist of all that stuff about the government shutdown.

I hear variations of Scarborough’s complaint constantly these days: How dare you attack the front-runner! Aren’t you worried you’ll scare away Republican voters!? You need to unify around the nominee! National Review doesn’t want to win! Etc. All of these exhortations work from the assumption that my job — and National Review’s purpose — is to serve as an organ for the party. It’s an ironic criticism given that for a decade or more, we’ve been subjected to relentless attacks from all quarters, on the left and many parts of the right, for being too supportive of the GOP and specifically George W. Bush. As I’ve written a billion times around here, I’ve always thought those criticisms were exaggerated or just false. But now our sin is that we aren’t loyal to the party enough? 

Predictably, one of Scarborough’s targets is Kevin Williamson. I loved Kevin’s piece, for what it’s worth. I wouldn’t have written it the way he did, but then again, I don’t know anyone who writes like Kevin — and I mean that as a compliment. But the notion that an Anarcho-Eisenhauerian maverick like Kevin should be expected to carry water for the GOP is just bizarre, if you’ve actually ever read his stuff. I would be stunned if Kevin ever sat at a keyboard and thought, “How can I help the GOP today?” If you don’t like his acerbic comments about downscale voters, fine. Wait five minutes. He’ll have some acerbic comments about upscale voters any minute now.

Then there’s the argument by omission. Scarborough takes aim at Jamie Kirchick. He writes:

Not to be outdone, in the latest issue of National Review, James Kirchick wrote that what was most significant about Trump’s rise was that “he has mainstreamed white racial grievance to a point unprecedented in post-Civil Rights Era America. That it has taken this most improbable of figures — a thrice-married, multimillionaire New York real-estate magnate and celebrity television star with an Orthodox Jewish daughter — to achieve what no hooded Klansman or backwoods neo-Nazi could ever have hoped of doing makes his feat all the more astonishing.”

Actually, what is most astonishing is the rising level of rage among Trump’s political enemies from inside the Republican establishment. Many of my conservative friends are sounding as arrogant and unmoored as left-wing pundits let loose on MSNBC during the Bush years.

Here’s a third suggestion for what is most astonishing: That Scarborough could read Kirchick’s piece and not utter a single word of condemnation for the racists and anti-Constitutional radicals who have in fact rallied to Trump’s candidacy. Of course, Scarborough doesn’t need to read Kirchick’s piece to know that Trump has attracted some horrible and well-organized fans. If you’re on Twitter for five minutes you know this. But Jamie lays out the goods quite clearly. I can only presume Scarborough read the piece, and yet what he comes away with is not horror, dismay or anger at Trump’s “alt Right” fan club, but at Jamie Kirchick and others who dare even to bring it up.

By all means, Scarborough would be on solid footing if he argued that Trump critics are making a mistake by lumping in the Trump voters with white supremacists (a mistake Trump himself made earlier this year, earning criticism from none other than Joe Scarborough. See Brother Geraghty below). But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s ignoring the actual facts that Kirchick reports in order to make attacks on Trump and his supporters seem unfair and unhinged.

Last, if Scarborough is going to get all indignant about painting with too broad a brush when it comes to Trump supporters, it’d be nice if he and other Trump defenders grabbed a narrower brush when it comes to how they characterize Trump opponents as well. “Establishment” has come to mean “against Trump” which is just beyond ridiculous. Ted Cruz is now “establishment.” North Dakotans opposed to Trump: Establishment. The majority of Wisconsin voters? Establishment. And by establishment many Trump supporters mean sell-outs, traitors, open-borders, Zionist stooges etc. Scarborough denounces “elite” views of Trump without even acknowledging that the elite views of Trump are arguably majority views of Trump inside the GOP and certainly among Americans generally. I am unaware of any common definition of “elite” where it also means “majority.”

For obvious and understandable reasons, given his support for Trump over the last year, Scarborough doesn’t think Trump and his supporters should be anathematized. As a political matter, Scarborough’s surely right about most of Trump’s voters — and entirely wrong about Trump himself. But he made a different calculation, and he seems very cross with conservatives who didn’t.

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