Why Dennis Prager’s Analysis of ‘Never Trump’ Conservatives Falls Short

by Jonah Goldberg

I have long been, and remain, a big fan of Dennis Prager.

I can’t say the same of his most recent column.

Since he admires so many Trump critics, he says his aim is to persuade them (us) that we are wrong:

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.

Well, hmm. I guess it depends what you mean by a “civil war.” The dictionaries and textbooks say a civil war is an armed, organized conflict between citizens of the same country. For example, the American Civil War was, well, a civil war. By that standard I don’t believe we are engaged in a civil war.

If Dennis had used the phrase “culture war” or some such, I think he’d be entirely right. But he doesn’t, and I think that is unfortunate.

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.

Another problematic turn of phrase can be found here:

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.

Maybe this was just inadvertently poor word choice. If he’d written that Trump critics are making the perfect the enemy of the good or some such, he’d be on much firmer ground. But Dennis knows what utopianism is, and I cannot for the life of me understand why he thinks this is the right word here.

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.

The Corner

The one and only.