Politics & Policy

The Great Trumpian Divide

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

In last Friday’s Goldberg File I offered a lament or a screed or a diatribe or a thoughtful essay — opinions vary widely — on how and why I think Donald Trump is damaging conservatism. There’s no way I could — or should — respond to all of the criticisms or attacks. So I’ll just focus on a couple themes.  

The biggest criticism — in terms of quantity, not quality — is that I am a RINO squish faker fraud no-goodnik lib sucking at the teat of the establishment blah blah and blah. These usually take the form of angry tweets and e-mails. So I’ll fold my response to this silliness into my responses to the longer-form stuff.  

One of the most popular rejoinders comes from the Conservative Treehouse, a site I’ve liked in the past. But if it weren’t for the fact that Rush Limbaugh enthusiastically plugged it on air, I’m not sure it would merit much of a response.

A 2,000-word “Open Letter to Jonah Goldberg,” written by someone named “Sundance,” it devotes barely a sentence to responding to anything I actually wrote. Nor does the author really defend Donald Trump — or his supporters — from my criticisms. Instead it is a long and somewhat splenetic indictment of the “establishment.” Sundance writes: “The challenging aspect to your expressed opinion, and perhaps why there is a chasm between us, is you appear to stand in defense of a Washington DC conservatism that no longer exists.” He then proceeds to conflate the GOP’s record with “Washington conservatism” as if they are synonymous.

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This strikes me as projection and deflection and nothing more. The whole thing is a non sequitur masquerading as a rejoinder. He lays down a tediously long list of questions, including:

‐Did the GOP secure the border with control of the White House and Congress? NO.

‐Who gave us the TSA? The GOP

‐Who gave us the Patriot Act? The GOP

‐Who expanded Medicare to include prescription drug coverage? The GOP

‐Who refused to support Ken Cuccinnelli in Virginia? The GOP

‐Who supported Charlie Crist? The GOP

‐Who supported Arlen Spector? The GOP

‐Who worked against Marco Rubio? The GOP

‐Who worked against Rand Paul? The GOP

‐Who worked against Ted Cruz? The GOP

‐Who worked against Mike Lee? The GOP

‐Who worked against Ronald Reagan? The GOP [sic]

‐Who said “I think we are going to crush [the Tea Party] everywhere.”? 

And so on. I won’t go through every item on the list, in part because a few of them are just ridiculous (opposition to the Patriot Act is now a conservative litmus test? Who knew?) and in part because all of them are red herrings.

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But the questions are a useful illustration of how Trump’s supporters see things. The argument very often seems to be: “You don’t like Trump? What about X?” Where X can be anything from Jeb Bush to John Boehner to the infield-fly rule.  

But as a rejoinder to me or to National Review it is about as on point as a stemwinder on how Trieste shouldn’t belong to the Italians.

#share#National Review — and yours truly — were on the “anti-GOP” side of a great many of the examples on Sundance’s list. National Review was instrumental in helping Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio win their primaries (just ask them). We were relentless critics of Arlen Specter. We opposed Bush on immigration, criticized the formation of the TSA, and we’ve heaped support on Mike Lee etc., etc. I was complaining about Bush’s spending and compassionate conservatism when many of Trump’s most prominent defenders would brook no criticism of W. And I was lamenting that the GOP had betrayed the base at least a decade ago. I defended the Tea Parties from the get go, dubbing them in part a “delayed Bush backlash,” and I’m fairly certain I’ve spoken to more tea-party groups than Trump has.

The case against the GOP establishment is not the case for Trump, no matter how much it feels like it is in your head or your heart.

I am to the right of Trump on nearly every issue I can think of. I came out in favor of a wall on the border in 2006. On specifics — wolfsbane to Donald Trump — I tend to agree with Mark Krikorian that you don’t need a literal wall everywhere, but I am 100 percent in favor of securing the border, and was saying so when Trump was posing with DREAMers and bad-mouthing Romney for being insensitive to Hispanics. I will admit, I think a Trumpian mass deportation of every illegal alien is unworkable and unwise, so if that’s your yardstick, I guess I’m the sell-out (though then again, I think Trump would cave on the promise very quickly). Also, I think his “we’ll take their oil” shtick is really stupid on the merits (but brilliant red meat). On abortion, I’ve become much more pro-life in recent years, but I may not be all the way there for some of my colleagues at NR. Still, unlike Trump, I wouldn’t appoint pro-choice extremists to the Supreme Court, so take that for what you will.

But, I’m falling for the trap. None of this matters! Even if I were a RINO-squish-lickspittle of the D.C. establishment, even if every denunciation of the “Washington cartel” is exactly right and fair, that is not a defense of Donald Trump. If I say littering is bad and Donald Trump litters and then you note that I’ve littered too, that is not a defense of Donald Trump, nor is it a defense of littering. Tu quoque arguments are a logical fallacy, not a slam-dunk debating tactic.

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I don’t know how else to say this: The case against the GOP establishment is not the case for Trump, no matter how much it feels like it is in your head or your heart.

Which brings me to my friend John Nolte, who at least bothered to defend Trump (unlike his boss Ben Shapiro, who concedes that he doesn’t think Trump is a conservative either, but then proceeds to dance the required tune).  

It’s funny, Nolte dings me for my use of a Marxist phrase when I describe the “trumpenproletariat,” but I actually explain in the piece that I am not using it on Marxist grounds. I do plead guilty for giving in to the seduction of a pun.  

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Meanwhile, Nolte goes whole hog for Marxist-style analysis — and my Lord he’s not alone. This notion that all criticism of Trump amounts to wagon circling by a frightened and self-interested D.C./Beltway/Fox/establishment seems to be an Idea Whose Time Has Come for a lot of people. Nolte sums it up well when he writes that the “The Bourgeois GOP Is Mad For One Reason: They Are Losing.”

Look, I can’t speak for the entirety of the “establishment.” In fact, part of my point is that I don’t believe I speak for it at all and I reject, and resent, many of these glib and facile accusations of bad faith. It’s usually just a lazy and cheap way of dismissing arguments you don’t like by attacking the motives of the people making them. Then again, John admires conservatives who fight like left-wingers so maybe that’s okay by him. I, on the other hand, think intellectual dishonesty and bad faith aren’t things to be admired, even when conservatives deploy them to great effect.

#related#Regardless, all I can do here is speak for myself on perhaps the only topic I know more about than anybody in the world: My own motivations. The idea that my opposition to Donald Trump stems from my “bourgeois” class-interest is ridiculous.

I know, I know, that’s exactly what you’d expect from a court conservative protecting his luxurious billet in Versailles. So if you can’t take my word for it, explain to me why I wrote my first anti-Trump column in 2011? He wasn’t winning then, was he? (My first negative mention of the man — according to LexisNexis — was in 2001). Was I so perspicacious that I saw his true potential before everybody else? 

It’s a serious question, because I keep hearing that we “establishment” conservatives don’t like Trump because A) he proved us wrong when we cluelessly dismissed him out of hand and B) because we understand deep in our bones what a threat to our livelihoods he poses. So which is it? Because A and B are in conflict.

Not only that, speaking only for myself (but with ample confidence many other Trump critics agree with me) both A and B are wrong. If you think pissing off millions of self-described conservatives is part of my secret plan to make more money, I’m going to need to explain to you how my business works.

Why can’t the real explanation of my motives be the ones I put down in writing? To wit: I don’t think Trump is a conservative. I don’t think he’s a very serious person. I don’t think he’s a man of particularly good character. I don’t think he can be trusted to do the things he promises. Etc. If all that hurts your feelings, I’m sorry. But there’s no need to make up imaginary motives. The reason I’m writing such things is that I believe them — and that’s my job. 

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Which brings me back to Nolte’s piece. There’s no way I can run through all of my disagreements, but I do take particular exception to this:

“To his credit, Goldberg doesn’t hurl names at Trump’s supporters but his sneering (and surprisingly clueless) incredulity does boil them down to unthinking, knee-jerk cretins.”

First of all, this is a pretty shabby take-back. He gives me credit for not hurling insults and then says I’m insulting people anyway in effect because I’m saying things they don’t want to hear. Look, I don’t think all of Trump’s fans are unthinking, knee-jerk cretins. Far from it. But I do think they’re wrong. And I said so, and I explained why. I thought that’s what conservatives are supposed to do (“There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism,” Emerson wrote, “joined with a certain superiority in its fact”). It’s the Left that judges facts and opinions entirely by how they make other people feel. It’s funny how John is so eager to defend Trump’s insult-hurling and celebrate his ability to “fight like a leftist,” but condemns me for simply telling the truth as I see it.

A polite Trump supporter offered I think the best explanation of what’s really going on in this disagreement.

Here’s the deal on Trump. There are those of us prepared to give him benefit of the doubt (e.g. me), and those who are not (you).

That’s exactly right. It’s not, as Nolte and so many others suggest, that my cluelessness stems from my inability to see his appeal. It’s that I can see through it. Or at least I think I can. What I am truly clueless about is how so many other people can’t.


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