EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (including all of the Manhattan-street-corner watch salesman pondering what might have been),
Donald Trump, Christian Martyr
I was starting to doze off. The debate was all but over, and the exhaustion from the day was catching up with me, as was the scotch. The rush of finally seeing the candidates go after Trump in a serious way was wearing off replaced by a mix of dread and resignation that it may all be too little too late. (Note: I don’t think it is, and I won’t be giving into despair either, for reasons Charlie explains here.)
I was only half listening when Donald Trump came into the spin room on CNN to explain why he’s been audited every year for twelve years.
“I’m always audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair — I don’t know, maybe because of religion, maybe because of something else, maybe because I’m doing this, although this is just recently,” Trump said in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo immediately following the 10th GOP debate on Thursday night.
Cuomo cut in: “What do you mean religion?”
“Well, maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian, and I feel strongly about it and maybe there’s a bias,” Trump said.
Cuomo cut in again: “You think you can get audited for being a strong Christian?”
“Well, you see what’s happened,” Trump said. “You have many religious groups that are complaining about that. They’ve been complaining about it for a long time.”
“Spit take” doesn’t even come close to describing my reaction. As it was, I gagged so hard my spleen almost came out my nose. It was nearly the first recorded instance of spontaneous self-mummification. I scared the cats because I reacted like members of Delta House when the picture of Flounder appeared on the screen.
There are two possibilities here. Either Donald Trump believes what he said, or he doesn’t. If he does believe this, he’s sufficiently delusional to disqualify himself for public office. If he doesn’t believe this, he thinks his conservative Christian supporters are morons.
Leave aside the question of whether it’s permissible to question someone’s faith. Trump says it’s outrageous when people do it to him, but he thinks it’s fine when he does it to Ted Cruz nearly every day.
The public evidence that Donald Trump was a “strong Christian” prior to saying so in the last year is, as the Donald would say, “weak, very weak.”
Even Trump’s sincere Christian supporters don’t believe that he’s a very sincere Christian.
Even Trump’s sincere Christian supporters don’t believe that he’s a very sincere Christian, at least according to the very polls Trump prints out and sleeps on like a dragon atop a pile of gold. (Though, looked at from the right angle, it’s more like a guinea pig hoarding all the shredded-paper cage-lining.) In fact, only 5 percent of Republicans believe that Trump is “very religious,” while nearly half think he’s “not at all” religious or “not too religious.”
I know he now says that “nobody reads the Bible more than me.” But, again, I can’t imagine anyone actually believes him. (I also would have thought this is the kind of lie truly God-fearing people would not utter, for fear of, you know, lightning bolts or salt-pillarification.)
Anyway, all of this public religiosity is fairly new. Before he ran for president, if you played the word-association game with 100,000 Americans, I’d venture that not one of them would have said “Christian!” when asked, “What first comes to mind when you think of Donald Trump?”
Apparently, according to Trump, that’s only true of normal Americans. The IRS is different. It’s like the eye of Sauron searching the land for “strong Christians.” When its cruel gaze landed upon the failed casino magnate, beauty-pageant impresario, thrice-married and confessed adulterer who’s talked about how his own daughter is so hot he’d date her if she wasn’t his daughter and bragged about how it doesn’t matter what critics say about you so long as “you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass,” and who told Howard Stern that his ability to avoid getting the clap while sleeping around was his “personal Vietnam,” the IRS immediately saw the truth of the matter.
Suddenly, the alarms at the IRS Christian persecution squad started flashing. Over the P.A. system came: “Code Red! We’ve got a ‘strong Christian’ in sector 7!”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of the IRS’s well-earned reputation for inappropriately scrutinizing conservative Christian groups. (But let’s not forget, they target them because they are conservative. And for most of Donald Trump’s audit period he was a major Democratic donor.)
What I am doing is unapologetically mocking the idea that Donald Trump, a bankruptcy impresario and formerly mob-tied businessman, who likes to mock the disabled at that, was singled out by the IRS for his tendency to ask “What would Jesus do?”
Oh, and keep in mind, according to Trump, this potential Christian persecution started on George W. Bush’s watch.
I could go on for hours listing everything ludicrous about Trump’s attempt to claim he is being crucified on a cross of shady tax shelters.
But what is so dismaying is the way Trump supporters took the bait instantaneously. I won’t bore you with my Twitter feed, but I was amazed by how many people (1) immediately bought Trump’s explanation as plausible, (2) claimed I was defending the IRS’s persecution of Christians, (3) actually believe that Trump gives a ton to Christian causes. (I mean in the past, I’m sure he’s written a lot of checks this year. I personally can’t wait to see the Trump Student Center and Hall of Greatness at Liberty University.)
My Trump Problem
Rather than go on with some obvious punditry about last night’s debate or the state of the race, or some goofy schtick, I’d really just like to explain something to people who don’t understand why I dislike Donald Trump. And why, more importantly, I find Trump-mania so dismaying.
Every day, if not every hour or every few minutes, someone is telling me my motivations for why I’m against Trump. I’m self-aware enough to grant that many of the common explanations might have some merit (not counting the constant anti-Semitic ones).
For instance, many say I’m being a snob. And truth be told, snobbishness might be part of it. After all, I think Trump is a low-class guy. (One of the wonderful things about America is that the non-rich can look down on the rich so easily. Culturally speaking, class is not tightly correlated with income.)
Of course, many Trump supporters think the real issue is snobbishness toward Trump’s voters. I sincerely don’t think that has much if anything to do with it in most cases. Indeed, I take offense (or roll my eyes) at many of the prolier-than-thou conservatives who disparage Trump’s critics with this talking point. There’s virtually nothing in the roughly two decades’ worth of my writing to support that. But, as often happens with populist movements, people invest their own self-worth in their leader. Mocking him makes them feel like you’re mocking them. All I can say about that is, sorry I hurt your feelings. And, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t invest so much emotion in politicians.
I’m also open to the idea that I’m worried about my livelihood. It’s certainly true that a Trump nomination, never mind a Trump presidency, would create real problems for me, given what I think about the man. But I’d rather keep my principles and lose my mid-rung career as a TV pundit or sell fewer books than thrive by saying things I don’t believe.
Indeed, this is why I take such deep offense at all of the people saying I have to get onboard the bandwagon, join the team, accept the inevitable, give in to the dark side, etc. Resistance is futile, they say. The long arc of the universe bends towards Trump. These arguments are a constant feature of my e-mail box and Twitter feed and have also come from some very prominent people — not just about me or at me, of course, but about National Review and other shirkers in the long march to Trumpistan. (One day, the story will be written about how many media types have been lobbying colleagues to join the cause behind the scenes.)
Anyway, the reason I take offense is that it presumes I take my positions purely out of some commercial or careerist calculation. I want to reply to some of these people who say it’s time to give in, “So is that how you form your opinions? Just because you have so little self-respect please don’t assume I do as well.” Until the Trumpian moment, I really thought Dick Morris was more of an isolated case.
I’ll be as honest as I can about why I dislike Trump. A big part of it is I think he’s a fraud. I think he’s part of the grand and glorious tradition of bunk artists in American history. I think he’s always lied about how rich he is and is lying to this day. And bear in mind, I don’t care how much money he has. The point is he cares. Specifically, he cares that other people think he’s really rich. In fact, that’s his business model. Most long cons require convincing marks that the con man doesn’t actually need the mark’s money. That’s his schtick to a T.
But I can actually get past that. That con-man aspect of him is also kind of charming. It’s not remotely presidential, but as an American character, I can see why some people are amused by Trump, and on occasion I am as well.
Trump really does strike me as Biff from Back to the Future (Part II). His cheap macho posturing and boasting is simply tacky.
The thing I don’t find amusing is that he’s an insecure bully. He really does strike me as Biff from Back to the Future (Part II). His cheap macho posturing and boasting is simply tacky. I see him as a sad and insecure man. And what I truly find so depressing is that millions of Americans see the same blowhard overcompensation and mistake it for strength.
And the notion he’s Reaganesque is bizarre. Reagan was quietly self-confident, largely immune to flattery, and he knew what he stood for thanks to years of thoughtful introspection and deep reading. Moreover, he was a gentleman. Is there anything gentlemanly about Donald Trump? I’ve heard stories that in private he can be a nice guy. Good. But it’s always easy for the richest guy in the room to seem magnanimous, particularly when he owns the room. Regardless, the public Trump is an insecure bully and a boor, and I can’t help but believe that is the truer face of the man.
About Last Night
I was delighted to finally see Rubio and Cruz go on the offensive against Trump. If they’d been doing that from Day One, we might not be in the mess we are in. But we are in this mess, and the only way forward is to stay the course. Attacking Trump on his lack of intellectual or ideological qualifications is unfortunately not a fruitful strategy. Tragically, millions of voters — for good reasons and bad — just don’t care about such arguments. The only remedy is to reveal Trump for the kind of shallow, vain, and bullying man he is. It’s also vital to hammer the fact that the one thing Donald Trump doesn’t do is “tell it like it is.” He tells it the way his base wants to hear it.
It may be too late, but I dearly hope either Rubio or Cruz stick with it and succeed. I’ll take either of them — or both of them! — over Trump happily.
About YESTERDAY Afternoon
Just as I was about to send off this “news”letter via pneumatic tube to National Review headquarters, the news broke that Chris Christie was endorsing Donald Trump. Shame on him. I have more thoughts about this in the Corner.
Various & Sundry
This week’s GLoP podcast is something different. I don’t know how else to describe it. People who hated this “news”letter will almost certainly hate this podcast as well once they figure out what we were up to.
Quadruped update: I can’t do too much firsthand reporting on the canine front because I’ve been MIA (though I’m pretty sure she ate a mouse this morning in the woods). But I will relay some tales via my wife, the Fair Jessica. She took the canines on a run along the Potomac earlier this week. Zoë found an entire desiccated deer leg, from hoof to haunch. There was a time when we tried to get such things away from the beast, but there’s really almost no point in trying. She is incredibly nimble when it comes to defending her treasures. She immediately puts about 30 yards between her and any human — or dog — that might presume to deprive her of her newfound birthright. So Jess let her run with it for a while, and sporadically gnaw on it. However, the Dingo realized that she would not be allowed home with such a prize and, over time, it dawned on her that one cannot capably chase squirrels while carrying three feet of deer in your mouth. So, she went off into the woods along the trail and buried her treasure. As for the Spaniel, I came home yesterday to the news that Pippa had punctured a dodge-ball-type ball while Jessica was working in the playroom in the basement. Apparently Pippa did not realize it was hollow or that it would pop and then leak. When that happened, Pippa skulked away. I know, that’s not a very exciting story. But the funny part is that for hours Jess couldn’t figure out what Pippa reminded her of when she sheepishly walked away. Then, she had her “Aha!” moment. Pippa walked away exactly like Bill Murray at the end of Caddyshack when he blows up the whole golf course. Two takeaways here: (1) You can see why I married the Fair Jessica and (2) I wonder if Donald Trump will have the same body language when he walks away from the havoc he will inevitably wreak.
On March 8, I will be at the James Madison Institute’s Naples Dinner.
And on March 11, I will be at PRI’s Baroness Thatcher Dinner.
And thanks to everyone who came out for my event at Furman this week. What a great school.
As things stand, there will be no G-File next week.