Politics & Policy

You Can’t Pretend Trump’s Flaws Away

Trump speaks at a rally in Waukesha, Wisc., September 29, 2016. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
The delusion that leads so many to fall in love with a Fantasy Trump is dangerous.

I have a close friend who was recently dating a nasty fellow. He manipulated her emotionally; he drove a wedge between her and her family; he badmouthed her beliefs, tearing her down to build himself up. But she continued to date him, because apparently she loved him. She didn’t love the real him, of course — that guy was a jerk. She loved the fantasy she’d created for herself.

It’s bizarre to realize that for large swaths of the Republican party, Donald Trump has become that abusive boyfriend.

We’ve now watched Trump operate for well over a year. He hasn’t changed one iota during that time. He’s always been a man who says terrible things in defense of terrible ideas, who lets his ego run roughshod over whatever shred of self-control he maintains, who cares far more about insults to his ego than about the country he seeks to lead.

But that’s not the Trump that Trump defenders see. They see someone different entirely. They see a blow-up doll they could fall in love with, so long as they’re able to convince themselves he feels real.

Never was that more apparent than during last night’s vice-presidential debate, when Indiana governor Mike Pence set about describing Fantasy Trump, a character he could support sans compunction, and sans reckoning with the manifest ugliness of Reality Trump. Pence called Tim Kaine’s accurate claim that Trump had called for deportation of all illegal immigrants “nonsense.” He called Vladimir Putin “the small and bullying leader of Russia,” and when Kaine questioned him about Trump’s obvious warmth toward Putin, he claimed he was “offended.” He tut-tutted, “Oh, please, come on,” when Kaine noted (again, accurately) that Trump had called NATO obsolete, said he knew more than the generals, and said that more nations should have nuclear weapons.

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When Kaine ran through the list of horribly offensive things Trump has said, from his Miss Universe insults to his “Mexican” judge comments, Pence simply pretended that the incidents in question had never happened: “If Donald Trump had said all of the things that you’ve said he said in the way you said he said them, he still wouldn’t have a fraction of the insults that Hillary Clinton leveled when she said that half of our supporters were a ‘basket of deplorables.’” Clinton’s comments were insulting. But there was no “if” regarding Trump. He said these things.

Now, some of this is politics. But the determination by many of Trump’s voters to whitewash the man in order to vote for him is astounding. An alternative universe has been constructed where Trump’s worst sins never happened, where anyone who refuses to back the lifelong big-government statist with a historic penchant for dishonesty is a traitor to conservatism. Some of the thinkers I most admire fall into this category — people who construct their own Fantasy Trump with whom to fall in love. These are the people who suggest that Trump must talk more about judges and Obamacare and the specifics of Clinton’s Egypt policy. That’s not who Trump is. Trump is the guy who couldn’t name the countries bordering Egypt, but once heard a rumor from a Breitbart commentator that Hillary stashes a lesbian lover there.

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Playing Henry Higgins to Trump’s Eliza Doolittle is one thing if Trump learns to enunciate properly. It’s entirely another thing if Trump’s Eliza instead decides to disregard the diction lessons, speaking entirely in barroom curses — and conservative Higginses insist that everyone at the ball acknowledge Trump as a princess anyway.

Yet that self-deception has become the rule rather than the exception.

The problem is that the rest of the country isn’t deceived. They see Trump for who he is; the Democratic critiques hit home. Though pretending Trump away may be effective as self-deception, it doesn’t work at all when it comes to deceiving anyone else. But the self-deception has been so effective for many Trump advocates that they now insist that it’s everyone else who’s delusional — that those who won’t support Trump simply don’t see him clearly. They don’t know the real (read: The Fantasy) Trump. Their criticism is hurting Trump, all because they don’t understand that Fantasy Trump is real, real! He’ll appoint conservative justices (no evidence)! He’ll be stalwart on foreign policy (no evidence)! He’s just saying all those leftist things because he wants to win (no evidence)!

Hence the disconnect between conservatives who won’t support Trump and those who spend an outsized chunk of time ripping them. Many Trump supporters — those who see his flaws and will vote for him anyway — don’t bother scratching the anti–Never Trump itch. They get it; they just disagree. But the advocates for Fantasy Trump truly cannot understand why any conservative would oppose him.

Though pretending Trump away may be effective as self-deception, it doesn’t work at all when it comes to deceiving anyone else.

In 1965, William F. Buckley ran for mayor of New York on the Conservative party ticket against the Republican party favorite, John Lindsay, a liberal who ended up winning. Lindsay refused to back Barry Goldwater in 1964, mirrored the Democrats’ record on virtually every issue, and ran with the support of the left-most party in the state. Nonetheless, a Lindsay supporter wrote to Buckley, decrying his plan to run: “It seems to me that we, the members of a minority party, must unite in one purpose, namely, to strengthen the Republican Party and to get Republicans elected. . . . I believe that, as soon as the campaign dust settles and he enters upon his mayoral duties, he will turn out to be a good Republican.”

Here was Buckley’s response: “I have a much higher opinion of John Lindsay than you. He is not the hypocrite you suppose, who will suddenly discover sound principles on arriving at high office. . . . It is my judgment that John Lindsay will do as much harm to the Republican Party if he is elected and becomes powerful, as anyone who has threatened the Party’s role as a defender of the tablets in recent history. If the Republican Party is transformed in his image, I shall give you the Republican Party, and go elsewhere.”

#related#Buckley was right: Lindsay ended up being a disastrous mayor, governing from the hard left while maintaining his Republican Party membership. He presided over the near-destruction of America’s greatest city. Fantasy Lindsay didn’t exist.

Fantasy Trump doesn’t either. Trump is just Trump: a powerful personality with an agenda and a plan all his own. Pretending him away is delusional and dangerous. If we’re going to elect him, at least let’s be honest about what he is — and what he isn’t.

— Ben Shapiro is the editor-in-chief of the DailyWire.com.

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