Politics & Policy

No, Trump’s Conservative Critics Have Not Been ‘Destroyed’ or Silenced

(Reuters photo: Mike Segar)
Progressives misunderstand the purpose of ‘Never Trump.’

Here’s a fun theory, courtesy of New York magazine’s resident apparatchik, Jonathan Chait: Because they are devotees of the work of Ayn Rand, Donald Trump’s critics have begun to shut up.

I shan’t attempt to explain how ineluctability silly is this contention, because, as so often, Kevin Williamson has beaten me to the punch (“a work of truly acrobatic stupidity” is his on-the-money assessment). But I will engage with the underlying proposition — namely, that “Never Trump” conservatives have reconciled themselves to the president-elect — because I have seen it expressed elsewhere and think it needs nipping in the bud before it becomes conventional wisdom. “Why,” Matt Feeney asked recently in The New Yorker, have there been “no articles about the Caesarist threat”? Why, he added, hasn’t the Right been fixated upon our “Trump-defiled common culture”? And why oh why oh why have some conservatives gone so far as to praise Trump for his pre-presidential decisions?

In order to answer these questions, one has to reiterate what exactly the Never Trump position entailed, as well as remember that it was never a pledge to reject conservatism or to join the Left on the barricades. Rather, it was a description that was applied to those rightward-leaning figures who believed that Donald Trump was a poor choice as the GOP’s nominee, and that he was an unfit candidate for president. Although I rarely used the term myself, it did apply to me as a practical matter: Throughout the primaries and the general election, I argued that Donald Trump was (a) an immoral man, ill-suited to the office of the presidency; (b) a political opportunist, likely to pursue policies that would seriously damage conservatism in the long run; and (c) a wannabe authoritarian who shouldn’t be trusted with power. As a result, I both opposed his nomination during the primaries and concluded during the general that I could not back somebody so manifestly unsuited to his coveted role.

Quite obviously, Trump’s victory rendered much of this moot — not, of course, because his victory has altered his character or because his success has impelled reconciliation, but because the role of Trump’s critics has by necessity been changed. Before November 8, those who opposed Trump were warning that voters should decline to take the risk he represented. That, by definition, involved a binary choice, the material question being: Should Trump be the nominee/president, or should Trump not be the nominee/president? Now that the election is over, that question has dissolved into the clouds. For better or worse, Trump is going to be the president. Progressive hysterics notwithstanding, that matter is done; decided; settled. To pretend that this isn’t true — and so to shout “No! No! No!” in response to everything that he does — would, frankly, be absurd.

So what should I do? Well, I should do precisely the same thing I did with President Obama, whom pretty much all of we Never Trump types also strongly opposed: Criticize him when he’s wrong, praise him when he’s right, and keep a tally of how many of my fears are being realized post-election. Thus far, at least, this is what I see being done. Of course conservatives who opposed Trump are praising some of his cabinet picks; mostly, they’ve been good. Of course conservatives will praise Trump if he signs a bill of which they approve; they would have done so under any president, including Obama. Of course conservatives are pleased that, for now at least, he’s being less vindictive than we feared; we are thankful that this facet of his character has not yet come to the fore.

In a sense, Trump’s critics now find themselves in the same position as might a parent on the day after his daughter has married someone unsuitable. What, other than to say, “I guess we’ll see how it goes, then,” is left to do? The suggestion in all of these “whatever happened to Never Trump?” inquiries is that Trump’s tacks to the right have caused his critics to overlook his flaws. But this theory has nothing beyond guesswork, hackery, and projection to recommend it. For a start, we are still in what I’ve taken to calling the interregnum, and, in consequence, Trump has done little of any significance thus far. And, anyhow, where he has already erred (Russia, Bannon, Carrier, his attacks on private citizens, his conflicts of interest, etc.), he has been squarely criticized from the right (including, in no uncertain terms, by me).

#related#I do not work for the RNC, for the Senate, for the White House, or for any other explicitly political organization. I am an opinion writer. My job is to give my view and to stay true to my values regardless of who runs the country. And that, to the best of my ability, is what I intend to do for as long as I’m fortunate enough to be in this position. During primary season, I tried to convince my readers that Donald Trump was a terrible choice for a nominee. During the general election I gave my honest and unfiltered view of the proceedings, which was that I could neither back nor vote for either of the major nominees, and that I expected Hillary Clinton to win. Now that the election is over, I am going to treat Donald Trump as I would any other political figure: skeptically, fairly, and with the presumption that men are not angels. To the bottom of my boots, I hope that Trump will overcome his many flaws and do a competent and honorable job. If he doesn’t, I shall say so. If he does, I shall admit it. For a year and a half now, I have opposed Donald Trump for his character, for his politics, and for his instincts. If my fears on these fronts are realized, I shall bring out the bayonets. Ayn Rand doesn’t enter into it.

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