‘He didn’t win, did he?”
Some of you will remember that sentence. Harry Reid, then the Democratic leader in the Senate, in 2012 retailed a series of wild, baseless, outright lies about Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, claiming, among other things, that he had paid no taxes in recent years in spite of his substantial wealth. Because this was coming from a major figure in the Democratic party and not some yahoo on Daily Kos, the claim was widely reported and discussed, and it fit in nicely with the Democratic strategy of characterizing Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat who as a private-equity investor would have sold his mother — or more likely your mother — to make a buck.
Of course is was bulls**t. And most everybody knew it was: Harry Reid, before being sent into retirement and richly deserved obscurity, was one of the most dishonest, despicable, lying, conniving, disreputable, contemptible lowlifes ever to disgrace the United States Congress. When Reid was later confronted by CNN’s Dana Bash with the facts of the case and asked about his willful mischaracterization of the facts, Reid responded: “He didn’t win, did he?”
And that was that.
In the course of attempting to salve their consciences on the matter of Donald J. Trump, more than a few Republicans have adopted the Harry Reid standard: It doesn’t matter what’s been said or done, so long as the right guy wins in the end — meaning the guy with the “R” next to his name, irrespective of what it is he actually believes or what manner of man he is. Republican self-abasement in the pursuit of power is terrible to behold: I like and admire Senator Ted Cruz, who possesses one of the best conservative minds in politics and who currently is prostrating himself before a man who insulted his wife, called him a liar, and suggested that his father was mixed up in the assassination of President Kennedy. Why? Because Trump won and Cruz did not, and because Senator Cruz apparently has the natural politicians’ ability to flow with the go — to get in front of the parade — without feeling too keenly the pang of honor.
Similarly, Republicans are at the moment lining up behind or at least making their peace with Roy Moore, the disgraced and disgraceful Alabama jurist who takes his dates the way he takes his Scotch: 14 years old and on the rocks. (Picking up underage girls is one thing, but at a custody hearing? That’s some next-level degeneracy.) Again, Senator Cruz found a way to get some of that stink on himself, comically trying to explain why he believed that Al Franken should be driven from the Senate while the question of Roy Moore should be the exclusive province of the people of Alabama. The ensuing ridicule was not entirely undeserved.
The current polls suggest Moore is winning.
“You establishment lackeys would rather lose with dignity than do what it takes to win!” the familiar criticism goes. Politics ain’t beanbag, etc. Mitt Romney didn’t win, did he? Somewhere in Henderson, Nev., Harry Reid is snickering.
Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, too. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways,” Marx said, highlighting the inevitable rift between the intellectuals and the bomb-throwers. “The point, however, is to change it.” The Western world was at one point quite full of apologists for the purges and brutalities of Joseph Stalin, with our Communists and fellow-travelers — just “liberals in a hurry,” they said they were — justifying what ended up being 100 million deaths as the brush-clearing necessary before laying the foundations of utopia. The inevitable cliché, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” was answered with characteristic economy by George Orwell: “Where’s the omelet?”
The Western world was at one point quite full of apologists for the purges and brutalities of Joseph Stalin.
Republicans ought to be asking themselves the same question.
My friend (and boss) Rich Lowry recently argued that the Trump administration has proved so far surprisingly successful from the point of view of conventional Republican priorities — there’s more to the Trump record, he said, than Neil Gorsuch. And that’s true enough: Scott Pruitt at the EPA has done useful and important things, as has Betsy DeVos at Education. But that’s a side of hash browns, not an omelet. Health care remains unreformed, the tax bill is an incoherent mess, the border remains unsecured, there has been no significant reform of economic policy, and we have in fact moved in the direction opposite from fiscal sanity, etc. President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem . . . and then immediately signed a waiver, as he predecessors had, adding an Augustinian “but not yet” to the end of his declaration. That was a classic Trump move: The Trump administration is a show about nothing.
That’s not a bargain at any price. But at the price of one’s honor? The Republican party took the lead in seeing off both American slavery and worldwide Communism under the leadership of men including Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. The most today’s Republican party can say for itself is: “You can’t prove our guy was a serial molester of adolescent girls! That’s up to the people of Alabama to decide.”
Some win. Some omelet.