There’s always a trade-off in calling attention to trollish, attention-seeking writers who don’t deserve a response on the merits. On the one hand, by responding, you give the writers exactly what they were looking for and call more attention to their work than it would otherwise deserve. On the other hand, you get the satisfaction that comes with not letting asininity and calumny stand. Usually, the decisive factor is whether or not the attention-seeker has gotten sufficient play that you feel it warranted to clear the air.
Enter Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent for the cable-TV network One America News. She has written an essay that a lot of Trump boosters have cited as brilliant.
Her gloating, smarmy, gleeful thesis is that the Never Trumpers are dead or dying. She means this mostly figuratively but she does go out of her way to indulge in some unfortunate literalism in the case of Charles Krauthammer. (Going by the reactions on Twitter, apparently if you share her Trumpist exuberance, her celebratory tone doesn’t become distasteful when it comes to her discussion of Charles’s demise.) There is precious little “analysis” here, and most of it amounts to gloating assertions that the careers of people she labels “Never Trump” are in trouble.
She then goes on to explain why it happened, or at least claims to.
Now, before I go on, as much as I enjoy reading the musings of someone I’ve never heard of at a cable-news network I’ve never watched explain — in the pages of The American Spectator — the declining relevance of people at Fox, Bloomberg, National Review, and The Weekly Standard, I should make a general point. There is nothing new here. Pretty much every couple of weeks, someone writes another essay — usually timed to some real or perceived Trump triumph — about how the so-called Never Trumpers (almost always defined loosely, in bad faith, or not at all) have been consigned to the ash heap of history. Rarely has so much effort been exerted to prove irrelevance before. If Bill Kristol or Steve Hayes or David French or yours truly don’t matter anymore, why does our existence haunt these people so?
Then there’s the issue of whether it’s actually, you know, true.
Ms. Robinson writes:
Of course, Kristol was not alone in his contempt for Trump — he was only the most vocal and unhinged. Alongside him were other conservatives like Jennifer Rubin and George Will and Michael Gerson at the Washington Post; Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal; David Brooks and Ross Douthat at the New York Times; Jonah Goldberg and David French at National Review; Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg; and Erick Erickson at RedState. A number of others, people like David Frum and Ana Navarro, committed political seppuku early and endorsed Hillary Clinton. Needless to say, the careers of most of these people have been curtailed dramatically.
First off, grouping all of these people together is lazy and dumb. You can’t compare the approach toward Trump of, say, Ramesh, David, and Erick to that of Jen Rubin or Ana Navarro. Or, I should say, you can’t if you’re a remotely informed or serious person. That’s the problem with nearly all of these “Never Trump” screeds: They use the term so promiscuously and selectively that it becomes little more than a straw man.
Second, is it “needless to say” that the careers of most of these people have been curtailed dramatically? If it were, she wouldn’t need to assert it absent any proof. Bret Stephens moved to the New York Times; is that really a marked demotion career-wise? Since Trump was elected, Steve Hayes has been promoted to editor of The Weekly Standard. That doesn’t sound like career freefall to me. I don’t know about everyone mentioned here, but most seem to be doing okay. I was certainly worried that my positions would hurt sales of new book Suicide of the West — and they probably did — but it still debuted at No. 5 on the NYT bestseller list. Oh, and my podcast is doing great. More broadly, National Review and The Weekly Standard are thriving.
In short, Robinson doesn’t know what she’s talking about. My suspicion is that because she and her network are trying to become state TV in the Trump era, she’s pandering to her audience by telling them what they want to hear. There’s a lot of that going around these days. She might also be confused, thinking that the audience she is pandering to is the only one that matters. While it’s true that the people who take this woman seriously do not like many of her targets, by this standard, Alex Jones can claim our careers are tanking too.
Her “analysis” is equally deficient in fact and seriousness. It conflates disparate people into a single easy-to-slander label and then dresses up the same tired clichés and lazy epithets (RINOS!!111!) that I’ve been reading in comment sections and ALL CAPS emails for nearly 25 years. All that’s missing is a really biting bon mot about Georgetown cocktail parties.
Robinson, who is supposed to be some kind of reporter in Washington, talks with either breathtaking dishonesty or ignorance about the city she reports from. She demagogically insinuates that people like me live in “Washington mansions,” while quoting approvingly Tucker Carlson’s indictment of the Washington elite. Tucker’s an old friend of mine; he’s also a good deal wealthier than almost every person Robinson attacks. This is reminiscent of another multimillionaire TV host’s attacks on the “Jonah Goldberg class.” Moreover, none of the people she excoriates lives in anything like mansions, as far as I know.
Then there’s the atmospherics. Robinson, like so much of this crowd, is obsessed with impugning the manhood of her targets as if “real men” see the world the way she does. When I hear this stuff from male writers and pundits, I assume they’re overcompensating for something. In this case I can only assume it’s just more pandering to readers who need to be reassured.
Her one actual attempt at an analytical point is her claim that the “conservative intellectuals didn’t understand the base’s concerns about religious liberty because they hardly cared for religion — which should have disqualified them long ago.”
For reasons that utterly baffle me, Michael Doran thinks this is brilliant stuff (other endorsements are less baffling).
Among the problems with this bilious piffle: Robinson cherry-picks a couple Jews and agnostics and then insinuates that they’re representative of (presumably Never Trump) conservative intellectuals as a group. This is not only the laziest of debate tactics, it is a form of argument by innuendo that Doran should be smart enough to recognize. Worse, Robinson marshals no evidence to support her claim. Instead, she indicts the religious beliefs of her targets and extrapolates from that a position on religious liberty itself. She goes even further and says that anyone who doesn’t share her definition of religious commitment is disqualified as an intellectual conservative. I struggle to see how that is not a bigoted argument.
It’s also a lie. I’ve written often in defense of religious liberty (indeed, one of my recent columns on the subjected inspired a call from the vice president to thank me for it). Charles Krauthammer and George Will have defended religious liberty and religion generally for decades. Are we really to take someone seriously who would suggest that Erick Erickson, Ramesh Ponnuru, or, my Lord, David French don’t take religious liberty seriously?
I’ve litigated in defense of religious liberty and free speech in most federal circuits in the United States, was a senior counsel in two religious liberty firms, and wrote amicus briefs in Masterpiece Cakeshop and NIFLA, but the cocktail parties! I love the cocktail parties!
— David French (@DavidAFrench) July 1, 2018
Michael Doran spent much of Sunday talking about how deluded so-called Never Trumpers are (a label I rejected after the election by the way because it was no longer relevant). Well, given his enthusiasm for this wicked, dishonest, and dimwitted op-ed, it seems to me Always Trumpism creates some delusions of its own.