My biggest fear for the Donald Trump era was that his opponents and critics would imitate the worst aspects of his character. So incensed that a man they consider an oaf and a fraud achieved the pinnacle of power while criticizing their cozy arrangements as corrupt, they would begin to break the rules.
And so it came to pass in #TheResistance, a group of various charlatans, self-important Twitter users, and some genuinely frightened Americans who give them attention and money. Even before Election Day, they accused him of questioning the validity of his anticipated electoral defeat. Then they turned around and looked for various ways of annulling or reversing his surprise victory. They accused him of spreading conspiracy theories, and then they filled our information streams with wild rumors predicting that the Republican party would be arrested en masse as a criminal organization, or that the non-existent marshall for the Supreme Court would haul away President Trump in manacles. This spectacle was a distraction from the real work liberals might have undertaken in political opposition. And it acted as a kind of prophylactic that kept them from learning any useful lessons from the 2016 election.
But this extremely obnoxious sideshow was infinitely preferable to the anonymous op-ed written for the New York Times by a “senior Administration official” this week. It seems certain that Never Trump conservatives are determined to damage to American institutions, in a quixotic effort not to learn anything from 2016.
First let’s clear the decks. It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.
What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.
The author does not attack the president for constitutional violations or even for unethical behavior. Our anonymous internal resister merely states an opinion shared by many Trump critics that the president is chaotic and easily distracted. He then proceeds to indicting the president’s ideological deviations as threats.
Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.
After outlining Trump’s complaints and his reluctance to retaliate against Russia, by expelling her diplomatic personnel, the author says merely that the national-security team “knew better.” Was there really any act of resistance involved, or was there a disagreement in which the president yielded to the advice of his appointees? Nevertheless, speaking of “like-minded colleagues,” the author boldly concludes, “We will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”
The problem is that “ideals long espoused by conservatives” were defeated by Trump with the help of voters. Announcing that you are running, say, a Rubio presidency against Donald Trump’s wishes is a surefire way to bring about a crisis.
That crisis may come in the form of a massive purge of experts from the executive branch, as Trump searches for a loyal and legitimate administration. Or it may come from normalizing factional subterfuge for future administrations. One of the reasons the Founders so hated factional politics is that they tend to raise the priorities of the faction above not only the will of the people but even the state itself.
There are many legitimate ways in which Republicans who are sore about the last Republican presidential-primary contest can work to contain and restrain Trump. They could do this primarily through Congress. But like the author of this Times op-ed, Republicans in Congress are too cowardly to straightforwardly disagree with the president. The author identifies himself as a member of “the steady state.” Well, who elected them?
And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.