Politics & Policy

Never What?

(Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
A sophist in service to self

I wrote a book, The Case for Trump, in an effort — as an outsider who has no career investment in Trump and has never met him or visited the Trump White House — to analyze how and why Donald J. Trump was elected president and why his agenda so far has been successful. One Gabriel Schoenfeld has just published a hysterical attack on that effort in the Bill Kristol–Charles Sykes new Bulwark, and it is emblematic of that venue’s promised Never Trump ad hominem assault on individual supporters of the president. A writer for The Atlantic recently interviewed Sykes, noting:

But in the coming months, he [Sykes] tells me, The Bulwark will home in on a specific class of “grifters and trolls” — those opportunistic Trump enablers who still get invited on Meet the Press and write for prestigious newspapers. To Sykes, these are the true sellouts, and he wants to ensure that their public flirtations with Trumpism leave a stench on them.

Though wishing to leave “a stench on them,” Schoenfeld instead gives us a sad exercise in self-abasement. And his review offers an illustration of the poverty of Never Trump personal venom and incoherence.

 

Reductio ad Hitlerum

In his review, Schoenfeld tosses out names such as Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, the Third Reich Jew-haters in service to Hitler, to suggest, with a wink and nod, that I play a comparable role in relation to Trump.

Schoenfeld certainly has an odd sense of timing. The same day that Schoenfeld, an adjunct Hudson fellow, leveled his smears in The Bulwark, I was speaking at his own home Hudson Institute about the book. I discussed, among other things, Trump’s support for Israel and the dangerous anti-Semitic drift of the Democratic party, a theme I repeated again that evening on television. I guess by dropping the names of Nazi sympathizers Schoenfeld wants to imply that I am anti-Semitic (how odd from a former supportive editor of Commentary, where I have authored a number of essays) — an unhinged trope that he ran into the ground in the past, especially in despicable attacks against Trump supporters such as Roger Kimball.

In amateurish praeteritio style, after indirectly comparing me to Third Reich anti-Semites, and in general to those who praised Stalin, Hitler, and Mao, Schoenfeld then clears his throat and says he is not really saying that I am a Stalinist, a Nazi, or a genocidal Maoist. As a two-bit practitioner of apophasis, he claims he referenced such names, you see, only to suggest there is a long tradition of traitors (such as myself) of the intellectual class who abased themselves in writing propaganda.

And again, what was my Nazi-like thought crime?

I offered an analysis of how Donald Trump, despite often crude rhetoric and behavior, won the primary and general election of 2016, and for his first two years, enacted a successful agenda of economic growth and foreign-policy recalibration while ensuring superb judicial picks and seeking to address the stagnation of the American interior.

 

Swap Out the Deplorables

Schoenfeld concedes that in explaining the conditions of Trump’s rise, The Case for Trump offers a “compelling” account of the progressive disdain for the red-state and rural interior.

But what he conveniently does not tell his readers is that I also presented a far more disturbing account of what some so-called Never Trumpers have said and written about rural and working-class Americans. Whereas elite leftists harbor a snobbish disdain for the working classes, they have not, to my knowledge, like an array of bitter Never Trumpers, dreamed of swapping out their fellow “deplorable” Americans for immigrants, both legal and illegal, arriving en masse. I suppose such a population exchange would be their ideal revenge on millions of clingers for ignoring a year of Never Trump screeds that had zero effect on Republican voters in 2016.

 

The Tired Racist Canard

Schoenfeld further insinuates that I am a racist for not calling out Donald Trump’s alleged bigotry. For a supposed racist enabler, I have an odd way of living — in the house where I was raised in an impoverished multiracial rural community, part of an extended family that is far from exclusively “white,” and teaching for over 20 years at a state university attended mostly by minority students, many from communities near my home. If advocating melting-pot policies of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage — and living in minority neighborhoods and putting one’s children in underperforming but diverse public schools — is also proof of past “service to a genuine evil,” I plead guilty.

More important, Trump’s economic agenda has done far more for minority job seekers than have the policies of past Republican or Democratic presidents. Unlike many of his opponents in the Democratic party, Trump does not deprecate Catholicism. He has been on the forefront in calling out the new generation of progressive anti-Semites in Congress. No president has been more adamantly opposed to abortion on demand, which has devastated the African-American community, and which a number of black leaders have called black “genocide,” and whose effects in the past have earned either at best liberal assent or at worst outright progressive support for eugenics. In 2020, for all those reasons and others, Trump may well receive a higher percentage of the black, Hispanic, and Jewish vote than, for example, Mitt Romney in 2012.

As for Schoenfeld’s sillier suggestion that I am racist for not deploring Trump’s policy of following the law that resulted in temporary family separations at the border, he, of course, omits my references in the book to Barack Obama’s early “sent back” warnings: “Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.” Nor does he note that I cite Hillary Clinton’s similar warning: “We have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay. So, we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

I offered such quotes to remind readers that children were long ago being cynically used by adults to obtain illegal entry for themselves and others, and that both Obama and Clinton were willing to send children home if it deterred them from trying to illegally cross again. In short, that families seeking to enter the U.S. illegally by knowingly abusing refugee loopholes would themselves suffer consequences was a pre-Trump progressive warning — and to such an extent that Obama was broadcasting that the U.S. would send unescorted children back on their own.

I wish that Schoenfeld, when he was a self-described adviser to the 2012 Romney campaign, had been so indignant about the plight of illegal aliens already here. Amid the various political flip-flops and gyrations of that failed effort, the Romney campaign at one time advocated an unworkable plan of sending some 11–20 million illegal aliens home en masse, to stand in line and reapply legally for visas. Had a President Romney enacted such “back of the line” policies, fairly or not, population transfers would have made temporary separations at the border seem a minor issue. Is this supposedly enlightened notion of removing people a Never Trump tic, perhaps a punishment for not listening to their betters?

 

‘The Race’

Schoenfeld also claims that I do not condemn (e.g., I practice “sophistry in the service of a genuine evil”) Trump’s alleged racist attack on Judge Curiel when Trump called him out as a “Mexican” judge. Again, he does not quote what I wrote. But here is the passage, and I will let the reader decide:

Trump, of course, himself had offended Mexican Americans with his rants from the first day of his campaign, and a later allegedly pejorative reference to US district judge Gonzalo Curiel (“of Mexican heritage”) who was assigned to a civil suit against ethically challenged Trump University. Outrage followed over Trump’s correct but naïve identification of Curiel’s heritage as “Mexican” (in the sense that there was no commensurate outcry about identifying Swedish Americans as “Swedes” or using “the Irish” for Irish Americans).

Worse followed from Trump’s charge that “he is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine.” As often was the case, Trump was certainly clumsy in his phraseology, likely wrong about the idea of innate racial or cultural bias on the part of Judge Curiel against Trump, and probably had the weaker case in the civil suit. But on the other hand, Curiel had indeed belonged to a “club” or “society”: the California La Raza Lawyers Association. In the even-steven Trump world, an Anglo judge who had sought membership in a linguistically equivalent chapter of “The Race Lawyers Association” certainly would have faced charges of bias, especially in a case involving a highly controversial public figure.

So I made a number of points: Trump probably had the less persuasive legal case. In sloppy fashion, Trump did not grasp that in our politically correct culture, calling a Swedish-American a “Swede” or an Irish-American an “Irishman” is fine, but not so when describing a Mexican-American as “Mexican.” (Yet if Schoenfeld traveled beyond Manhattan, he would discover that Mexican-Americans often casually refer to Mexican-American citizens as “Mexican” without the politically correct hyphenation.)

Schoenfeld omits my point: Trump’s chief complaint was that Curiel himself was a member of a La Raza lawyers’ organization, whose name, despite denials, quite literally translates as “The Race.” The term found currency in the turmoil of 1960s, but we forget that the sloganeering was in popular usage before, in Francisco Franco’s Fascist Spain. Using a pseudonym, the dictator himself wrote a novel called “Raza,” a racist and anti-Semitic tract claiming that the racial essence of Spain, not residence or language, defined an Iberian. The racialist messaging of “The Race” is why the National Council of La Raza recently bowed to popular pressure and changed its name to UnidosUS, apparently to convey an inclusive message exactly opposite from the inferences of its prior tribalist nomenclature.

 

Willful Blindness

But where Schoenfeld, the supposed scholar of intelligence operations, becomes incoherent is in his surprising ignorance about the overreach of the administrative state in general, and, in particular, the role of the Steele dossier in ginning up Russian-collusion hysteria:

Hanson has also drunk deeply from the gourd of conspiratorial thinking. He goes on for pages about the nefarious “deep state,” which he claims has “the unlimited resources of government at its call,” and whose “operating premises have embraced multiculturalism, feminism, and identity politics.” It is this deep state, he argues, that has been engaged in an all-out effort to kneecap Trump and remove him from the White House, with the Mueller investigation at the center of the conspiracy.

Elaborating and amplifying a stock Trump talking point, Hanson maintains that it was not Trump’s but Hillary Clinton’s campaign that was tacitly colluding with Russia to manipulate the 2016 election. Trump, he insists, was actually “a victim of Russian collusion at the very time he was being accused of it.”

This theory rests on the idea that the Steele dossier, the document compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele to explore Trump and the Trump campaign’s various links to Russia, was actually Kremlin disinformation designed to help Clinton capture the White House. But this defies logic, not to mention common sense. As it happened, the sensational material in the dossier only came to public attention via Buzzfeed in January 2017, on the eve of Trump’s swearing in. If Clinton and high officials in the FBI were in cahoots to sabotage Trump, why did they not leak the dossier, already in their possession, to the media before the election when it could have done the Trump campaign serious damage? Unsurprisingly, this is a question that Hanson opts not to entertain.

There is unfortunately a lot of ignorance in just those three silly paragraphs.

What exactly was the intent of the serial lawsuits challenging voting machines immediately following the election, the initial articles of impeachment, the efforts to subvert the Electoral College voting, the desperate efforts to invoke the emoluments clause, the 25th Amendment, and the ossified Logan Act, followed by the Mueller investigation, the tragicomic McCabe-Rosenstein palace coup, and the dozens of present House investigations — if not to abort a presidency by means other than an election?

Rarely have such intentions been so shamelessly stated as in the September 5, 2018, New York Times op-ed by “Anonymous”— timed to coincide with the release of Bob Woodward’s latest insider account, this one of the supposedly imploding Trump White House. The unnamed Trump-administration official boasted that he and his patriotic #Resistance confederates were deep within the Trump administration and were stealthily using their bureaucratic powers to nullify any presidential efforts that they in their superior wisdom and morality found disagreeable. (“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room,” Anonymous reassured readers.) According to the unelected and disgraced former FBI director Andrew McCabe’s own admission, both he and DOJ deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein discussed — to the point of Rosenstein contemplating wearing a wire — the possible 25th Amendment mechanisms under which they might remove an elected president. The zealous careerist McCabe also tells us that he had to send his FBI minions after Attorney General Jeff Sessions — again for the good of us all.

Why did DOJ and FBI officials seek surveillance on American citizens without fully apprising a FISA court that the basis for such requests was an unverified dossier, compiled by a retired foreign national, who purchased unverified Russian sources, who himself had been fired from the FBI as a consultant, who was paid by the Clinton campaign, albeit stealthily through two firewalls, and who was the circular source for news accounts used to substantiate the dossier?

What business does the FBI have communicating with an informant prying into an ongoing presidential campaign? Why exactly did U.N. ambassador Samantha Power, mostly in her last year in office, make more than 260 requests to unmask the names of American citizens surveilled by the U.S. government (some of them mysteriously leaked) and then claim, under oath, that she, in fact, did not herself make those requests but that someone (unidentified) made them “in her name”? There is a reason, although ignored by Schoenfeld, that more than 20 FBI and DOJ officials have been fired, reassigned, demoted, retired, or resigned. And there is a reason that, on 245 occasions, the former director of the FBI claimed under oath to Congress that he either couldn’t remember or did not know the answers to congressional questions. Try that tactic sometime with an IRS auditor.

 

See No Evil

Where Schoenfeld seems unfortunately delusional is in his weird claim that the dossier did not matter because there was no effort to spread its unverified smears before the election when it might have done damage:

Why did they not leak the dossier, already in their possession, to the media before the election when it could have done the Trump campaign serious damage? Unsurprisingly, this is a question that Hanson opts not to entertain.

Should we laugh or cry at that? I did not “entertain” that question because I did not think anyone could be so clueless as to ask it.

Does he not know that journalists such as David Corn of Mother Jones and Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News were running news stories before Election Day alleging Trump-Russian collusion, sensationalism largely derived from dossier smears leaked to them with the help of wink-and-nod government sources? Both unsubstantiated leaked stories were widely circulated and amplified. They did do damage to the Trump campaign, and they did reflect an effort on the part of Obama-administration officials to plant the dossier and see its unverified allegations spread — consistent with an ongoing FBI bad habit of leaking narratives to advance personal and political agendas.

FISA court warrants — at least one of which was issued before the election — were in part based on news accounts of the Steele dossier, which in circular fashion had been leaked to those very news organizations. And so why and how was it that the media were reporting in September 2016 on Carter Page as a veritable Trump-Russian colluder — at about the time that the U.S. government was using the Steele dossier to prepare an impending October FISA warrant request to surveille Page? Or as Politico’s Julia Ioffe put it, during the autumn 2016 pre-election frenzy to tie Trump to Russia on the basis of Carter Page:

Washington was in full Hunt for Red October mode, and it was all I could do to stay on Page’s trail, which began to look more and more like an infinity sign. . . . I was not the only one. Seemingly everyone I talked to had also talked to the Washington Post.

British court filings reveal that FBI contact Steele himself was leaking the dossier to Yahoo News and would later claim he’d done so as an insurance policy to thwart an unlikely Trump presidency or to provide grounds to question “the legal validity of the outcome” in the unlikely event that he won. Even the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported that Steele had seeded his allegation among a number of Obama officials before the election, before himself leaking it to the media in late October:

At Fusion’s urging, Steele decided to speak, on background, to the press. Identified only as a “former Western intelligence officer,” he told David Corn, of Mother Jones, that he had provided information to the F.B.I. as part of a “pretty substantial inquiry” into Trump’s ties to Russia. He noted, “This is something of huge significance, way above party politics.”

Bruce Ohr, a high-ranking Justice Department attorney, who had not disclosed on federal forms that his wife was working with Steele on the dossier, had met with both Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele. He also held additional meetings with high-ranking FBI and Justice officials — well before the election.

So there was also a reason for Glenn Simpson to lie to a congressional committee, claiming that he did not meet with Justice official Ohr until after the election.

Of course, government leaking surged to new heights after the election — but only because prior to Nov. 8, 2016, the FBI top brass had seen the dossier only as an “insurance policy” that was not essential to the expected Clinton landslide. Immediately after Trump’s victory, Steele’s smears were planned not to stop candidate Trump but to derail his unexpected presidency.

 

A Never Trump Credo?

Schoenfeld only fuels the popular perception of The Bulwark Never Trumpers as an angry, coastal elite who are anguished that their warnings about Trump were ignored by both hoi polloi and their conservative “grifters and trolls.” In careerist fury, he now damns others for his own self-immolation — as if the country must suffer for the sins of not listening to his own genius, which would probably have given the country a 16-year Obama-Clinton regnum.

That Never Trumpers at The Bulwark were wrong about the Trump nomination, the general election, and the first two years of the Trump administration seems only to have fueled their spitefulness. If Schoenfeld is representative of this rump movement, then they are engaging in projection.

How strange to suggest that writing a book about why Trump got elected and why he has done well is proof of one’s careerist effort to gain favor with a politician or perhaps find employment in his administration. This is a charge against those who have never worked in a campaign or sought administration employment, leveled by those who most certainly have done one or both in the past and no doubt will in the future — at least if they can pull off yet another careerist contortion in 2024.

The bitter hostility of Schoenfeld reflects the Trump-assassination theme pushed by celebrities. Just as Madonna, Kathy Griffin, and Johnny Depp vie to see who can most grotesquely envision Trump’s death, so too Never Trumpers seek ever-more-creative ways to gnash their teeth at Trump and his supporters. Instead of trying to smear those with whom they disagree, they might have at least offered a coherent defense of their own creed, such as it is.

Instead of shrill charges and exclamations, Schoenfeld might have explained why Trump got elected, and why the preferred candidates of The Bulwark did not. And why have Republicans not won 51 percent of the presidential vote since 1988, in an era when they’ve done well at the state and local level? And, most important, why exactly do Schoenfeld and his associates oppose a president who has enacted a conservative menu that was once mostly their own? Why do they attack a president who is trying to stop a neosocialist agenda that was once likewise anathema to them?

Were some always closet progressives, and have they now found Trump hatred a convenient entrée into the progressive world? Or is it that Trump’s agendas must be stopped because his handprints on them soil what they once favored? But for that paradox to be credible, the Never Trumpers would have to show us that past successful presidents have not engaged in behavior comparable to Trump’s during his tenure and therefore did not earn commensurate outrage from them, or that the current hatred of Trump is not due in part to singular media bias and a new electronically wired age.

Would they argue that the mostly unreported details of the White House behavior of FDR, JFK, or Bill Clinton, or the past business and career practices of Harry Truman or LBJ, nullified their presidencies, or that the behavior of these presidents was more reprehensible than Trump’s in the White House?

Or are they making an argument that Jimmy Carter and Jerry Ford were effective presidents because they were both men of exceptionally sterling character? Or do they assume that effective presidents of sterling character (such as Ronald Reagan) are commonplace candidates?

Like it or not, most Americans do not always have the choice to vote for presidents largely on the basis of their personal comportment rather than on the issues the candidates embrace and the likelihood that they will keep campaign promises and seek to carry them out — and can win the election. Nor do non-elites see candidates in a vacuum, without regard to the alternative.

“Little rocket man” may or may not be a puerile presidential outburst, but not achieving annualized 3 percent GDP growth for a decade, or leaving the border wide open, or writing off the industrial heartland, or doing little to address minority unemployment — or for 20 years soberly and judiciously giving billions to the Kim dynasty as it sought its present arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at the West Coast — may be a far greater moral sin.

If America had listened in 2016 to such Never Trump advocacy, we would now be in the eleventh year of a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton continuum, a tenure well on the way to completing the much-vaunted fundamental progressive transformation of the country — to the detriment of millions of Americans. Donald Trump for the time being has interrupted that arc of history. In 2020, he will likely be the Republican nominee. The Manichaean choice will be between his policies of 2017–20 and what is shaping up as a radical neosocialist agenda not seen in 90 years that will include, but not be limited to, an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic venom, veritable legal infanticide, reparations, the Green New Deal, the abolition of ICE, virtual open borders, a wealth tax, a 70–90 percent top income-tax bracket, Medicare for all, and who knows what else in the next two years.

 

Useful Idiocy

Most voters, admirably or not, do not always believe that their president must be morally perfect to do good, but only that, in practical terms, he must at least appear better than the alternative. A prior generation wanted the mercurial General George S. Patton leading the Third Army in France, and thereby saving American lives — a rare military genius who made Trump’s personal life, speech, and behavior appear quite tame in comparison.

The final irony? Schoenfeld claims that The Case for Trump indicts me as a treasonous sophist. But at least I can say that as a realist I seek to advance conservative causes that are transparent about their agendas and funding.

Schoenfeld was once a professed conservative who now conveniently adopts positions he once refuted, and he does so while in pay to a billionaire leftist who in large part underwrites The Bulwark’s invective to damage conservatives.

Since the malleable Schoenfeld is fond of historical allusion, so be it. There was once a proper Cold War term for what he has sadly turned into — a useful idiot, whose loud but transient and minimal utility to the Left will abruptly cease when Donald Trump leaves office.

And then what?

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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