About the GOP, &c.

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C., March 2, 2020. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
The fate of a party; a populist America; Joe Biden and race; Beverly Sills and the arts; and more

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE Y esterday, a Republican primary was held in Tennessee: a primary to determine a Senate nominee. I am writing this column before the votes are counted. “Well, why don’t you wait?” Because the result is immaterial to my point, or points.

I am spurred by this article in the New York Times — written by my friend Elaina Plott, who, once upon a time, worked for National Review.

One of the Tennessee candidates is Bill Hagerty. He was an economic adviser to President George W. Bush, as Elaina explains, and then he served as national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“He and Mr. Romney had been friends since the 1980s,” Elaina writes, “when Mr. Hagerty worked for the Boston Consulting Group and Mr. Romney for Bain Capital.”

How does it stand between them today? I will do some more quoting.

The day after Mr. Hagerty announced his candidacy in September, . . . Mr. Romney’s Believe in America PAC contributed the maximum allowed amount to Mr. Hagerty’s campaign — $5,600. Bank records indicate that Mr. Hagerty’s campaign deposited the check. But in October, Mr. Hagerty surprised Mr. Romney by quietly returning the donation in full.

A spokesman for the Hagerty campaign said of the demon check, “Once we realized it was deposited, we alerted the bank and we reversed the transaction, because we do not share Senator Romney’s liberal, anti-Trump political positions.”

Hagerty himself has been attacking his old friend on the campaign trail, saying that Romney is “indistinguishable from Barack Obama” and one of the “most despised names in Tennessee.”

Bill Hagerty’s behavior tells you a lot about the Republican Party today. Frankly, it helps me understand why some conservatives would like to see the GOP leveled — “burned down” — so that it might be chastened and rebuilt.

Incidentally, I think Romney is just the sort of person we could use in government. He is smart, practical, and decent. He is also courageous, as he proved in his impeachment vote. Romney was the lone Republican to vote against President Trump. (The senator voted to convict on one of the two articles.) He is the only person in American history to vote in an impeachment trial against a president of his own party.

America voted against Romney — and his running mate, Paul Ryan — in 2012. I think that was a big mistake. I think Romney-Ryan would have been excellent, leaving this country far better off than it is now.

The other day, I was watching Romney in a video, talking about China, and the need to confront it, and how to do so. I was impressed, and you might be as well: here.

Virtually every anti-Trump conservative I know has written a column on the question of “Burn it down” versus “Save.” Does the Republican Party deserve disintegration or should it be bolstered? Conservatives who are not anti-Trump have weighed in on the question too, of course.

Our Kevin Williamson did a kind of survey — a survey of columns and viewpoints — here.

I belong to neither camp, I suppose: neither the burn camp nor the save one. Yet I think George F. Will makes a lot of sense. (He is a burner.)

“If you reward something, you get more of it,” he said to me in a podcast. I would add that if you decline to penalize something, you get more of it. Every parent knows this, surely, and so do criminologists, I would think.

As some of us see it, the Republican Party has behaved very badly — abominably — and I have little sympathy for it. Of course, the alternative — namely the Democrats — is sucktastic.

You know what else is sucky? Being “politically homeless,” as a man I know put it. (He is a very prominent conservative Republican, though he is possibly an ex-Republican at this point.) But in a free society, there are worse fates. As long as the frame holds — the frame being liberal democracy, the Constitution — we’re golden.

We are so lucky, really.

When it comes to November 2020, and burn or save, my main view is this: In House and Senate races — in all races, really — people should vote their conscience. (This was an incendiary phrase at the 2016 Republican convention: “vote your conscience.”) Everyone has a House race to vote in; many have a Senate race as well. Vote your conscience, I say.

You remember the line “If you like your doctor, you can keep him,” along with “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.” Well, in that same spirit, if you like your GOP incumbent, keep him. If you prefer the Democrat, vote for him. If you don’t like either, there is no requirement to vote.

Personally, there are very few Republicans I would vote for, and fewer Democrats. (None?) I could count these politicians on one hand — and I might not need the whole hand.

That is a very, very dim view of the American political scene today. But I’m afraid I take it.

• Contemplating this scene, I have been thinking of Dinesh D’Souza — who said something brilliantly insightful in conversation with me several years ago. I will paraphrase it, although Dinesh says it much better.

In a contest between freedom and fairness, fairness will win every time. Fairness will kick the daylights out of freedom. (Some of us think freedom is fair, but that’s another story.)

Anciently, subjects had a question about their king: “Is he a good king?” In other words, is he a fair and just king? Does he rule equitably? Few people thought of freedom, autonomy, rights — the pursuit of one’s own destiny, come hell or high water.

What does a child say, almost as soon as he can talk? “That’s not fair!” It is apparently elemental.

Freedom is a scary thought to people. Nobody wants freedom, honestly, except for a few weirdos. “Live free or die” is just a slogan — no one means it. What people want is protection. What they want is their idea of fairness.

The Democrats have long understood this. Trump and his Republican Party understand it. You almost never hear Trump talk about freedom, do you? “Freedom” used to issue from every Republican mouth. No more. Populism doesn’t do freedom, really: It does fairness.

In America today, you can have pink-hued populism or brown-hued populism. The constituency for freedom — for the ideals of the American Founding — is essentially nil. (David Frum was saying this back in the early ’90s.)

I have long let my mind imagine a candidate who said, “This is my promise to you: I will subdue or deter our enemies. I will adhere to and enforce the Constitution. And I will do my damndest to keep your sorry behinds free.” How many votes do you think such a candidate would get? Nine? (And four of those would be mistaken ballots.)

• According to reports, Republican operatives throughout the country are working to place Kanye West on the presidential ballot. The thinking, of course, is that Kanye — a rap star — would draw votes from Joe Biden.

But I can see some overlap between the Kanye-curious and Trump Nation, can’t you?

• In a TV interview, a reporter asked Biden whether he had taken a cognitive test. Biden — feisty, affronted (and characteristically goofy) — said, in essence, No! Why should I? Did you take a drug test before this interview? Are you a junkie? Come on, man.

(To read a news account of this, go here.)

Because the reporter, Errol Barnett, is black, some people tried to make racial hay out of the exchange. “Biden called a black man a ‘junkie’! How insensitive! How blockheaded!” Even “How racist!”

I hate this sort of thing, I swear. In my view, Biden was not so much talking to a black man as he was talking to a man, and a reporter.

Moreover, there are a helluva lot more white junkies in America than there are black junkies (which stands to reason, because there are a lot more whites, period). Why should a person associate junkiehood with blackness?

(I mean no disparagement of junkies — none whatsoever. Drug addiction is pretty much the most brutal thing on earth.)

In 2016, Donald Trump tweeted such things as, “How quickly people forget that Crooked Hillary called African-American youth ‘SUPER PREDATORS’ – Has she apologized?”

Oh, get bent, Trump. Hillary Clinton did not call African-American youth “super-predators,” she called super-predators “super-predators.” (And she was super-stupid to apologize for it, under pressure.)

Again, I despise this stuff. One of the reasons I became a conservative in the first place is that the Left was always pulling it. Now the Right does, when expedient.

Makes me wanna spit.

• Go down Memory Lane with me? Recently, extensive security barriers have been thrown around the White House. Some think these barriers are excessive and ought to be pared back. I thought of the 1996 presidential campaign.

President Bill Clinton had turned the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House into a pedestrian mall — no traffic allowed. This was a response to the Oklahoma City bombing. The Republican nominee, Bob Dole, said that the new arrangement was imperial and unnecessary, essentially. He pledged to reverse it if he were elected.

For a New York Times report on the matter — 7/29/96 — go here.

• Well, we can’t have all politics in Impromptus, can we? Doris Buffett, the philanthropist and big sister of Warren Buffett, has died at 92. For an obit in the New York Times, go here.

I fastened on one passage: “Ms. Buffett shunned what she called ‘the S.O.B.’s’ — symphonies, operas and ballets — as recipients of largesse and instead concentrated on the underprivileged . . .”

A funny term, “the S.O.B.’s.” But I thought of Beverly Sills, the great soprano who, after her singing career, became an arts administrator. “I raised $100 million for the March of Dimes,” she told me in an interview. (She had two severely handicapped children.) “Medical causes do better than music,” she continued. “If you have some disease to cure, you’re not going to want to fork over millions for another production of La bohème.”

But. “But I say in all my speeches, ‘Art is the signature of civilization.’ We dance for joy, our hearts sing. When we’re little children, we take crayons and know immediately how to scribble.” Etc.

She was smart, Beverly Sills, and an utterly compelling personality.

I wish you the best, my friends!

If you’d like to receive Impromptus by e-mail — links to new columns — write to jnordlinger@nationalreview.com.

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