The Corner

Politics & Policy

Consistency in the Age of Trump

Conservatives do change, but we don't have to give up

Over at The Atlantic David Frum steps up to defend Jennifer Rubin from Charlie Cooke’s criticism. Frum calls it a “savagely personal attack,” which I just take as a melodramatic euphemism for its effectiveness, a quality established entirely by the quotations from Rubin herself.

Frum’s makes a larger point of it. He casts National Review’s criticism of Trump as craven and fearful, when it isn’t irrelevant, but possibly corrupting. Whereas Rubin’s is brave and “consistent.”

Frum writes:

But if Cooke fears that very many conservatives are at risk of following the Rubin trail to consistent anti-Trumpism, I can set his mind at ease. The vast majority of those in the conservative world who do not admire Trump—and who cannot safely divert their feelings into anti-anti-Trump fulminations against the detested liberal media—are carefully treading his own prudent path, not Rubin’s hazardous one.

What is the evidence of fear? I see in Charlie’s article only amusement with Rubin’s dysfunctional bleeping and whirring, and mild exasperation with the Post for running her views under the label “conservative.” And what is the hazardous path here? If audiences are rewarding consistent anti-Trumpism and pro-Trumpism — and Frum cites data saying that National Review suffers from this trend — in what way is Rubin’s anti-Trumpism hazardous rather than opportune? Frum implies a cultivated silence on National Review’s part that isn’t there. If the audiences are becoming hyper-partisan, what makes National Review so prudent and cautious when Charlie, Kevin Williamson, Jonah Goldberg, David French and myself (like so many other figures at National Review) remind readers, as we often do, that Trump is not fit for office?

I have no idea what Rubin really thinks about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, or how important the Paris climate accords are. I only know that she liked Romney and dislikes Trump, and her positions on Jerusalem and Paris, as so many things rearrange themselves accordingly. For myself — and I think Charlie feels the same way — I don’t pick politicians and redesign my views to be consistently pro-him and anti-her. I try to play the ball, not the man.

Frum is correct that politics is dynamic. As people come to reject alliances that feel tired, or morally compromising, they suddenly find themselves open to new ideas, usually ones that would fit a new alliance. Often the people that go on these journeys write fascinating articles explaining how their thinking changed. David Frum writes those pieces himself. Jennifer Rubin hasn’t explained how she came to have four different positions on Jerusalem in five years. She will be fine. There is always a warm place for people who can no longer stay associated with the conservative movement. From Garry Wills to Bruce Bartlett, there’s enough “strange new respect” to go around. 

And National Review has changed with the Trump era, I think. I’m new here, so I speak as a reader, and new member, but I believe that NR comes across as less partisan now than at any time since James Burnham went on to his reward. Certainly less partisan than when I started reading David Frum at National Review at the turn of the millennium.

The Trump era has unleashed great storms of political passion, and it has unhinged more than a few decent minds. Because of our audience, our legacy, and our stable of writers National Review’s comparative advantage and its potential for a real contribution to our national life, is in keeping its head, and in clear thinking.

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