Politics & Policy

The GOP Primaries Have Entered the Family-Squabble Phase

Rand Paul campaigns in Iowa, April 8, 2015. (Darren McCollester/Getty)
Can we please stop attributing nefarious motives to those who disagree with us about who’d be the best nominee?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news” letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including members of the editorial board of the New York Times and all the other residents of their alternative reality),

Congratulations! You are reading a “news”letter written by someone who was A1 in the boarding of a Southwest Airlines flight. That’s right. I am secular royalty. The Elect. As I walked down the aisle to the bathroom, a small child looked up from his Gameboy. His mother clutched him close with her hand over his face, “Don’t look him in the eye!” she scolded in a loud whisper.

I thought it was fairly magnanimous of me to even use the lavatory given that I am entitled to use of the Southwest airlines pissboy. But that’s just how I roll. I am a man of the people (though I did use the pissboy’s shirt to dry my hands when I left the bathroom).

Anyway, like a list of good reasons to eat at Subway, I’m going to have to keep this short.

Mullah Goldberg

But, not only am I flying like steak sauce (A1 baby!), I’m also in lockstep agreement with the supreme cheese of Iran (as I am heading to Wisconsin, I’m already using more dairy-related adjectives). Okay, I’m not in perfect agreement with him about everything. We differ on the whole “Death to America!” thing and the eschatological hootenanny about hastening the apocalypse. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that he liked the ending of Lost, and on this we will never see eye-to-eye. But on the issue of the Iran deal we’re pretty much on the same page. On Tuesday I began my USA Today column (“A Must Read” — Senator John McCain):

“The first thing one needs to know about the nuclear deal with Iran is that it is not, in fact, a deal.”

And here’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: “Everything done so far neither guarantees an agreement in principle, nor its contents, nor does it guarantee that the negotiations will continue to the end.”

That’s the Wall Street Journal’s translation of his remarks. But I suspect that if I busted out my Farsi skills, it would read: “The infidel pig-monkey-Zionist Goldberg is right.”

I have to hand it to Obama, even by his own standards he’s been impressively dishonest about all of this. Basically the “framework” he announced was really a declaration that the talks had failed and he needed yet another extension. Talk about turning sh*t into shinola.

There Will Be Blood

#related#We are entering the very early stages of the family-squabble phase of the Republican primaries. In metaphorical popular-culture terms, it’s a heady mix of the Thanksgiving food-fight from Cheers, Festivus from Seinfeld, the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones, and the battle scene from Anchorman.

I’ve witnessed such bloodlettings four times from my perch at National Review (2000, 2008, 2012, and now 2016). I don’t want to exaggerate National Review’s stature on the right, or traffic in stale political clichés from cable-TV shouting matches, but I feel a bit like a member of the College of Cardinals during a succession crisis over the mantle of Holy Roman Emperor during the Ottonian dynasty.

Already, I’m hearing from people who insist that criticism of, or even a lack of enthusiasm for, Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or Ben Carson is some kind of heresy driven by impure or devious motives. Opposition to Cruz means you hate the Constitution. Skepticism about Paul is a sign you want eternal war. And reluctance about Carson is wrong because YOU JUST DON’T GET IT!

RELATED: Rand Paul Is Running, Now the Establishment Takes the Gloves Off

If this is your first rodeo and you’re shocked by the nastiness of the conversation, all I can tell you is what I would tell the guy who complained when his prison cellmate “Tiny” insisted on braiding his hair: “This is the nice part; it’s going to get much, much, worse.” 

I remember the days when our criticism of Newt Gingrich (or allegedly insufficient enthusiasm for, variously, Gary Bauer, Fred Thompson, Rick Perry, or Michelle Bachmann and many others) caused many friends on the right to say really dumb things about National Review (though it’s amusing how many people act as if I don’t remember what they said. That’s why I will have to leave a nice note explaining why they’ve woken up with a half-starved ferret sewn into their abdomens).

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot lie, I like big butts — if by big butts you mean, knock-down, drag-out, primary fights. (If you actually mean large derrières then, well, not really. I’m not all about that base, ’bout that base.)

RELATED: An Early Look at the GOP Candidates’ Positions on Foreign Policy

I think big intra-partisan debates are mostly a good thing for the GOP and the conservative movement. But I really have little patience for all of the mind-readers out there who can see straight past my explicit arguments to my implicit motives. So I’ll just say it now: If I end up disagreeing with you about your preferred candidate, it’s probably not because I am a socialist, RINO, squish, sell-out, Georgetown-cocktail-sucking remora on the underbelly of the leviathan state. Of course I still might be entirely wrong — it’s happened many, many, many times — because sometime my brain no good makes things together go. But even before I was A1 on this flight, I felt that I earned the right to be called wrong for the right reasons, at least from fellow conservatives.

Notes on a Nominee

So since we’re on the subject, what do I think of 2016 right now (other than the fact it is divisible by 1008 which, according to Louis Farrakhan, means that it will be a good year to plant hemp for our alien saviors because vests have no sleeves on account of the Jews)?

As I’ve written a lot over the last couple years, I think the GOP has a persuasion problem. There are lots of reasons for it. Among them:

‐George W. Bush was an honorable man, but a lackluster speaker and intellectual salesman. He testified about what he believed more than he argued or explained. It’s been a very long time since we had a president who could articulate a conservative worldview in the way Barack Obama and Bill Clinton could articulate theirs.

‐The Republican party and conservative movement reward people who can most effectively tell audiences what the audiences already believe and want to hear. This can lead to contests over purity rather than ones over effectiveness or persuasiveness.

This dynamic has elements that are unique to the right, but it also aligns with larger cultural and technological changes that allow people to choose what they want to hear from the media à la carte.

‐Non-sequiturs are really underrated.

I never liked the way many of George W. Bush’s defenders insisted that his malapropisms were an asset because he “talked American.” It’s all well and good to note that the coastal media is full of snobs. But that fact doesn’t mean that Republicans shouldn’t try to be good communicators, it means that they have to be better communicators than their opponents to cut through the built-in advantages Democrats have. This was the secret to Ronald Reagan’s success and William F. Buckley’s, too. (If the media had its way, George Wallace, not WFB, would have been the official spokesman of conservatism in America.).

Who Do I Like?

I haven’t picked a favorite in the field yet, and I really don’t plan to for quite a while, if ever. But I will say that my bias is towards those who can effectively and persuasively articulate the conservative position and/or have an established record of actual policy accomplishment. The first criterion disproportionately benefits the senators, the second the governors.

RELATED: Of Course Ted Cruz Could Win

We’ve probably never had a better field when it comes to articulating conservative arguments. Nearly everyone is a better talker than John McCain or Mitt Romney when it comes to articulating conservative principles. And they are leaps and bounds better than Hillary “there’s no eating in the library” Clinton.

But glibness alone isn’t what’s required. Persuasiveness matters. Ted Cruz is one of the most impressive talkers in American politics, but can he persuade people who don’t already agree with him? That remains to be seen. Rand Paul and Ben Carson are great at saying what they planned on saying, but they have more trouble answering questions they didn’t want to be asked. I’ve yet to see Rubio, Cruz, Jindal (or Fiorina) thrown by a question. I can’t say the same about Scott Walker, who I still have very high hopes for. While I think he isn’t in the same league as Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Christie, or (sorry folks) Bush in being able to discuss and debate national policy issues, Walker has the advantage of having accomplished things that none of the others can hold a candle to (with the possible exceptions of Jindal and, again sorry, Bush). Cruz can talk a lot about how hard he fought, but he can’t point to a lot he’s accomplished as senator.

Anyway, I’d happily vote for any of them over Hillary, which is a pretty low bar since I’d vote for the Southwest Airlines pissboy over Hillary as well.

RELATED: For Rand Paul, Principle by the Bucket

Keep it in the Tent

If I’m right — and it is an irrefutable fact that I am right nearly every time I’m not wrong — then the primary will at times resemble a junk-punching contest in the land of Kilts and Iron Gloves.

There’s nothing I can do about that. But I would encourage people to avoid the anathematizing urge. I think the recent ad blitz against Rand Paul was a mistake. I disagree profoundly with Paul about some foreign-policy issues, but I don’t feel the need to freak out about it. It strikes me that Paul’s heart is in the right place and there’s no need to excommunicate him or his followers. (I am far less generous about his father.) Let him make his arguments. Oh, and if you’re nodding at that, the same goes for Bush, Christie, and Huckabee. There’s no treason or heresy here in supporting any of them. I know that sentiment puts me crosswise with defenestration brigades, but so be it.

I mean, it’s not like Jon Huntsman is running.

Various & Sundry

Here’s the latest GLoP podcast, which includes a story about John Podhoretz almost attending an orgy. I have nothing to add to that sentence.

I’ll be on Special Report Monday night.

My column earlier this week was on the UVA report. My column from yesterday is on the death penalty.

I had lunch yesterday with Steve Hayes in Milwaukee, my native scout in America’s dairy land.

One of the greatest advances in human civilization

This is some very disturbing advertising including a three-legged O.J. Simpson — and no, that is not a joke about certain stereotypes — as well as some oddly pedophiliac tuxedo ads.

Happiness and more happiness

Debby’s Links!

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. © 2018 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.