The Corner

Politics & Policy

Trump Can’t Cry ‘No Fair’

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

If I may jump in, I take Charlie’s point and I think he’s largely correct. I also think David is correct. There’s not that much of a contradiction in that because I think to some extent they’re talking about different things. And this reflects a larger frustration I have with many of the Mueller/collusion arguments. Charlie is absolutely right that, in the wake of the dominant conversation over the last two years, this is a “win” for Donald Trump. He was accused of being a traitor nightly on MSNBC and CNN and almost daily on op-ed pages. I think some Trump defenders exaggerate the extent to which the news pages worked from the assumption that Trump was guilty, but one can certainly make the case that the thrust of the coverage at times worked from that angle. The Democrats obviously fueled all of that whenever possible. So in that context, Charlie is right.

But there’s another context that never dominated the national conversation, but could be found in places like National Review, The Editors podcast, and elsewhere. I don’t think anyone here bought into the “strong” version of the Russia-collusion theory. David and I probably came as close as anyone and we always stopped well short of anything like the “Trump’s a Putin puppet who stole the election” stuff one could find every night from Rachel Maddow. I’ll let David speak for himself, but my position was that it was A) worth investigating and B) not ludicrous to think the Trump campaign was willing to collude or that some members of the Trump team might have done so in the form of working with Wikileaks and the like. I thought the investigation was fundamentally warranted and that Trump’s response to it was bad on the merits and inadvisable for his political interest. As I read it, the Mueller report only supports that view.

But, yeah, when I hear conservative pundits and analysts hail this as a complete exoneration of Trump, I can simultaneously agree and disagree. In the legalistic context of impeachment and indictment talk, this is a win for Trump. In other words, if you work from a binary standard of “guilty” or “not guilty” of the most extreme accusations against Trump, the Mueller report lands resoundingly on the side of “win.”  

But two points need to be made. First, that was never my standard (or David’s). If you came out of a two-year coma and read the Mueller report, you’d be appalled by many of Trump’s actions. But many conservatives have internalized the left’s ridiculous standard as the only standard to judge Trump by. If he falls short of it, he’s a winner. As a partisan matter fair enough.

Second, we don’t judge politicians by such standards, nor should we. Charlie acknowledges this:

Nothing David writes in his post is untrue per se. Nor, in a broader sense, is it irrelevant; these details are crucial when evaluating Trump in general. But it is not even close to being the point here; the equivalent, perhaps, of saying “well, okay, but he was no angel” when a criminal case against a “gangster” falls apart. Trump was accused of something specific and heinous. He didn’t do it. Switching instantly to “but what about?” strikes me as an unfair thing to do.

He loses me at the unfair part. Imagine if Bill Clinton had never lied under oath about his affairs. He probably would not have been impeached and his supporters would have hailed the Starr Report as a “win” on much the same grounds Charlie does with Trump. But that wouldn’t have required everyone to ignore the affair itself — or how he handled the investigation (which was outrageous). And saying “but what about” wouldn’t be unfair. Rather, it would be fair game. Similarly, using Charlie’s analogy, I’d also have no problem condemning a gangster even if he managed to have a win in court. The country isn’t a court and doesn’t operate like one — nor should it. Hillary Clinton’s and the DNC’s emails were arguably exposed “unfairly.” Who on the right chose to exclude them as inadmissible in public debates?

President Trump ordered people to lie and did other things that I believe to be outrageous, even if they fall far short of impeachable or prosecutable treason. The fact that he had no follow-through is a defense of a sort and people are free to give it whatever weight they want. That’s how politics works. Fair’s got nothing to do with it. 

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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