The Corner

Politics & Policy

Dennis Prager Is Answering the Wrong Question

In response to Hhhmmm

On the homepage today, Dennis Prager purports to provide an answer to a simple question — why are Never Trumpers still anti-Trump? Honestly, I find the question a bit strange. The election is over. We’re not weighing his relative merits versus any other candidate. We don’t have to make a choice between Trump, Hillary, Gary Johnson, Evan McMullin, or a write-in. We won’t have to make that choice again for several more years.

The truly relevant question is much easier to answer. How do we evaluate his words and actions as president? The honest Never Trumper evaluates Trump as we would any president. We’ll praise him when he’s right, criticize him when he’s wrong, and withhold judgment when the facts are unclear or the outcomes are murky. Then, when confronted with the sum total of his actions and his policy outcomes, we’ll once again have a chance to evaluate him against a real-live political opponent.

But Trump’s stalwart defenders, it seems, want something else. They want members of the conservative movement to act, in effect, as Trump’s defense lawyers. That means praise him when he’s right, and find the most plausible possible defense when he’s wrong. That’s completely legitimate behavior when standing at counsel table or when hired as a public-relations representative, but when your goal is not only to speak the truth but also to advance a concrete set of values that can and should endure well past any given election cycle, then the world looks very different indeed.

Against that backdrop, I have absolutely no problem cheerleading Trump’s pick of Neil Gorsuch, his long-awaited move to rewrite Obama’s contraceptive mandate, or his increased delegation of military decisions to military commanders. But I’ll never defend his dishonesty, his erratic behavior, or any re-engineering of American conservatism into a form of post-Christian populism that concedes leftist economic arguments and adopts leftist political tactics as part of an urban/rural class war where the ideological stakes are low, but the tribalism is high.

Moreover, I’ll never defend conduct from Trump’s team that I would condemn in a Democrat. It’s sad to see the reflexive defenses of Trump’s conduct in, for example, the Comey firing when we know, we know, that similar conduct from Hillary Clinton would lead to nonstop calls for impeachment from the very same voices that so zealously defend Trump today. Either approach is wrong before the facts are in. Healthy skepticism and diligent investigation are mandatory. Culture matters more than politics, and a culture that abandons truth and the rule of law for the sake of short-term partisan advantage is a culture that sentences itself to death.

I’ll end on a more positive note. Like Jonah, I also admire Dennis Prager a great deal. And the fact that men like Dennis have made strong arguments for Trump has made me carefully consider and reconsider my own opinions more than once. Only a fool believes he is always right, and when men I respect disagree with me, it’s cause for soul-searching. I appreciate Dennis’s arguments, and — more importantly — I appreciate his continued defense of vital conservative values. I just filmed an edition of Prager University on the First Amendment and government-mandated transparency (coming soon!), and we are certainly united on multiple, important cultural, political, and legal fronts. I expect that unity will continue and endure — even after Trump’s presidency is long past.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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