The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Honesty and the Humility Must Start with Us: A Reply to Noah Rothman

In response to Oh…I Almost Forgot.

The thing that separates me from Noah Rothman is that while I would be happier if he were right, he is wrong on some important points. His dismissal of “Trumpism” as distinct from Donald Trump is unproven at best, and the political strategy built around that dismissal would only further divide both the Right and the GOP. Rothman writes:

“In short, Republicans of all stripes must be made to acknowledge and accept that Trumpism is an experiment that failed.” This is a reasonable concession. It requires only an acknowledgment that Donald Trump and the deviation his philosophy represents from conservatism sacrificed a winnable election, and may yet result in the loss of one or both of the GOP’s hard-won congressional majorities.

There are several problems with this. First, trying to get Trump supporters to admit that they and their ideas are the reasons for losing the White House, losing Congress, and basically ruining America is going to go over badly. Second, it is galling to do this under pretext of not wanting to relitigate the 2016 primaries. Third, and most important, this condemnation of Trumpism (as distinct from Donald Trump) is not obviously true. The intellectual Trump supporters over at the Journal of American Greatness described Trumpism as a combination of immigration restriction, America-first foreign policy, and better trade deals. Those are the Trump supporter–preferred terms. Others might describe them as nativism, isolationism, and protectionism.

But the labels don’t matter because they aren’t why Trump is losing. We all just lived through the most bizarre week (so far) of this bizarre campaign. Trump isn’t losing because of his stance on NATO, or his questioning of TPP or his support for a border wall. He is losing because of his toxic personality. Maybe he would have lost on those issues. Maybe it was the strength of those issues that kept in the game a man who had no business within a mile of any public authority. We won’t know because Trump himself is a wild card. One can point at the last week and tell Trump supporters that these events prove that they have to abandon their alleged philosophical deviations, but, given Trump’s antics, Trump’s supporters are under no obligation to take it seriously.

I’ll write it again. In the event of a Trump defeat, getting people to accept that Trump was a hopelessly flawed candidate is going to be relatively easy. Getting them to abandon their policy preference is going to be difficult. It should be difficult. It is going to mean winning arguments — making arguments — rather than demanding confessions of ideological deviance.

Rothman writes that the 2012 RNC autopsy was a 97-page document about winning over women, minorities, and young voters but that I singled out the “only legislative remedy in the plan.” This description of the relationship between comprehensive immigration reform and the autopsy reminds me of the fellow who supposedly asked, “But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?”

If the writers of the autopsy had confined themselves to their proposals for vendor purchasing reform, the autopsy would have generated one hundredth the controversy and would have been of interest primarily to professional campaign operatives. But let us stipulate that if Rothman agrees that the RNC should not have tried to impose an immigration policy on the party, I will agree with the autopsy’s suggestions for a “RNC youth liaison” to work with the College Republicans, establishing an “RNC Celebrity Task Force” (whatever that means), and other fine proposals. Deal? I kid, a little. The autopsy seems to have some reasonable-sounding ideas about technology and organizing. They should have stuck to that.

Rothman also argues that a Trump defeat will be spun as a defeat for immigration restrictionists. He is right, but he doesn’t go far enough. Clinton’s victory will also be spun — as a defeat for opponents of Obamacare and the Iran deal, among other issues that divide the parties. It should be noted that Obamacare and the Iran deal even at their most unpopular are still more popular than increasing future immigration flows. We are all going down together.

Finally, I think Rothman is coming at the problem backwards. I don’t think reconciliation starts with Trump supporters admitting that they failed. Trump’s failure will be perfectly obvious. It starts with us Never Trumpers admitting how we failed — admitting all the things that we got wrong — in the years leading up to Trump. If we had gotten everything right, Trump probably wouldn’t have happened. Then, we can have a discussion about how we can all move forward together. And that starts with me explaining not what Trump supporters got wrong, nor what Noah Rothman got wrong, nor what the autopsy got wrong, but what I got wrong. I will start that in a couple of days.

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