The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Scarlet Z, Etc.

Troy Balderson and President Trump, rallying (Reuters/Leah Millis)

Yesterday, Tim Pawlenty lost a Minnesota Republican primary, big time. After the votes were counted, he said, “The Republican party has shifted. It is the era of Trump and I’m just not a Trump-like politician.” True.

My column today is about the continuing struggle over conservatism. What is it? What isn’t it? Trump has changed the GOP and the Right both in substance and in style. Or rather, he has been the vehicle of the change that others wanted, and jumped at.

In my column, I quote Bob Costa, an ace political reporter of the Washington Post (and formerly an ace political reporter of ours, i.e., National Review’s). He covered the recent special election in Ohio — the 12th District. He said that one moment stuck out for him, above all.

The Republican candidate, Troy Balderson, appeared with Trump at a rally. And Balderson “somewhat awkwardly” adopted Trump’s style. “Glancing down at his notes,” wrote Bob, “he took shots at ‘Dishonest Danny’ as Trump looked on.”

Name-calling is the province of schoolyard brats and bullies. It went so mainstream — became so normalized — so quickly. Some of us hope it goes as quickly as it came. You can argue vehemently and campaign hard without name-calling.

Another thing, also from my column: Remember how Obama would say “You’re on your own!” when he was trying to describe — and caricature, and defame — conservative philosophy? Hillary Clinton did it too. I slammed them for it many times.

I loved a response of David Cameron, then the prime minister, speaking in 2014:

“I care deeply about those who struggle to get by — but I believe the best thing to do is help them stand on their own two feet. And no, that’s not saying, ‘You’re on your own,’ but, ‘We are on your side, helping you be all you can.’ And I believe in something for something; not something for nothing.”

Conservatives used to sound like this, routinely. I think they/we were right.

In a speech earlier this summer, Marco Rubio denounced “the radical you’re-on-your-own individualism promoted by our government and by our society in the last 30 years.” This statement astounds me in multiple ways. It also astounded John McCormack, who, in The Weekly Standard, wrote a piece called “Rubio Goes Nationalist: Meet the new Marco.”

I lead with Rubio in my column today. It burned me to see him parrot the language — the slander, as I see it — of Obama, Hillary, et al. Someone close to Rubio has sent me a note, whose purpose is to put the senator’s statement into perspective. As far as I can tell, Rubio meant this: They tell you you’re on your own, except for the government, but that’s not true. Your community plays an important part in your life.

Okay. Better. Much better. (But — just as an aside — remember how we reacted when Hillary said “It takes a village”?)

In recent days, I’ve adopted a theme, namely this: Pre-Trump conservatives need to defend their beliefs and their records against defamers left and right. No one else will, for sure.

The last part of my column concerns the charge of “zombie Reaganism.” This is a charge you hear from elements of the Right. I myself have cautioned against Reagan nostalgia (as it’s sometimes known). But, you know? The ideas that Reagan found and embraced — and that I, for that matter, found and embraced — existed eons before him and will exist eons after him. They exist now, whether popular or not.

And if you’d like to plant a scarlet Z on me, for zombie, be my guest. “I’d rather be a zombie Reaganite than a zombie a-lot-of-other-things that are floating around, and, indeed, reigning.”

That’s how I end my column, and how I’ll leave off here . . .

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