Writing in the Weekly Standard, Andy Smarick says that a significant number of conservatives have adopted the following posture:
We’ll continue to oppose the president when his policies and practices are counter to our principles, they say, but also be sure to publicly give credit whenever he stakes out an agreeable position on any issue that matters. During the campaign, obdurate opposition served the purpose of challenging his candidacy and elevating his competitors, but now, with Trump sitting in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, it smacks of sour grapes–and, given that he does do things with which we agree, it amounts to cutting off our noses to spite our faces. So, serve as the loyal opposition as necessary but join the cause when possible.
His essay is devoted to criticizing that approach. He thinks it wrongly compartmentalizes issues, evades the moral responsibility to render an overall judgment, obscures the potentially large but unpredictable costs of the erosion of moral norms, and so on.
I find myself taking a balls-and-strikes approach to Smarick’s essay. Many of his discrete points are well-taken. It is certainly possible for someone who looks at the issues and controversies of this presidency one by one to make the mistakes he mentions. It is to Smarick’s credit, as well, that he describes the position he opposes in such a fair-minded way (although the last sentence in the passage I quoted above seems off). He describes it so fairly that its appeal survives the essay intact. What, after all, is the alternative? Are conservatives who have serious objections to President Trump supposed to refrain from giving him credit for creditable acts? Are we supposed to pretend that we aren’t happy about Justice Gorsuch? Are we supposed to say that balls are really strikes?