The Corner

Politics & Policy

Rules of Engagement

(Leah Millis/Reuters)

So, I owe an apology to Sean Trende. Last week I posted a response to his Tweet thread about the Bulwark. And while I still stand by everything that I wrote substantively, I misunderstood what Sean was actually responding to. The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins wrote a piece about the Bulwark and I only read some snippets someone sent me. I didn’t realize the real thrust of the article — and what Sean was responding to — was the Bulwark’s purported policy of going after “Trump-friendly politicos by name — often in witheringly personal terms.”

Why didn’t I read the whole Coppins article or Sean’s tweet thread a bit more closely? Because I made a mistake on a very busy day. My apologies.

Anyway, I discovered the scope of the mistake when I read this piece by Melissa Mackenzie:

Here’s the question another way: Why does opposing Trump mean that one must be nasty to Trump’s more respected and erudite defenders? What purpose is there, for example, in trying to destroy Victor Davis Hansen? When Trump gets out of office (and it will happen, if not by the glorious swan dive of impeachment or by rotting away his dotage in prison as the Never Trump wing hope), how will attempting to destroy someone personally influence the post-Trump party? What place will the most vociferous anti-Trumpers have once they’ve alienated everyone with whom they disagree?

That’s what Trende is getting at. Jonah doesn’t answer that question.

She’s right — because I didn’t realize that was the question. I like the Bulwark and many of the people who work there (I also like Melissa). But I’m perfectly comfortable saying that I don’t see eye-to-eye with them about this editorial policy, even if I often agree with many of the criticisms that they’ve leveled against Trump boosters so far (I’m also not convinced that this is actually the editorial policy of the Bulwark). And it should be fairly apparent that I don’t follow the same editorial approach (indeed, my initial post in response to Sean made it clear I was talking about policy differences). Sure, I’ve disagreed with my colleagues at times, and they with me, about Trump and a host of other matters, (just search for my writings about nationalism of late). But I’ve always tried to do it respectfully.

But since we’re clearing the air, I find much of Melissa’s larger argument to be very unpersuasive and more than a little thin-skinned at times. She assigns views and attitudes to me I don’t hold or share and that are not reflected in my writing. It’s a lot of guilt by association.

She also writes:

Back to the strategy question Sean asked. How does demonizing one’s ostensible allies help? How likely are those who’ve been sprayed with venom for four (or eight!) years to want to work with self-described vanguards of True Conservatism™?

I find this rich. In the piece itself, Melissa runs through many of the usual tropes that Trump boosters use to demonize people that they call “Never Trumpers” (never mind that this is not a label I use for myself). Moreover, the American Spectatorand similar outlets, do this kind of venom spraying all of the time. Why isn’t that a bad idea, too? What I think many pro-Trump folks don’t realize is that the Trump critics are often just returning fire.

And, just to cut to the chase, Trump Apologists Against Demonization is pretty much a null set. If your policy is to say that personal attacks from the Bulwark are bad but personal attacks from Trump’s biggest boosters — and Trump himself — are fine, or even great (or simply not worth condemning because it’s more important to be a team player) then you’re not really against venom-spraying, you just think it’s unfair when anyone other than Trump & Co. are “counter-punchers” or you care more about political maneuvering than truth-telling.

Also “returns fire” or “counter-punching” really aren’t the right phrases, because what often passes for “personal attacks” or “demonization” is just pointing out what people said and wrote in the past and how hard it is to reconcile that stuff with what they’re saying in the present to defend Trump’s behavior, policies, rhetoric, etc.  And, for Trump himself, simply taking him seriously or literally can qualify as an unfair attack.

Meanwhile, so-called Never Trumpers — again, not my label — can never win. They’re irrelevant, meaningless, specks being swept into the dust bin of history by the great MAGA tide and they’re to blame for Trump’s problems. Their views don’t matter and Oh my God why are they so mean!? They’re servants of the Deep State or the Establishment using their power to constrain Trump and they’re powerless hacks with no constituency.

I wish the Trumpists would pick a lane.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.


Most Popular


Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired

Allan M. Josephson is a distinguished psychiatrist who, since 2003, has transformed the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the University of Louisville from a struggling department to a nationally acclaimed program. In the fall of 2017 he appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation ... Read More