The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Are Social Conservatives Silent on Trump’s Porn-Star Affair?

In response to Tehran Triumphant

The responses to my post on Trump, the porn star, and what social conservative leaders saw — or didn’t see — have been instructive. Some are just dumb invective. A bunch prattle on about how the election was a binary choice — which is one of the great non sequiturs of post-2016 America. So what? If you condemn an adulterous affair in 2018 will that somehow trigger a time machine that lets Hillary win?

And a lot of the responses could have been written or said by the “Move On” Left during the Lewinsky scandal. “No one cares,” “Why are you obsessed?” “It’s not our business,” and of course, “Move on.”

As I’ve written before, the comparison to the Clinton years isn’t trivial, because in the 1990s the need to protect and defend Clinton set back the anti–sexual-harassment movement on the left by nearly two decades. Only now are liberals coming to grips with the mess they made for themselves. I see conservatives creating a similar mess for themselves by abandoning notions of decency and character. In fairness, as far as I can tell, few conservatives celebrate Trump’s behavior the way liberals celebrated the supposedly very French and sophisticated lifestyle of Bill Clinton. But maybe it’s just early.

But there’s one response that I think is worth discussing. It comes from Kurt Schlichter:

I disagree with Kurt on a lot of things these days, but I think this is a perfectly defensible response. Imagine you’re, say, Jerry Falwell or Mike Huckabee or any other social conservative who has spent his or her life making a nice living condemning immoral behavior in accordance with your faith and declared principles. The choice to suddenly defend Trump (or Roy Moore) for doing things you would condemn in almost anyone else is contrary to your self-interest for the simple reason that it is self-discrediting.

So why not just say that you condemn the behavior, you’re disappointed in it, etc.? You could then add that the president is doing important things, we only have one president at a time, blah blah blah. It’s not how I would put it, but that doesn’t mean it’s indefensible.

It seems to me there are just two reasons why so many former professional finger-waggers refuse to do the minimal work necessary to protect their credibility. First, the president is incredibly thin-skinned and demands not only loyalty but flattery. Any criticism is seen as a betrayal. Second, the Trump base largely sees it the same way. It’s a right-wing version of virtue signaling, or really, MAGA-signaling. If you’re on board with Trump, you need to be all in. Can’t have one foot on the Trump train. It’s reminiscent of how Steve Bannon went around bragging that real MAGA-ers didn’t flinch during “Billy Bush weekend.” It’s of a piece with the fact that you can vote 100 percent in favor of the “Trump agenda” but if you criticize Trump, you’re a traitor. But if you vote against the Trump agenda but flatter the president, you’ll be fine. It’s why so much of the energy on the pro-Trump Right is channeled into the hypocrisy of liberals who also said sh**, or who defended adulterers, etc. Fine, many prominent liberals are hypocrites for suddenly caring about such things. But many prominent conservatives are hypocrites for suddenly not caring.

At least the Schlichter option preserves an ideal, even if it comes with no intention or desire to enforce that ideal. That’s not great in my book, but it’s better than nothing.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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