What exactly are the high “conservative” principles of Romney and McCain that Trump has failed to express?
A few days ago David Limbaugh, a widely-syndicated Republican commentator (and Rush’s less fiery younger brother) posted a commentary intended to deescalate the tensions between Trump’s supporters and the “never-Trumpers.” Limbaugh defines himself as a “reluctant Trumper,” who decided to support the Donald as the lesser of two evils after his preferred candidate Ted Cruz stumbled in the primaries. Limbaugh does not hide his dislike for Trump’s free-wheeling rhetoric and believes that the GOP nominee’s critics on the right may be fully justified in doubting his “genuine commitment to conservative policies.”
Despite these doubts, Limbaugh endorses Trump for reasons that one also hears from Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Larry Elder, and yours truly. Trump has “many incentives to implement our [conservative] policies,” while Hillary Clinton has absolutely none. He is also, not incidentally, bestowing on the Republican Party a large working class constituency; and even among racial minorities, he is doing at least as well, and in the case of prospective black voters, better than his GOP centrist predecessors, Mitt Romney and John McCain. Moreover, it is hard not to see Trump’s focusing on the problems of illegals and sanctuary cities as anything other than a “conservative” issue. That remains the case even if most of his primary competitors and certainly the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal might wish those issues had never been brought into the primaries.
Although Limbaugh dutifully provides the reasons that someone claiming to be on the right should vote for Trump, he still can’t resist extolling the never-Trumpers. (Although they’re not my buddies, they may be his.) These supposedly principled conservatives deeply believe that “the best chance of saving the nation in the long run is to avoid elevating Trump to president and leader of the party because he could forever destroy conservatism and the Republican brand.” Although Limbaugh concedes that some establishment Republicans may be found among these noble idealists, most of the never-Trumpers “shared our frustration” about where the party was headed in the hands of unprincipled operators. Limbaugh closes his remarks with this statement: “I respect the never-Trumpers and will not presume to judge them as abandoning the nation’s best interests.”
It is of course possible to be so principled that one refuses to settle for politicians who don’t entirely live up to one’s ideals. About ten years ago I addressed a club named for the great conservative Republican of an earlier era Robert A. Taft. During my interaction with members I found that some of them would only vote for a leader who patterned himself on the organization’s namesake. Although I continue to refer to myself as a “Taft Republican,” I thought some of the young people I spoke with held unrealistically high expectations.
But in the case of the never-Trumpers, I would never make this criticism. Here we are dealing mostly with GOP shills who four years ago were drooling on cue over Mitt Romney and who four years earlier were gilding the lily for John McCain. What exactly were the high “conservative” principles that these candidates of the never-Trumpers articulated that Trump has failed to express? Indeed Trump has raised social issues that Romney and McCain, who were hailed as “conservatives” refused to even touch on the campaign trail. Unlike them, he has promised to appoint “conservatives” to federal judgeships and to protect the religious liberty of devout Christians, who have been beaten from pillar to post by Obama and who are not likely to be treated any better under a Clinton presidency.
Although one may be justified in questioning the genuineness of Trump’s commitment to certain conservative principles (and right now I am troubled by his support of a six-week maternity leave proposal that would inflict unfair costs on employers), it is doubtful whether the never-Trumpers are all inspired idealists. Roughly the people Limbaugh is referring to can be divided into two types: establishment Republican propagandists and neoconservative partisans and dependents. The two types often merge (as with Bret Stephens, Rich Lowry, Bill Kristol and Jonah Goldberg); in other cases (e.g., Katie Pavlich, Cal Thomas, Bill Murchison, and Eric Erickson), we’re talking about GOP establishmentarians who became never-Trumpers in line with their professional duties. I won’t even get on to the topic of those academic “conservatives” who flaunt their hatred of Trump at gatherings financed by neoconservative donors. Since at least some of these “conservative” scholars also significantly hold positions financed by neocon patrons, we may conclude that they’re only doing what is expected of them.
Among the never-Trumpers whom Limbaugh does not get around to are such unappetizing defectors to the Left as Max Boot, Robert Kagan and Jamie Kirchik. These publicists were not content to show their true colors and in the case of Kagan, his well-established ties, through his wife Victoria Nuland, to the Obama-Clinton administration. These defectors have befouled the political landscape with their reckless denunciations of Trump as a “fascist.” I won’t bother to place former secretary of state Colin Powell in the category of recent defectors. Although a nominal Republican, Powell enthusiastically backed Obama in two presidential races and was denouncing the Milquetoast party of McCain and Romney as racist before he turned his fire on Trump.
I’m also not surprised that Kirchik, a renowned neocon-hitman known for his vicious attack on Ron Paul as a Nazi sympathizer and raving anti-Semite, has now gone back to his smearing talents. Kirchik has criticized Hillary Clinton for limiting her denunciation to only one half of her opponent’s backers. He insists in an interview with the Daily News that “it’s not 50% of Trump supporters who are bigots.” The “basket of deplorables” whom Hillary denounced last week “is closer to 100%.” Kirchik may be the most repulsive of all the grotesques who have moved from the neocon camp into Hillary’s baggage. Honest disagreement seems entirely foreign to his nature. A peripatetic nudnik, he manages to get into the news by denouncing those who think differently from him as an existential danger to his Jewish gay identity. As in his condemnation of tens of millions of Americans, including many readers of this website, Kirchik seems to believe that by depicting anyone he doesn’t like as a “bigot,” he can always earn applause and make a living. He is a gift to the Hillary campaign that our side should be delighted to hand over.
The never-Trumpers undoubtedly believe they’ll survive professionally even if the Donald pulls it out. And as much as it disgust me to say so, I think they may be right. No matter what happens in this race, we’ll see the same faces on Fox-news and the same hacks writing for the establishment conservative-Republican press. Perhaps helping to contribute to a Trump defeat by blackening the candidate and urging others not to vote for him is a less risky career move than openly defecting to Hillary. Despite my doubts in this matter, I would like to imagine that the outright defectors will suffer particularly if Trump wins. But unfortunately they’ll still find takers for their services; and (alas) Kirchik will still be amply rewarded for smearing whomever he puts into his “basket of deplorables.”