Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
Last year, the court jester of the Never Trumpers declared that, "The onus is on the president-elect to prove he's not Putin's puppet."
Last week, the President of the United States ordered the strikes that took out Syria’s chemical weapons research facility, its primary Sarin nerve gas facility and another chemical weapons facility.
Putin was not pleased. But neither was Max Boot, who had accused Trump of being Putin’s puppet. Boot had already gone from attacking Trump for being weak on Assad to urging, “Let Assad Win.”
Who’s the puppet now?
In March, Boot had urged Trump to launch cruise missiles against the perpetrators of the chemical attacks. Now that Trump did it, Boot is dismissing the very thing he wanted and attacking Trump for not overthrowing Assad. Even though Boot had just disavowed regime change in, “Let Assad Win.”
What is Max Boot’s real position on Syria? He doesn’t have one. He only has a position on Trump.
Never Trumpers like Max Boot wanted us to believe that they opposed Trump on foreign policy grounds. But Syria shows that they don’t have a foreign policy. Only an anti-Trump policy.
They don’t care about Syria. And they don’t care about Russia. All they care about is destroying Trump. Like Boot, their old national security journalism has been replaced by national security trolling. The national security trolls no longer discuss foreign policy, but how much they despise President Trump.
Boot flip-flopped on Assad. If hostilities with Russia grow, his next column will be, “Let Putin Win.”
The most striking thing about the reaction of Never Trumper national security trolls to the Syrian strikes was their lack of interest in the topic. Most remained fixated on pushing Mueller scandal narratives.
"If Pres. Trump takes appropriate action against Assad this #NeverTrumper will of course support him," Bill Kristol tweeted on April 6. The next day he tweeted a quote about events in Syria from an anti-Israel leftist ,"No decent person can ignore what’s happening.” On the 8th, Kristol blamed Trump for Assad’s chemical weapons use.
Once the bombings began, Kristol’s support consisted of tweeting about more Mueller scandals.
After all the noise, it turned out that Bill Kristol didn’t actually care. The moral preening about a humanitarian crisis in Syria was hollow. His real humanitarian crisis was losing the election
During the election, Kristol had accused the Republicans of being “Putin’s Party” over what he deemed to be Trump’s lack of support for Ukraine. Did Kristol change his mind when Trump, unlike Obama, approved weapons sales to Ukraine? Of course not. Because it wasn’t about Ukraine or Syria.
Those were just useful conspiracy theories tying President Trump to Russia.
On the 8th, Evan McMullin accused Trump of having “enabled Assad and Putin’s escalating mass atrocities against Syrian children and other civilians.” Trump “telegraphs a withdrawal from Syria” as “Bashar al-Assad is increasing his chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians,” he condemned.
Once the bombings began, the former presidential candidate went back to obsessing over Mueller. And that from a man who had once claimed to be the "only presidential candidate” with a plan to fix Syria.
Like Boot and Kristol, McMullin doesn’t want to fix Syria; he wants to destroy President Trump.
Jennifer Rubin had accused President Trump of handing Russia a “huge win” by pulling out of Syria. She blamed the chemical attack on Trump’s withdrawal. And then dismissed Trump’s strikes on Syria. If Trump continues bombing Assad, Rubin will acrobatically flip on Syria the way that she did on Iran.
Like Boot, Rubin will start rhapsodizing about the photos of Syrians strolling through parks under Assad.
David Frum meanwhile managed to combine Russia conspiracy theories and opposition to President Trump’s strikes on Assad. “I'd personally like more certainty whether the president and his team have massively lied about their obligations to a hostile foreign power before accepting their leadership of a major military action.” And then he tweeted, “No new wars under this president.”
Frum stripped away the dishonest politics of the national security trolls which are neither anti-war nor pro-war, but just anti-Trump. Any war that Trump fights must be wrong. Any war he doesn’t fight, must be right. A war can be right until Trump fights it. It’s wrong once he does fight it.
For Frum, as well as McMullin, Kristol and Boot, protecting the Russia conspiracy theory is the priority. Accusing Trump of being Putin’s puppet is more important than actually doing anything about Syria.
By putting Russian conspiracy theories ahead of Syria, Frum is being more honest about his goals than Kristol. The Never Trumper priority isn’t beating Assad or Iran: it’s beating Trump.
That’s why some Never Trumpers like Rubin have switched from Iran Deal opponents to supporters.
Trump’s Syria strikes are inconvenient because they undermine the central premise of the conspiracy theory. That’s why most Never Trumpers are choosing to ignore them. And the conspiracy theory is a lever for reversing the 2016 election and forcing the President of the United States to leave office.
The Russia conspiracy theory, like all conspiracy theories, can never be disproven.
Never Trumpers like to talk about “principles”. And principles are a very important trait. But the essence of principles is putting some higher ideal ahead of what you feel and what you want.
From Comey to Kristol, Trump’s critics parade their principles. But it turns out that they don’t have any.
Principled foreign policy critics would have cheered Trump for bombing Syria as enthusiastically as they had booed him earlier. But the unprincipled Never Trumpers don’t actually believe in anything.
They are against Trump. But they aren’t for anything except invites to establishment cocktail parties.
Never Trumper national security trolling was only a cover for their personal opposition and cynical careerism. They never truly believed Trump was Putin’s puppet. Instead they repeated a Clinton smear because they knew that the Big Lie was what their leftist political allies wanted to hear them say.
And it’s time for them to admit that and apologize for dividing the party, for sabotaging a commander-in-chief and weakening his country.
The Syria strikes have made a mockery of their national security trolling. The average Never Trump national security troll now spends more time churning out Mueller tabloid trash than writing about foreign policy or terrorism. Their international horizons have narrowed down to Russia, countries with a relationship to Russia and countries that have a Trump hotel within a hundred miles of their border.
They’re not patriots, they’re not principled and they’re not foreign policy experts. They’re trolls.
“The onus is on the president-elect to prove he's not Putin's puppet,” Boot wrote.
What could President Trump do that would prove it to Boot, Kristol and the rest of the trolls? Nothing.
Russia conspiracy theories allow the national security trolls to parade as patriots while giving them a ready seat at the table at MSNBC or a column in the Washington Post. And so the goalposts keep moving. If Trump doesn’t bomb Syria, he’s Putin puppet. And when he does bomb Syria, it’s not enough (Boot, Rubin), isn’t really worth talking about (Kristol) and is wrong because he’s Trump (Frum).
The Russia collusion conspiracy theory is a lie. And the lie is undermining our national security.
Instead of being able to come to grips with foreign enemies, the President of the United States is being harassed and handcuffed by fake scandals and fake national security experts. The Never Trump trolls claim to be protecting this country from foreign enemies even as they cripple our ability to fight them.
The onus is now on Never Trumpers to show that they love this country more than they hate Trump.