Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The Republican and conservative commentators’ turn against their party, because it selected a presidential candidate that they found socially offensive, continues to infect the minds of otherwise intelligent people. Six years on, the disease is still resistant to common sense, coherent argument, moral clarity, and the awareness of one’s own social and cultural biases and prejudices.
A recent case in point is erstwhile National Review scribe Jonah Goldberg’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His theme is captured in the headline: “Third party could impose some pain on the Trumpified GOP.”
Goldberg starts with a startling admission: “In 2020, many on the right had modest hopes for President Joe Biden . . .The hope hinged on the not implausible theory that he would govern as a centrist because that’s how he campaigned.” The flabby litotes “not implausible” reveals Goldberg’s own suspicion that this claim is preposterous for anyone who followed the campaign and Biden’s career, one marked not by “centrism” or bipartisanship, but mediocrity and partisan opportunism, particularly his vicious assaults, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. And when has a presidential candidate, except for Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, governed “how he campaigned”?
It’s also peculiar that those “many on the right” were not concerned about Biden’s obvious cognitive impairment and endorsement of every lunatic progressive idea, like the Green New Deal that he has spent the last nine months trying to turn into law. All that evidence from last summer of his mental confusion and current radicalism apparently was dropped down the same memory hole as Trump’s many achievements.
This selective focus on Trump’s excesses of rhetoric, style, and alleged violations of “democratic norms,” instead of his policy proposals and later successes as president, typifies the NeverTrump indictment of him. In the 2016 election, the evidence of Hillary Clinton’s progressive bent, and her many flaws and failures as Secretary of State, were obvious. Most notoriously was the failed adventurism in Libya, which led to the debacle in Benghazi and the deaths of four Americans. Worse were her patent lies that those murders were not the consequence of a jihadist terrorist attack, but, as she claimed, a spontaneous riot in response to an obscure anti-Muslim internet video. Most despicably, she repeated that lie to the faces of the victims’ families next to the coffins of their loved ones.
Yet that act of incompetence and callous disregard for the consequence of her bad decisions, one of many over 25 years of public life, for NeverTrumpers could not outweigh Donald Trump’s coarse rhetoric and mean tweets, or his alleged fascist inclinations and antidemocratic authoritarianism. As his term progressed and his policy successes continued––many of them long-professed conservative goals, such as deregulation and tax-cutting reforms––his style and character continued to obsess his NeverTrump Republican enemies, who functioned as a fifth column for the radical Democrats.
Nor have they been chastened by Biden’s manifest policy failures and proposals inimical to every “conservative principle” that NeverTrumpers claim to follow: The drunken-sailor $5 trillion in economic proposals; the naked defiance of Supreme Court rulings; the disregard of the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment; the empowerment of those putting racist, anti-American curricula in schools; the facilitating of an illiberal cancel-culture that nullifies the First Amendment; the wholesale assault on the sovereignty of the states and Constitutional federalism; the war on carbon fuels that has driven up energy prices; and the disaster at the border, with record-setting numbers of illegal aliens crossing into this country, then dispersed into the states with barely a modicum of vetting. All of these progressive tools for “fundamentally transforming America” seemingly do not concern the NeverTrump Republicans.
And this brings us to Goldberg’s op-ed and its proposal for creating a third party. Of course, he first must chant the NeverTrump mantra about the 1/6/21 Capitol riot and the contested election, which Goldberg worries are fading as anti-Trump weapons: “[T] he rift caused by Mr. Trump’s Capitol riot has largely closed in Mr. Trump’s favor. Most elected Republicans no longer denounce his election lies and refuse to tell the truth about Mr. Biden’s victory.”
Of course, Goldberg’s reference to the Capitol riot assumes the Democrat talking-point that Trump instigated and directed an “insurgency” to reverse by force the election results, which is what caused the “rift” within the Republican Party. This mendacious cliché is immune to the mountain of evidence, confirmed by the FBI, that there was no advanced planning or coordination of the demonstration at the Capitol, nor were caches of weapons seized. Of the hundreds of participants still being detained nearly a year later, not one has been charged with the crime of insurgency.
Then there are the “election lies” and “truth about Mr. Biden’s victory.” Nothing bespeaks the NeverTrump impaired logic and weak critical faculties than asserting as a fact, as Goldberg does, that the outcome of the 2020 election was uncompromised by significant fraud. That assertion is not a fact, but an opinion with a debatable level of probability, just as the claim the election was stolen is not a fact, but an opinion based on numerous anomalies and suspicious activities. That’s why we needed an investigation to definitively establish which opinion is indeed a fact. Mere repetition laced with shrieking dudgeon over “threats to our democracy” will not make “Biden’s victory” a “truth.”
But Goldberg’s proposal for breaking Trump’s allegedly malign hold on some 70 million followers is shocking even by NeverTrump standards. After surveying, and rejecting, various other means for neutralizing Trump, such as anti-Trump Republicans becoming old-school moderate Democrats, he proposes creating a third party that would vet Republican primary candidates for their subservience to the “Trump personality cult,” and if found wanting, “a non-Trumpy [sic] candidate could play the role of spoiler by garnering enough conservative votes in the general election to throw the election to the Democrat.” And just to be clear, Goldberg adds, “The point is to cause the GOP some pain for its descent into asininity.”
This statement epitomize the moral idiocy of the NeverTrump Republicans. Despite their protestations about protecting “conservative principles” and “democratic norms,” their hatred of Trump has always been personal, a defensive reaction to Trump’s blunt and crude insults against the bipartisan political guild of which they are members, and perks and privileges of which they enjoy. This resentment of the outsider who rejected the elite’s “norms” was clear to many of us from the start of Trump’s presidential campaign.
But once Trump began governing and successfully pushing back against the accelerating drift to the globalist left of the Obama years, such personal feelings and class-preferences should have been transcended, and the focus should have been on supporting Trump’s policies and actions that improved the economy at home, and strengthened our security and interests abroad. Even more reprehensible, after just nine months of Biden’s dismantling of those achievements, and the disasters from the border to Afghanistan, all Constitutionalist conservatives should now be laser-focused on taking back Congress, and supporting candidates who will undo the radical Democrat policies, no matter what they think about Trump, or how much or little he supports their campaigns.
Moreover, Goldberg’s characterization of Trump’s some 70+ million supporters as “asinine” and members of a “cult” confirms that much of the NeverTrumpers’ hatred is bound up with socio-economic class. Like the Dems’ insults “bitter clingers,” “basket of deplorables,” and “smelly Wal-Mart shoppers,” such epithets reflect the cognitive elite’s scorn for those whose lack of university credentials and culturally sophisticated lifestyles mark them as inferiors who should shut up and listen to their betters. The NeverTrumpers still don’t get that those people know when they’re being talked-down to and patronized by snooty pundits and politicians who disregard the non-elite’s interests, and seem to have more in common with those dismantling our Constitutional freedoms than they do with hoi polloi. Insulting them isn’t going to change their minds.
Finally, causing the GOP “pain,” as Goldberg proposes, means causing the country pain by empowering progressive Democrats to further damage our Constitutional Republic, Bill of Rights, and political freedom. Those boons are defended and strengthened not by extolling “conservative principles,” but by enacting conservative policies–– that is, by political actions rather than polite rhetoric. Anything else is moral preening on the cheap.
This failure of Republican NeverTrumpers in privileging style over substance has led them to serially insulting and denigrating the voters who want their freedom defended, no matter how crude and impolite is the most consequential presidential champion of Constitutional freedom since Ronald Reagan. That’s how you defend conservative principles.