Bruce Thornton Is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Antisthenes the Cynic, when informed that he had been applauded by bad men, said, “I’m horribly afraid I have done something wrong.” Too many Republicans need to learn that being praised by progressives is a bad sign.
The two latest examples of this failure of discernment are Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. They have both announced that they will not run for reelection, at the same time recycling all the stale talking points about “presidential decorum” and “character” and “boorish behavior.” And like the NeverTrump Republicans, both pols have been praised by the progressive establishment. Here’s a tweet from long-time Senate operator Chuck Schumer: “Jeff Flake is one of the finest human beings I’ve met in politics. He is moral, upright, strong & will be missed in the Senate.”
These pats on the head are the reward for Flake’s being a reliable “good Republican” (i.e. Trump-hater). In a sympathetic story in The Washington Post, Flake’s “more-sorrow-than-anger” decision included pious pronouncements such as “I couldn’t sleep at night having to embrace the president or condoning his behavior or being okay with some of his positions,” he said. “I just couldn’t do it — it was never in the cards.” Hillary running-mate Tim Kaine tweeted that Flake is a “friend,” “a good man,” and “an honest broker.” And then they wonder why the average voter complains about the “deep state” and RINOs. They know that such praise is code for “a chump we can roll.”
Meanwhile, Republican voters can smell the moral preening and virtue-signaling from Flake a mile away. His haughty disdain for rank-and-file Republicans is obvious in the Post story when he calls support for Trump a “fever” he is “confident” will eventually “break.” In other words, only someone with a moral and cognitive disease could support such a political monster. But read the Post article carefully and Flake’s real careerist calculation becomes apparent. Here’s the key sentence: “The fight he picked with Trump followed years of cooperation with Democrats on immigration policy, global trade deals and reestablishing diplomatic ties to Cuba.”
That is, as a consequence of plumping for progressive policies anathema to average Republicans and common sense, Flake finds himself down by double-digits in the polls months before the primary. Maybe he’s acting on principle, or maybe he’s just showing some Falstaffian “valor,” which is defined by shamelessly seeing to one’s own best self-interests. Thus he validates the perception that establishment Republicans are more interested in their own status and self-regard than in undoing the decades of progressive misrule.
Similarly, Bob Corker, who acted as Obama’s political flak in supporting the atrocious Iran nuclear deal, claims he’s not running again because Trump is “debasing” the nation with his “reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior.” And he too has earned praise from establishment Democrats. Tim Kaine likened him to Flake in that they both are amenable to bipartisan cooperation “no matter what their leadership says, no matter what the polls say.” An ex Obama spokesman added, “we should embrace rational Republicans that are willing to stand up to Trump and to combat the erosion of democratic ideals and institutions.”
As usual, “bipartisan” in Prog Speak means giving the Dems what they want even when the policies–– like amnesty for illegal aliens, or letting a fanatical apocalyptic cult acquire nuclear weapons––are dangerously wrong-headed and contrary to the wishes of the voters. And speaking of “democratic institutions,” as much as the progressives have dismantled the Constitutional order, we still have one of the critical foundations of political freedom: regularly scheduled elections in which politicians are held accountable to the people. In the reckoning of the people of Tennessee, according to one poll, two-thirds of those who have paid “some” or “a lot” of attention to Corker’s spat with Trump disapprove of the Senator. The vox populi may not be the voice of God, but it will be the voice of doom when you ignore it.
Flake and Corker are just the latest in a series of Republicans who seemingly crave praise from the same people whose policies are antithetical to conservative principles. John McCain, of course, has for years put his need for Democratic approval ahead of what’s good for the country. He’s a reliable Trump-basher, most recently delighting CNN by calling Trump a draft-dodger and tossing around question-begging epithets like “half-baked,” “spurious nationalism,” and “tired dogma.” His obstructive vote in July against Republican attempts to fix Obamacare––called by Dems a “moment of courage”–– was just the latest policy position that seems intended to live up to the preposterous “maverick” moniker bestowed on him by Democrats, who are still grateful for his disastrous, cringing presidential campaign in 2008. As a result, he now has a 51% disapproval rating in Arizona. Meanwhile 64% of Democrats approve of him. But lacking Antisthenes’ wisdom, McCain continues to preen instead of realizing he’s done something horribly wrong.
Two points can be drawn from this latest NeverTrump fit, both obvious since the primaries. There is a deep strain of antidemocratic sentiment in the political establishment of both parties. Every condemnation of Trump is an explicit condemnation of those who voted for him and continue to support him. As Flake’s metaphor suggested, they are sick. What Trump’s supporters had grown sick of was the craven capitulation peddled as statesman-like “bipartisanship.” So they turned to a Jacksonian wrecking-ball, even as their frustration and anger were dismissed and reduced to a caricature of the average voter as ignorant, neurotic, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, and unappreciative of wise leaders. Voters have a point when they perceive a solidarity of class and status that suggests establishment Republicans have more in common with fellow establishment Democrats than with their own party’s voters.
Second, like their fellow white-shoe NeverTrumpers, the bulk of their criticism is aimed at his personality and style. Even Jeff Flake admits as much, saying “he is a strong supporter of most of Trump’s policies and personnel decisions. He voted for his judicial nominees, his regulatory rollbacks and the GOP health-care plan.” So what action has Trump taken that justifies a book-long denunciation of Trump, pompously called Conscience of a Conservative, and a vitriolic public break with his own party’s President? We saw this same disconnect during the election, when the NeverTrump legions went on and on about Trump’s insults, tweets, and bluster to a degree of intensity they never showed about Hillary’s long record of corruption, lies, and self-serving actions that put this country’s security at risk. Barack Obama has done more damage to this country both domestically and abroad than any other modern president, yet I don’t recall such stratospheric dudgeon like what the NeverTrumpers unleashed on Trump.
Finally, even if everything the Trump-haters say is true, so far he’s been a vast improvement over what we would have suffered under Hillary Clinton. As the success of the geriatric socialist Bernie Sanders, and the terminal hysteria of the Democrat base suggest, Hillary would not have reprised her husband’s brilliant triangulation even if she wanted to. The eight years of Obama’s assault on the Constitutional order would have continued–– the economy still limping along loaded with regulatory and tax burdens; the deep-state leviathan still concentrating power and eroding our rights; our enemies, rivals, and allies still taking our geopolitical lunch money; and the debasement of our culture into an illiberal identity-politics swamp still worsening.
For all their talk of “character,” the NeverTrumpers don’t get that, as Aristotle pointed out, virtue is manifested by action, not talk. What people do is a greater marker of character than what they say or how they say it. Most important, Republicans need to remember that no matter how often progressives applaud their name, they fundamentally hate and despise them.