As Donald Trump’s administration looks increasingly tenuous, we can anticipate recriminations and attempted rehabilitations. In the spirit of the axiom that says “No good deed goes unpunished,” a Trump collapse would likely be used to discredit all conservatives—even those of us who vehemently opposed his candidacy.
I was never a self-identified “Never Trumper” (never say never), but that label has been applied to me many times. This is because I was a staunch critic of Trump, having written a book about the dumbing down of conservatism called Too Dumb to Fail, and having publicly stated that I would not vote for him.
While partisans and activists pick teams, I have attempted to judge each event in the Trump era on its merits. And so, when Republicans were planning on a health care bill that looked disastrous, I said so. And when Donald Trump tackled the administrative state, nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, and took decisive action when Syria used chemical weapons, I praised him.
To reductionists who exist in a binary world and see Trump as an existential threat, this sort of nuanced, ad hoc commentary is tantamount to aiding and abetting the enemy. But this is my view of the appropriate role of an opinion journalist.
People who truly hated Trump complained that this constituted “normalizing” him. But the other possible risk was that we might be out of touch—that Trump represented an emerging political movement that people too close to the political system were missing. An introspective writer worries about succumbing to both extremes.
My gut instinct was that Trump lacked experience and character and temperament, but the public was clamoring for an unconventional leader who could shake things up—and sometimes crowds are wise.
This was a high-risk, high-reward situation. Trump might be Nixon—but he might also be Reagan. In both cases, the elites were skeptical and smug. But in the case of the latter, the so-called experts ended up with egg on their face.
In any event, I think we can see the laying of the groundwork whereby conservatives are universally punished for the sins of a man many of us never supported. A “tweetstorm” by The New Republic’s Brian Beutler seems like a harbinger of things to come. You’d have to read the whole thing, but among his many thoughts, Beutler observes “Very few profiles in courage here, in other words, but no new such profiles can be written now.” He continues:
“The few consistent #NeverTrumpers were also largely #NeverHillary, and thus muddied clear distinctions.”
Beutler is a keen observer of politics, but it occurs to me that liberals have a conflict of interest when it comes to this. In many cases, they wanted Trump to fail, which is to say they wanted the president to fail (which is something I wasn’t rooting for). What is more, their assumption of the moral high ground (the result of consistently opposing this morally dubious man no matter what he did) is facile—and their laments that conservatives didn’t oppose every facet of a Trump administration constitute mere concern trolling.
Want to talk about what isn’t a profile in courage? Being a liberal who refused to give Trump any credit hardly constitutes as one.
It’s probably also true that had Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, or Scott Walker (I’m searching for the most irenic Republican) won the presidential election, many liberals would want to impeach them, too.
Donald Trump’s presidency isn’t over yet, and it’s premature to write his political obituary. But my concerns that his failings might ironically tarnish the very conservatives who opposed him are alive and well.
Never Trumpers were called “cucks” by the alt-right for standing up to Trump, but also take heat from the left if their apprehensions about Donald Trump come true.
And now, I will leave you with something I said on CNN’s Reliable Sources almost exactly one year ago: “Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama cannot destroy the conservative brand. Donald Trump can.”