With 2017 safely behind us and a new year beginning, the NeverTrump faction continues to offer opinions on President Trump that range from thoughtful and surprisingly honest to ill-considered and seething with resentment.
Among the more thoughtful examples was an end-of-the-year column by Tim Carney, the more-or-less NeverTrump commentary editor at The Washington Examiner. Every year, Carney owns up to his biggest political miscalculation over the previous 365 days.
For 2017, his most glaring mistake was predicting Trump “wouldn’t appoint a restrained, conservative judge to the Supreme Court.” Contrary to Carney’s grave doubts, Trump “gave us a superbly qualified, brilliant, conservative justice in Neil Gorsuch.” Although it’s early yet, Gorsuch already looks like a very able successor to former Justice Antonin Scalia, a man he greatly admired for his judicial mind, character, and integrity.
Carney harbors major reservations on what he considers the president’s many character flaws (he argues these helped lose “winnable” races in Virginia and Alabama and risks the GOP alienating young voters). Nevertheless, he thinks it’s “possible that Trump will prove himself obviously better than Clinton. And that’s not what I expected.”
What about Evan McMullin, the candidate Carney voted for in 2016? He writes:
These days, I find myself regularly wishing I could make McMullin go away. Like almost every McMullin voter I know, I’m embarrassed by his post-election behavior. Most conservatives who voted for McMullin maintain a critical and skeptical stance towards Trump. McMullin, though, has joined the performative #Resistance, blasting as counterrevolutionaries anyone who doesn’t go far enough in castigating every action of the president, even the harmless and salutary ones.
This tracks with the results of an unscientific Twitter poll Sean Davis of The Federalist recently conducted, in which 90 percent of more than 2,300 participants said they regret voting for McMullin.
Trying to get around the problem that has plagued the likes of Jennifer Rubin and David Frum—rejecting policy positions they formerly held simply because Trump holds them—Goldberg adopts another noxious form of post hoc rationalization.
He admits Trump has had a bevy of policy successes—from “a record number of judicial appointments, including a Supreme Court justice” to “the defeat of [the] Islamic State”—but argues the president had little or nothing to do with these victories.
“Tax reform was carried across the finish line by the GOP congressional leadership,” he writes. “Net neutrality was repealed by independent Republicans at the Federal Communications Commission.”
While technically correct, Goldberg’s statements are literal to the point of absurdity. It’s akin to saying since Ulysses S. Grant didn’t personally fight in every battle as commander of the Union armies in the waning days of the Civil War, he didn’t deserve credit for those final victories. The only reason for tax reform and Net Neutrality repeal—to say nothing of a host of other regulatory reforms—is that Trump rather than Hillary Clinton won the election.
Further, the conceit that presidents get credit only if they oversee every minute detail of policy assumes the correctness of the modern view of the presidency. Only with more recent presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt has the executive branch shifted from executing the law to meddling in every area of policy imaginable.
What Goldberg considers to be Trump’s executive diffidence is instead one of his chief strengths. Trump has governed more like presidents in the mold of Washington or Cleveland—chief executives who did not intrude upon the powers the Constitution delegates exclusively to the legislature.
Goldberg evidently considers Trump’s respect for the separation of powers to be a foible. And though he might champion many of Trump’s policy victories, he still maintains that Trump and Clinton were equally terrible choices. Goldberg may have conceded that “NeverTrump” is over, but he sure doesn’t write that way.
The Intellectual Bankruptcy of NeverTrumpism
By far the silliest NeverTrump end-of-the-year column came from the New York Times’ housetrained “conservative,” Bret Stephens. Although he agrees with Goldberg on the myriad successful policy decisions Trump has overseen, he still wishes Hillary won in 2016. Why?
Because of the alleged “shortcomings” in Trump’s character: “lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness.” Fact is, most voters didn’t vote for Trump because of his vices, real or imagined, but in spite of them.
But look: if you’re going to argue, on the one hand, that “character does count and virtue does matter,” and on the other hand confess you still wish Hillary Clinton were president, you don’t get to be taken seriously ever again.
The Clintons obliterated the importance of character for public officeholders in the 1990s. Democrats fell over themselves to defend Bill Clinton’s personal failings and almost matter-of-fact corruption. Hillary Clinton has demonstrated every character defect imaginable in her public life. From Americans getting killed abroad to enriching herself in the pay-to-play scheme known as the Clinton Foundation, her vices clearly trumped Trump’s. And it’s not even close.
Stephens also blames Trump for not kowtowing to our sainted press, not holding useless townhalls that are barely disguised political rallies (Trump drops the pretense and instead just has the real thing, crowds and all), having a sense of humor (“we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN”), not giving in to the ongoing coup attempt by our intelligence community, and other voluminous violations of the holy establishment catechism.
Obviously irritated that Max Boot beat him by a couple of days to a self-flagellating column acknowledging his “white privilege,” Stephens writes that Trump’s “white-identity politics” is the greatest threat to America’s stability.
Since when did pointing out that low-skill Americans who happen to be white and have had their job prospects and wages reduced by the one-two punch of illegal immigration and “free trade” become a grave evil? Stephens would rather indulge in the musings of critical race theory than actually help Americans who have suffered the brunt of the disastrous political decisions for which he and his peers have been strong advocates.
Although a hardened group of radical NeverTrumpers remains, most former fellow-travelers have moderated their stances and are at least willing to consider Trump on his merits. From R.R. Reno to Mollie Hemingway, former or more moderate critics of Trump are now undertaking important work in helping to smash the ruling class oligarchy.
As Trump’s successes continue to pile up in the New Year, the remaining few passengers on the sinking NeverTrump ship should ask themselves an important question: Does their hatred of one man matter more than the good of their country?
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