The dust-up between New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari and National Review author David French has offered an enlightening view into the chasm between Trump supporters and his detractors on the Right. For the past week, opinionists on both sides have weighed in on the broader and at times pedantic points of the dispute.
Here are some crib notes: Ahmari thoughtfully, and I think, accurately, argues that French is temperamentally and ideologically ill-equipped to effectively challenge the Left in this current scorched-earth climate of American politics and culture.
In what he defines as “David French-ism,” Ahmari essentially claims that French’s trust in traditional institutions, the good faith of the other side, and belief in neutral territory where everyone is respected not only is naïve but misguided to the extent of being destructive of the things conservatives believe are essential to a just society.
Further, French’s objections to fighting the Left’s winning rampage by deploying the same weapons they wield—power in the form of the law—is a prescription for continued defeat. French’s hollow tropes offer little in the way of a legitimate battle plan to ultimately prevail over the well-moneyed and vengeful interests who seek to irrevocably transform American society. Detailed policies or political tactics to mitigate the harmful outcomes of illegal immigration or Big Tech-imposed censorship or punitive trade deals are replaced with toothless platitudes. Ahmari mocks French’s cheesy bumper-sticker solutions:
How do we counter ideological mono-thought in universities, workplaces, and other institutions? Try promoting better work-life balance, says French. How do we promote the good of the family against the deracinating forces arrayed against it, some of them arising out of the free market (pornography) and others from the logic of maximal autonomy (no-fault divorce)? “We should reverse cultural messages that for too long have denigrated the fundamental place of marriage in public life.” Oh, OK.
Ahmari’s moniker for French—Pastor French—is wholly appropriate. In the Church of NeverTrump, of which French is a major prophet, the president is the devil incarnate; all preaching and proselytizing must be in service of warning the flock that the end times are here at the hands of the hedonistic and unholy Donald Trump.
French’s sermons, which play out in the pages of National Review, The Atlantic and Time magazine, as well as on MSNBC, are filled with fire and brimstone not necessarily for the Left (with the exception of abortion) but to condemn millions of allegedly wayward Americans who support a president French deems immoral and unfit to serve. His NeverTrump cred has earned French a star power he never had before 2016; he’s the latest darling of the left-wing media for his relentless Trump trolling. Business is so good that even French’s wife, Nancy, is getting in on the schtick.
French responded to his critic the next day in a piece for National Review Online titled, “What Sohrab Ahmari gets wrong.” Insisting he’s not a “milquetoast,” French proceeded to attempt to debunk Ahmari’s “misrepresentations” by citing his service as a U.S. Army judge advocate general in the Iraq War and his past court victories for maligned Christian college professors. (Commendable, of course, but hardly dispositive.)
But then French misrepresents himself in the piece. He portrays himself as “walking humbly,” careful “not [to] fan the flames” of political enmity—but French can be as vituperative, dishonest, and petty as anyone in the public square, especially if his target is Donald Trump, his family, or his supporters. The Mueller report, a political document based on an investigation into a fabricated crime, should “shock our conscience,” he wrote in April. “The lies are simply too much to bear. No Republican should tolerate such dishonesty.”
He often brags about his personal and professional achievements to both assert his moral authority and blunt any criticism of him. He occasionally injects his adopted black daughter into political battles, using anecdotal evidence to accuse Americans, particularly Trump supporters, of being racists. (As the mother of an adopted Asian daughter, I find this tactic offensive and out-of-bounds.)
French claimed that he did not promote the Russian election collusion hoax, as Ahmari stated in his piece. That is patently and provably false.
Time and again, French legitimized the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign for alleged collusion with the Kremlin, frequently cobbling together a disparate array of “contacts” and meetings as evidence to justify the probe. He downplayed the political origins of the Steele dossier. He repeatedly and willfully omits key details about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, overlooking the fact that the meeting with Don Jr. included Russian lobbyists who were working with Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson on behalf of a Russian tycoon at the time.
In March 2017, French detailed all the reasons Americans should be suspicious about collusion and even suggested that “we can never really know” whether the Russians helped elect Trump. French ridiculed the “Conspiracy Theory Right” for believing the collusion scheme was based on false premises manufactured by partisan bureaucrats in the Obama Administration to sabotage Trump. “Who needs [Russia Today] when you have got Sean Hannity?” French joked to MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in May 2018.
French outrageously demanded that Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the then-chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was exposing the real scandal, resign his post. “If Nunes steps down as chairman, he can quickly transition from part of the problem to part of the solution,” he wrote as Democrats seeded a bogus ethics charge against Nunes.
While he criticized the Nunes memo for failing to make the case (it did) on how the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, French defended a counter memo—now completely discredited—authored by Nunes’ nemesis, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) To date, French has not written or tweeted one critical word about Schiff, despite his egregious lies to the American public and to Congress about proof of Russian collusion.
For more than two years, French aided the Left in promoting the now disproven election collusion hoax in order to damage Donald Trump; to say otherwise is simply untrue. Further, now that Robert Mueller has found no evidence of collusion and Attorney General William Barr has pledged to investigate the corrupt origins of the Trump collusion probe, French has yet to own up to his mistakes and name-calling.
French also incorrectly states that he doesn’t “criticize my fellow believers” for electing and supporting Trump, that he only criticizes the movement’s “leaders.” But he has composed numerous articles and tweets that explicitly shame evangelicals for backing Trump.
“All too many fellow believers have torched their credibility and exposed immense hypocrisy through fear, faithlessness, and ambition,” he wrote in May 2018 in an open letter to evangelicals. “Soon enough, the ‘need’ to defend Trump will pass. He’ll be gone from the American scene. Then, you’ll stand in the wreckage of your own reputation and ask yourself, ‘Was it worth it?’ The answer will be as clear then as it should be clear now. It’s not, and it never was.”
But French’s victory lap on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh could represent his most twisted viewpoint. “We won the Kavanaugh fight, and we didn’t win by insulting or owning the libs but by appealing to classically liberal values such as cross-examination, hard evidence, and the presumption of innocence,” French wrote.
Apparently French believes the unemotional application of the law and not “punch-them-in-the-face populism” (his words) ultimately prevailed in Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
But phones didn’t light up in Senator Susan Collins’ office with people calling to demand that Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford be given something akin to a fair trial. The outrage across the country—even from non-Trump supporters—at the character assassination of Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t rooted in the absence of standard legal procedures. No, the outcry was the result of a visceral reaction to one of the Left’s most contemptible crusades in recent memory, intended not only to torpedo a Supreme Court nomination but also to destroy his reputation, his livelihood, and his even family based on a collection of lies.
To his credit, French wrote extensively about the Kavanaugh travesty, doubting the veracity of Ford’s claims and defending his nomination. However, it’s unlikely his work helped sway the tough votes of Collins or other Republicans senators who confronted unhinged, even dangerous, protestors on Capitol Hill. It’s far more likely that the groundswell of support for Kavanaugh, buoyed by regular Americans who were disgusted and fearful at what was happening to a decent, innocent man, factored into that decision.
The ultimate, and costly, victory was not a win for due process. It was a rare victory for the Right against mob rule by unleashing the same level of anger and the same amount of public protest that the Left uses to intimidate detractors and get its way.
By his misguided interpretation of how the Right ultimately prevailed in the Kavanaugh fight, French proves Ahmari right.
Yes, facts and the law are important persuasive powers. So, too, are political tactics that involve exposing the venality of the other side, not giving them an inch, and not turning on your own side to score points with the Left.
Let’s say “French-ist” Republicans take over the GOP after Trump is gone. Is there any doubt that they would compromise with Democrats on some form of a Green New Deal? Or an expansion of government-paid health care? Or college loan forgiveness? Or higher tax rates on the wealthy? Or laws that impose quotas on private industry to force the hiring of more women, minorities or LGBT workers? Or the continued deplatforming of controversial figures on the Right? Or the requirement to teach a variety of destructive, anti-family, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist garbage in public schools?
Would “French-ist” Republicans have the stones to effectively challenge, and defeat, any of these proposals under a President Kamala Harris or a House Majority Leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
That’s the central question—and I think Ahmari has the correct answer.
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