After years of grousing about Donald Trump’s crude bigotry and other failings, conservative movement luminary Jonah Goldberg has finally found a political leader deserving of our veneration. It is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Despite the tendency of journalists to focus on the extremist Squad, Manchin, according to Jonah, represents where both the Democratic Party and American politics should be moving. Manchin “told Bret Baier of Fox News that ‘whether it [the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda] be packing the courts or ending the filibuster, I will not vote to do that.’” In Jonah’s view, “this was a true act of statesmanship because I passionately oppose abolishing the filibuster and court-packing.”
But Jonah also believes “Manchin’s announcement was good for the Democratic Party and not great for the GOP.” This is the case because the “GOP wants to turn the Georgia races into an apocalyptic choice between socialism and freedom, and Manchin made that spin harder by essentially taking the Sanders-AOC agenda off the table.”
Even more to Manchin’s credit, his stunning moderation may help turn our entire political system back in a less contentious direction: “The two-party system functions best when both parties try to compete for voters, not pander to their bases.” Unless I’m mistaken, Jonah, who styles himself a “conservative,” is comparing Trump’s base to those who back Sanders and the Squad.
Before we declare Joe Manchin to be a conservative’s dream, it might be a good idea to look at his real record. This unmistakably Democratic senator voted for Obamacare and most other Democratic economic proposals. It is therefore hard to see why he’d break from his party to back any GOP-led effort at fiscal restraint. Manchin also voted for both articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, which suggests that he placed party loyalty above “statesmanship.”
From his earlier remarks, it seems Manchin doubted that Trump did anything worthy of impeachment by speaking to the Ukrainian president. Would we be wrong to assume that party loyalty changed his vote there?
To his credit, Manchin did vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court but then turned around and voted against an at least equally qualified candidate for that honor, Amy Coney Barrett. The reason for his switch is obvious. When Manchin voted for Kavanaugh, he was facing a difficult reelection challenge in a very pro-Trump state. The heat was off this senator, however, when Barrett’s nomination came up, and so he predictably voted with his party. Assuming Republicans lose the Georgia senatorial races, which Goldberg now views as no big deal, why would anyone think that Manchin would feel obliged to honor his word to Bret Baier? He would be thereafter free to vote with the rest of his party, which he habitually does.
These contentions about Manchin are worth quoting because they illustrate the attempt by Trump-hating, mostly neoconservative Republicans to claim a third position that does not exist. Supposedly these are the true “conservatives” standing for high principle, and they therefore voted for Biden or abstained from voting for the president, because of their utter revulsion for him and his core constituency. In fact, these people happily position themselves wherever they want, which becomes by virtue of their choice the authentic conservative position.
Thus Manchin, who usually votes with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, has become a political model because he avoids “extremism” and allegedly avoids the polarization attributed to Donald Trump. The evidence that he exhibits conservative merit is remarkably exiguous. A promise Manchin made to Bret Baier, who hardly strikes one as a paradigmatic man of the Right, has convinced Jonah that here is the leader he has been breathlessly waiting for.
This behavior from NeverTrump “conservatives” betrays a form of triangulation. The big thing for these bending-in-the-wind types is to render themselves acceptable to friends and possible patrons of the center-left without entirely abandoning their conservative label. Some of them have gone as far as describing themselves as “Obamacons,” while others have been announcing for the last four years that they would never vote for the Big Orange Bully. Jonah stands proudly in this second group, and he manages to inject an anti-Trump sneer into anything he talks about, including sports, cooking, and movies. Joe and Mika may be overly subtle about Trump in comparison to the more obsessive Jonah, who cannot begin or end a sentence on Fox News without expressing his unmatched loathing for the president.
OK, we get the idea; still some of us find it hard to figure out what makes Jonah and his pals at The Dispatch “conservatives,” other than their PR packaging. Although Trump is not always courteous or measured, unlike these critics, he pushes back against a powerful Left and does so sometimes heroically. Perhaps Jonah and his allies will be supporting Joe Manchin in the next presidential cycle, unless they decide that Kamala Harris is the conservative they’ve been hoping for.