Was Trump Really an Exception?

In considering whether conservatives should welcome another run by Donald Trump, Roger Kimball observes the following:

I think it likely that, should Trump be the nominee, and should he be reelected in 2024, the forces arrayed against him will suffer a nervous breakdown that will make the anti-Trump hysteria of 2016-2020 look like an Oxford Union debate. 

This warning led me to thinking about whether nominating another Republican with populist proclivities, say Ron DeSantis, would produce less of a leftist backlash than occurred during Trump’s run for the presidency. Would the mainstream media, the woke academy, Hollywood, and the rest of the cultural Left behave less belligerently if the Republican nominee and possibly next president avoided being “controversial”? 

According to Kimball, what made Trump so divisive was at least partly owing to the invectives unleashed against him by the media and Democratic politicians. Without the Steele dossier and the bogus charge of colluding with Russia, Trump’s presidency would not have aroused as much contention as it did. Trump raged so often because he was responding to serious defamations. 

Still, we are left with the question: Could a “nicer” Republican running for the presidency or sitting in the Oval Office have avoided these complications? Perhaps in some significant way Trump’s uniquely pugnacious demeanor did contribute to the anti-Trump hysteria of 2016-2021. If that is the case, then Trump’s conduct could have an explosive effect if he became his party’s nominee again. But perhaps we shouldn’t exaggerate the impact of this factor. Vicious assaults on Republican presidential nominees did not begin when opinion leaders declared war on Trump. They have been going on for decades, no matter how non-confrontational Republicans have been. 

Recently Glenn Greenwald expressed wonder in a Tucker Carlson-interview that George W. Bush managed to go from being the Left’s favorite punching bag to a “darling of the liberals.” Of course, if Bush were still a Republican president rather than the Left’s useful instrument, it is doubtful that his old enemies would still be so effusively well-disposed toward him. Would the Left continue to fawn over Liz Cheney if she were running for the Senate in Colorado as a “Republican hawk,” advocating traditional Republican interventionism. That was exactly how the leftist Denver Post characterized her in 2019, before Liz became the Left’s favorite Republican to ankle-bite Trump.  

The media hardly spared candidate Mitt Romney when he was running against Obama for the presidency in 2012. It kept interviewing workers who claimed that Romney fired them while he was chief executive for Bain Capital. The media fanned the flames further by manufacturing anti-Mitt rumors just about every hour. That of course was before that one-time heartless capitalist became serviceable to the Left as an outspoken Trump-hater. The leftist media also went to town defaming John McCain when he ran against Obama in 2008. As John McIntyre showed on RealClearPolitics, the Left began battering McCain as a far rightist political figure as soon as he became a presumptive Republican nominee for 2008. Since McCain was a good loser and later turned into Trump’s adversary, the media stopped slamming him. Why waste ammunition on someone who could no longer keep the Democrats from occupying the presidency?

One is reminded of the scene in “Kill Bill: Volume 2” where the bound heroine is about to be buried alive. When she protests, her executioner gives her a choice. If she makes too much noise, he’ll burn her alive and then bury her remains. Otherwise, he’ll simply stick his captive into the ground in a wooden coffin. This seems to be what Republican presidential candidates confront in their battle with the media. If they go down quietly, they will be conventionally defamed but will suffer no further consequences. But if they squawk too much, they may receive the harsher treatment reserved for Trump.  

The only way Republican presidential candidates can avoid their own destruction is if they go on the offensive first. Although Trump did not develop this strategy as skillfully as he might have done, he was entirely right to take the war to the other side. But he should have documented his charges more carefully and help create the necessary outlets to make sure everyone was hearing them. Investigative journalists like Julie Kelly, Miranda Devine, and the staff of Project Veritas have provided more than enough to drive the other side back on its heels. Unfortunately, their revelations have not reached a broad enough public because of the Left’s domination of the media and its cancellation of those who talk out of turn. 

This is where Republicans should be placing their efforts in presidential campaigns, building the resources to put the other side and their media allies on the defensive. Republican strategy should be focused on playing up Democratic scandals before their adversaries start the mudslinging. The hell with striking a “positive note”! That should come much later, when—or if—the Left decides to play fair.   

About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

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