Pardon Me for Taking Sides!

Although he is a decidedly leftist and unmistakably anti-Trump columnist, Jeff Greenfield has offered a plausible reason for why so many conservative Republicans want Trump renominated for the presidency. Because these fans believe election rigging took place in 2020, they continue to view Donald Trump as our real president. They see him as a gravely wronged, bold leader, who fought the Left fearlessly but was denied a second term because of massive fraud.

Unlike Greenfield, I don’t find Trump’s grievances to be without merit, and I can fully understand the anger directed against those in the Republican establishment who reacted to the results of the last presidential election with joy or relief. I, too, experienced some of the angry disgust noted by Greenfield after the election. Even now, when I read Julie Kelly or Molly Hemingway on election rigging, I am reminded of how furious I was when Trump-haters praised the honesty of the 2020 presidential election.

But our feeling about being cheated in a previous election does not amount to a justification for nominating Trump one more time. The former president missed the chance to head off some of his troubles by not sending multitudes of Republican attorneys long in advance to prevent the constitutionally dubious arrangements by which state Democratic officials were able to change voting procedures. Afterward, Trump could have articulated his procedural objections coherently and with suitable evidence instead of repeatedly exploding on TV, like an unhappy child.

The instructions that Trump gave Vice President Mike Pence not to certify the received election results predictably backfired and caused the outgoing president to be attacked by the international media for trying to overthrow the American government. (Of course, the Democrats were already tending to that task full-time.) And though we can recognize the malicious hyperbole of his enemies in the media, Trump’s response to the official election outcome showed defective leadership. For this, he was certainly responsible. If an unscrupulous enemy pushes you into rash acts, you are nevertheless responsible for your impulsive actions.

Trump also failed, as Pedro Gonzalez has observed, to come to the aid of his followers from January 6, who have been kept in prison in truly appalling conditions down to the present day. Trump could have granted these victims of Democratic brutality a pardon before leaving office. At the very least, he should have called attention to their cause instead of focusing single-mindedly on his own.

Further, even while recognizing that Trump was treated unfairly throughout his presidency, do we really want a Republican candidate who can’t or won’t turn the page? Douglas Murray may be right that another Trump-Biden contest may become a replay of 2020. Pitting Trump against Biden, according to Murray, would amount to a “clown show” that most Americans have no interest in attending. Perhaps we should choose a presidential candidate who can stop airing personal grievances. 

Is the best way to deal with such grievances in any case to organize a do-over contest, featuring the same cast? Quite possibly, the previous outcome might repeat itself. Further, dwelling on being cheated in the past does not prepare us for future challenges. Perhaps the best remedy for dealing with our justified complaints is to take all possible actions to make sure the wrongs in question don’t happen again. Keeping the Democrats from winning elections, without campaigning and with minimally sentient candidates, and then from weaponizing the permanent state against Republicans should be more important to conservatives than Trump’s political future. Unless certain first-order obstacles are removed, no Republican candidate is likely to win. Having Trump complain about his loss and his personal adversaries for one more presidential campaign won’t improve our political situation. 

Finally, conservatives should be looking for a candidate who presents his positions both forcefully and reflectively. Josh Hammer, in a recent column, reminds us of DeSantis’ measured statements about how he plans to deal with the deep state and particularly with the dangerous politicization of the Justice Department and FBI. DeSantis goes well beyond lamenting the misdeeds of “very bad people.” He offers concrete, concisely stated plans for removing those problems. To his credit, DeSantis does not lapse into emotional outbursts against his personal enemies; nor does he call his Republican challengers childish, insulting names. It may be an unintended compliment that DeSantis’ critics ridicule his rationality as well as his relentless war against the woke Left.

According to Hammer:

The 2024 Republican presidential primary is shaping up to become a grand battle royale between an eccentric, larger-than-life Baby Boomer who obsesses over relitigating the last election and is constantly distracted by self-imposed wounds and personal grievances, and on the other hand, an extremely disciplined, mission-oriented Gen X conservative who single-handedly made the nation’s largest swing state ruby-red and has overseen the implementation of the most transformative right-wing agenda in modern American history. That is the basic choice.

I couldn’t have framed the choice better myself. 

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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.

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