By Paul Gottfried
Dennis Prager recently posted a column trying to explain why many of his political allies have remained in the “#NeverTrump” camp. This seems to be Prager’s latest effort to reason with friends whom he won’t “cease admiring” but whom he’s endeavoring to “understand.” The closest Prager comes to explaining his difference with “#NeverTrump conservatives” is that, unlike him, his friends “do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle.” They didn’t think it would matter if Hillary were allowed to “complete the transformation” begun under the outgoing administration These #NeverTrump conservatives, we are told, were not as concerned as Prager about the direction in which the country had been moving under Obama.
Although Prager is spot on about the radicalization to which the U.S. was subject during the Obama years, he may overstate the “conservatism” of the #NeverTrumps. I’m not sure there is any significant ideological distance between Hillary Clinton on one side and on the other, Max Boot, Jamie Kirchik, Jonah Goldberg, and about half of the news commentators on Fox News. Those issues that define “conservatism” for some of Prager’s acquaintances, like liberal internationalism and tax breaks for the upper class, are in any case not the kinds of positions that appeal to the populist Right. I can’t imagine why Prager’s “conservative” friend Bret Stephens, who now writes for the New York Timesand who raged against Trump for his alleged xenophobia, would ever make common cause with Hillary’s “deplorables.” Moreover, other authorized conservatives, most notably Bill Kristol, have no problems with a metastasizing, leftist federal bureaucracy, providing it makes room for them and their friends. It is the troublemaker Trump, not the deep state, whom these figures loathe.
Another point that Prager omits is that not all the #NeverTrumps are driven by high motives or disagree with him because they interpret the present crisis differently. Some may be motivated by career interests when they denounce Trump as the worst thing that’s happened to this country since 9/11. Some #NeverTrumps enjoy bipartisan followings and the favor of the predominantly leftist national press, even while being considered “Republican” and therefore “conservative.” If one wishes to keep one’s standing as a “moderate” or “honest” conservative, there may be no better way to do this than by joining the Left in attacking Trump.
There’s also a festering antagonism between Trump and his followers and the GOP establishment. If a media personality has made a career out of defending the Republican establishment (e.g., Mark Thiessen, Hugh, Hewlitt, George Will, Dana Perino), why would that person welcome an alien populist presence, in the form of Trump and his base? Trump has interrupted the normal back-and-forth between the two establishment parties, both of which reward their media advocates. Prager is right that we are no longer dealing with those normal circumstances that suit establishment partisans, since neither Trump’s populism nor the radical leftist turn of the Democratic Party in the last decade or so represents politics in the usual key. Yet some of those who grind out GOP talking points would like to get back to the old game, and for them, Trump is a nuisance. In any case, establishment partisans would be delighted if he went away, so they could get back to defending “conservatives” like W and Romney.
One position that I’ve never bought is that those #NeverTrumps who oozed enthusiasm for the candidates of the Republican establishment have been troubled by Trump’s lack of conservatism. I just can’t understand how those “conservatives” who dutifully ran to the defense of W, McCain, Romney, Kasich, etc. represent the “Right,” while Trump stands for some kind of Left. What did these Republicans do to shrink the size of government, halt the march of political correctness, or deal with our immigration crisis? Oh yes, I know. They want us to stand tall for “human rights” and to shape the social attitudes of other sovereign states to make them resemble more closely whatever the U.S. has become politically and ideologically. Of course, these #NeverTrumps are for limiting the federal debt ceiling, but that’s when the GOP is out of power and when Republican presidents aren’t raising it. Certainly I can appreciate that a strict constitutionalist like Rand Paul or Andrew Napolitano would be unhappy with Trump’s brand of populism. But these people have been consistent in going after establishment Republicans at least as severely as Trump.
Note that I’m not against those who are supposed to be on the Right pointing out the lapses of good taste and the dire effects of some of the President’s exuberant tweeting. There is certainly enough to fault in the way in which Trump has handled public relations and the recklessness of some of his comments. But I can’t help noticing the difference between the generally negative way in which Fox News “analysts” like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace have presented Trump and the often drooling manner in which their “conservative” news channel approached the presidency of George W. Bush. Not only did W, like Trump, put his foot in his mouth during his presidential campaign and later as president. In July 2003 on a visit to the black African dictatorship of Senegal, W apologizedon behalf of our country for slavery (without to my knowledge bringing up the embarrassing fact that slaves were made available to white traders because of African tribes enslaving other African tribes). Needless to say, Fox News, which has been proud of the critical fashion in which its analysts have presented the Trump presidency, did not choose to discuss W’s faux pas. After all, unlike Obama, George Junior was an establishment Republican.
This piece was originally published in American Thinker.
Paul E. Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for twenty-five years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of thirteen books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe. He serves as head of the editorial board of The San Francisco Review of Books.