When Donald Trump flipped the GOP on its head this year, pundits from both sides of politics queued for their turn to decry him. Most of their disapproval was consistent across the political spectrum: Trump is a demagogue, Trump incites violence, and Trump refused to denounce the KKK. The list has justifiably grown.
What should be noted, however, is where the criticism diverges between Left and Right. Beyond the aforementioned Trump Talking Points is where the Left gets it right and we on the Right get it wrong.
Conservative pundits should malign Trump for being uncivilized and leftist, not for lacking civility. Angry voters don’t care about civility. They see his bluster as a rallying cry against the current administration. Just as important, conservative pundits should provide a roadmap for conservative voters instead of adopting nihilism. After all, America is still at stake.
The Left gets it
In December 2015, which now feels like a lifetime ago, Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled, Why Cruz is Far More Dangerous than Trump:
The Democrats bank on the GOP imploding with Trump and the supposedly massive turnout of youth, blacks, Hispanics, LGBT, labor, and moderate mid-income white women to more than offset any numbers the GOP could muster. This is a big mistake. These voters did come out in near record numbers for Obama in 2008 and to a lesser extent in 2012.
However, Clinton is not Obama. That’s to say she’s not a racial history making candidate. His election and reelection was a deeply personal, heartfelt game changing victory for millions. The jury is way out on whether that same deep passion and motivation will be there for Clinton. Meanwhile Cruz bides his time waiting for a Trump implosion, all the while with his base and party credentials firmly in hand. This makes him far more dangerous than Trump.
Hutchinson is correct in conclusion but not in premise. Yes, Trump’s leading unfavorable ratings of 56% could hand even a criminal opponent the election. But as a big-government leftist himself, Trump would not be any significant departure from the current administration. Ted Cruz is “far more dangerous” because he could not only beat Hillary Clinton head-to-head but is also a real conservative. The Left, smartly, is so implicit in its complicity to Trump’s rise that articles such as Hutchinson’s are hard to find.
The Right doesn’t get it
Meanwhile on the Right, we read pundits such as David Brooks, who not only embolden Trump voters, but also offer no roadmap for conservatives in the election process. As the conservative contributor at The New York Times, Brooks wrote in a March 18th article entitled, No, Not Trump, Not Ever:
Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all.
David Brooks writes about the “unspoken rules of political civility” that Trump has certainly broken. But Trump isn’t even civilized, let alone civil.
There is a difference. Being civil means you don’t shout over others. Being civilized means you don’t take physical action to silence others. And when did the Left keep those rules? Were they kept when Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake gave protestors “room to riot”? What about when CSULA administrators stood by as students assaulted a reporter and barricaded a Ben Shapiro campus event? This is Trump to a T.
To David Brooks, conservatism is not about ideas; it’s about attitude. Being conservative is about being gentile and having a creased pair of pants—not striving for free speech, limited government, a free market, or religious freedom. Under the Brooks definition, even Barack Obama could be a conservative. Sure enough, in a February 9th New York Times article entitled, I Miss Barack Obama, Brooks writes:
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.
This is the kind of stuff that pisses Trump voters off. Frankly it pisses me off. Obama’s “good manners” will be missed about as much as Trump’s civility matters. Not at all.
Instead, pundits must speak out against uncivilized and leftist Trump. He seeks authority to silence critics. His take care-of-everybody health care plan sounds more like a platform for Bernie Sanders than for Ted Cruz. Leftism is rooted in immorality, and Donald Trump fits right in. Who cares about his lack of “civility”?
Pundits leave conservatives high and dry
Many pundits, including David Brooks, also offer no direction to conservatives in their Trump articles. In what seems like an unearned sense of moral accomplishment, Brooks ends No, Not Trump, Not Ever:
As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared. Trump’s supporters deserve respect. They are left out of this economy. But Trump himself? No, not Trump, not ever.
Despite the abounding reasons not to vote for Trump, conservative readers are left without a viable alternative. Other pundits such as Peter Wehner and Ben Shapiro are lockstep. In a March 19th New York Times article entitled The Man the Founders Feared, Wehner closes:
The founders, knowing history and human nature, took great care to devise a system that would prevent demagogues and those with authoritarian tendencies from rising up in America. That system has been extraordinarily successful. We have never before faced the prospect of a political strongman becoming president. Until now.
And Ben Shapiro at The Daily Wire on March 4th:
I will not be complicit in that. I stand against the establishment that sowed the seeds of Trumpism. I stand against the Republican Party that insists that victory matters more than principle, because victory without principle isn’t just meaningless, it’s counterproductive to my belief system. #NeverTrump
To be clear, everything that Brooks, Wehner, and especially Shapiro are saying here is correct. That is not the issue. This type of nihilism now replete in conservative media could have a chilling effect on conservatives in at least two major ways. First, dejected conservatives could stay home during the primaries. This would be a mistake. Even as Cruz’s chances of winning a delegate majority wane, the possibility of a brokered convention remains. Second, if Trump wins the nomination, conservatives could stay home during the general election. This would also be a mistake.
An article by Ben Domenech at The Federalist offers one general election idea for conservatives if Trump becomes the GOP nominee. Domenech states:
The smart thing for both the #NeverTrump folks and for the Libertarian Party – assuming that neither faction would ever come around to supporting Trump as the nominee – would be to nominate someone with regional political appeal and the capacity to win a handful of key states, enough to prevent either Clinton or Trump from achieving an electoral college majority. At that stage, the House votes based on state delegation for any of the top three vote getters – that’s how you got John Quincy Adams.
Domenech admits that the most likely outcome of a third party entry would be a Hillary Clinton victory. But a candidate with appeal in a few important swing states could keep either Trump or Clinton from gaining a majority in the Electoral College. This idea has flaws and is hopefully not conservatives’ only choice in November. But it’s better than the current despondence of our own media.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Trump Make America Great Again