The Strawmanning of NeverTrump
A constant theme among Donald Trump’s most ardent defenders in the commentariat is the idea that the NeverTrump movement is comprised of old GOP establishment pansies who are just too effete to handle Trump’s uncouth manner, and therefore wish to blacklist him from the finest parties. This refrain constitutes a classic straw man argument, and it allows the thick edge of the Trump-supporting wedge, his idolizing cultists, to echo this same smear against anyone who criticizes Trump in any way, whether on policy, competence, morality, or hand size. This dynamic, and the false narrative that supports it, serves the progressives well, as it splinters or marginalizes the only effective resistance to encroaching authoritarianism.
I suspect that many, if not most, of the better pro-Trump commentators making this argument know darned well that they are strawmanning a lot of very principled men and women who have simply chosen not to play the “hold your nose” game this year, on the grounds that some odors are too nauseating to be worth trying to tolerate. That is, these smart people do not really believe that NeverTrump is a movement confined to George Will’s parlor–if it were, why would it matter?–but they have chosen to pretend it is, perhaps because they find it comforting to imagine that any opponent of Trump is someone they wouldn’t have been allied with anyway, rather than face the truth: the core of the NeverTrump movement comprises a bunch of people with whom these Trump defenders have hitherto shared a lot in common, including anti-establishmentarianism. In other words, by deliberately fostering the illusion that NeverTrump is coextensive with the Republican establishment, they spare themselves the challenging task of actually justifying to their friends their decision to ally themselves with a doomsday cult led by Roger Stone and Alex Jones, and supported by the point men of the faux conservative media, Fox News and The Drudge Report.
James Lewis, like yours truly, is a regular contributor to American Thinker. Lewis has been outstanding for years on global politics, and particularly informative and insightful on the treasonous foreign policy debacle that is the Obama administration. He was calling the Benghazi attack a State Department gun-running operation gone awry back before anyone in the American mainstream media would have touched that Clinton-condemning dirty little secret with a ten-foot pole. But here is how Lewis, an ardent Trump supporter, defined the anti-Trump Republicans a few days ago:
Conservatives have their own Whig establishment today, people who refuse to support Donald Trump the Vulgarian – George Will, Jonah Goldberg, Paul Ryan, and Bill Kristol prominent among them. In this do-or-die election between a radical-left fanatic (Hillary) and a commonsense conservative (Donald Trump), our Whigs are priggishly sitting out the fight. It’s a breathtaking 50-50 election, and their systematic betrayal may bring us another four to eight years of Hillary Clinton, symbolic daughter of Betty Friedan the Communist.
Where to begin? Consider all the specious claims or half-truths in just this one paragraph, coming from a man of real intelligence and investigative powers. Will, Goldberg, Ryan, and Kristol are hardly a monolithic group, but even if they were, Lewis has slipped in the convenient phrase “prominent among them” to draw attention away from the inconvenient truth of his list of Republican celebrities, namely that the list is in no way representative of the larger group of American conservatives and constitutionalists who refuse to defend, or perhaps even to vote, for Trump. Is former Breitbart hot commodity Ben Shapiro part of the Whig establishment? How about Christian author and radio host Steve Deace? Or is Senator Mike Lee, hitherto regarded as perhaps the single most principled and consistent constitutional conservative in the Senate, now a wilting elitist flower?
More to the point, what about the thousands of self-proclaimed NeverTrumpers who dislike the George Will wing of the establishment as much as any Trump supporter, and unlike the Trumpanzees can actually give a coherent argument for that position (i.e., an argument not entirely dependent on spooky background music and catchwords like “globalist,” “New World Order,” and “Goldman Sachs”)? Five minutes reading a few typical readers’ comments on Right Scoop and Redstate, the only major Republican-oriented websites to continue giving voice to the case against Trump, is more than enough to prove that the core of the NeverTrump movement is absolutely not in Washington D.C., nor anywhere near the milquetoast soirees of the progressive GOP establishment. These are the people who pray for a return to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Do Trump supporters, including the serious ones, even remember those little documents for which so many men gave their lives, and over which so many privileged and comfortable men swore a blood oath? God knows Trump doesn’t remember them, having never read, nor perhaps even heard, of them. Weren’t those documents supposed to be the unifying heart of the fight to reverse progressivism, and the real meaning of “making America great again”? When did they become irrelevant, as they surely are for the Trump campaign? And how is defending one’s nation without reference to any principles or ideas about what that nation, as such, was supposed to be, anything better than the kind of blind nationalism typical of most countries that cannot define themselves, and are therefore easily susceptible to drifting into tyranny behind demagogues?
Which leads me to the second problem with Lewis’ straw man argument. Is this, as he claims, an election between a radical-left fanatic and “a commonsense conservative”? NeverTrumpers would call it an election between a radical-left fanatic and a long-time supporter and avowed defender/friend of that radical-left fanatic, not to mention a supporter and ally of many other radical-left fanatics (Schumer, Reid, Emanuel, et al), not to mention a long-time and current defender of many radical-left positions (e.g., on healthcare, planned parenthood, transgender bathrooms, the minimum wage). Where’s the commonsense conservatism there? Or is “commonsense” merely a euphemistic way of describing someone who almost never espouses any position that could be defined as conservative, and certainly never as a matter of principle, since he evidently has no political principles, but only empty slogans and talking (out of both sides of his mouth) points?
Short essay topic for your midterm exam: Identify an issue on which Donald Trump is substantially and consistently conservative, and provide specific examples of Trump defining this issue in terms of conservative principle and policy. Anyone who wishes to tackle this topic is invited to send his answer to me via the contact page on this website. Before you write your essay, I recommend reading the material about Trump on this site, particularly Why I Trust Trump and Trump and the Art of Sycophancy.
Finally, what is a “50-50 election,” and how exactly are the “Whigs” sitting it out? Does having an opinion about the candidates, expressing that opinion, and declaring non-support for the two most popular among them, constitute sitting out an election? There are other candidates. And since when is anyone obliged to support a candidate of whom he strongly disapproves, merely to defeat another candidate of whom he strongly disapproves?
“But Hillary!” you object. Yes, but that’s not Mr. Lewis’ argument, is it? Or at least if it is he certainly doesn’t help his case by misrepresenting Trump’s conservative opponents as too prissy to sully themselves with regular man Trump (there’s a good one!), and then defining Trump himself as something even he doesn’t claim to be, a “commonsense conservative.”
The biggest immediate fallout of these false narratives and straw man attacks against the so-called NeverTrump movement is that they encourage the worst behavior among the true Trump cultists, who, heartened by the careless smear tactics employed by more intelligent commentators, take to the aether to share their own somewhat less reserved rhetoric against anyone who dares to speak a principled word against their idol.
Thus, thanks in part to the convenient misrepresentation of NeverTrump as an establishment cabal, thousands (millions?) of honorable men and women who love America at a level that Trump couldn’t begin to understand are now routinely branded “establishment losers,” “limp-wristed beta males,” and much worse, by a thousand Roger Stone sock puppets on the supposedly conservative-oriented discussion forums–cultists puffed up by anonymity and by the encouraging words of commentators like James Lewis, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, et al.
Steve McCann was a poor European orphan during WWII who immigrated to the U.S. and became a successful businessman, as well as a powerful advocate for preserving the principles that made his adoptive country the promised land for the oppressed and downtrodden of the Earth for generations. A substantial proportion of his political writing has been focused on explaining and identifying the Washington Republican establishment, and excoriating that many-headed beast for its complicity in the progressive takeover of America. Today, he is regularly tarred with epithets such as “establishment hack” and this year’s newest absurdity, “cuckservative,” by hundreds of morons who themselves are dutifully, worshipfully, lining up behind a man who boasts of having funded and befriended both halves of the uniparty establishment–of having been a member of that establishment–for thirty years before he suddenly decided to play the “outsider” card last year.
C. Edmund Wright has been a conservative muckraker for years, written extensively about the machinations of Karl Rove and other establishment schemers, and been appreciated by readers at Breitbart, American Thinker, and elsewhere for his take-no-prisoners style in attacking the Washington powerbrokers. This year, he has applied that same writing and reasoning style to Trump, and readers who a year and a half ago saw him as one of their own now accuse him of being both “on Hillary’s payroll” and a “clueless GOPe fraud.”
Someday I’ll have some fun digging through a few of the best things I’ve been called over the past year, including, again, by many readers who previously enjoyed my writing and regarded me as a friend. Such ugliness, and its effective disintegration of any effective opposition to progressivism, is in part the product of refusing to see the opposition to Trump for what it really is: a rejection of the idea that conservatism can be well-represented by stupidity, unprincipled jingoism, “locker room talk,” crony capitalism, and two-faced, cynical “deals.” That’s exactly how the left has tried to portray conservatives for years. Donald Trump is the poster boy for that leftist narrative–another straw man–and therefore the progressives’ dream GOP candidate. That his followers can’t see this most obvious fact, or how this fact is being exploited by both the left and right factions of the Washington establishment to discredit constitutional conservatism forever, is, for me, the most glaring evidence that we are looking at a full-blown, literal cult.
I return to Lewis’ description of this election as one “between a radical-left fanatic (Hillary) and a commonsense conservative (Donald Trump).” It’s telling that Lewis felt the need to inform his readers (or perhaps himself) which one was the conservative. Even at this late date, a lot of people are working awfully hard to persuade one another that Trump really is the man they need him to be. Their effort is understandable, as Trump himself so rarely gives them any tangible reason to believe. Perhaps the shaky foundation of their commitment to him is the real reason these more intelligent supporters feel the need to rationalize their choice by strawmanning their conservative opponents as “the establishment,” and these people’s resistance as “betrayal,” to use Lewis’ word. Betrayal of what? Of Donald Trump? Of the “Republican-candidate-or-bust” ruse that has allowed the Washington establishment to tear the United States to the ground over generations?
The people who helped to create the cultish demagoguery of Donald Trump’s faux candidacy, providing the Democrats with the one opponent they knew even Hillary Clinton could beat, ought to stop directing such harsh accusations at those who tried unsuccessfully for months to talk them of the cliff edge, and take a good hard look in the mirror. Sadly, they will have to do this soon, whether they like it or not.
Let me conclude by reminding the reader that my focus here is not the kooks, connivers, and self-promoting fakes behind Trump’s rise–Stone, Jones, Coulter, Drudge, Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, and the rest–but the usually-principled and serious commentators of real value who have uncharacteristically fallen for this clown show. As evidence of what I mean, and why it is so sad, I recommend this piece by James Lewis about Benghazi, written back when very few Americans were willing to face the whole ugly truth.