EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (In particular, my truly Dear Readers. You’ll see what I mean.),
So, I’m back. Contrary to rumors of some sort of rapture-like event where the anti-Trump Remnant vanished in the blink of an eye (“What happened to Rich Lowry? He was here a second ago. His coffee is still hot and all his cats are confused”), I was merely on the National Review Danube cruise. A great time was had by all, mostly.
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And so it was an interesting focus group, a kind of microcosm of what is happening across the conservative movement. There were some true Trumpers and anti-Trumpers, but there were many more people who simply think supporting Trump is making the best of a bad situation. I understand that position and I have sympathy for it. Indeed, despite the harping, carping, and barking claims from bullying party hacks and Twitter pests, the truth is I really don’t have much of a problem with normal Republican voters who feel they have to make a choice between two less-than-perfect-options.
As an institution, National Review has different priorities. As Rich Lowry explained on the boat, we have a sense of custodial obligation to the conservative movement. The dilemma for us isn’t simply, “What should I do with my vote?” it’s, “What should we say and write?” That’s why in 1960 we didn’t endorse Kennedy or Nixon, because neither candidate met the bar we set for a conservative candidate. Sometimes we grade on a curve, but sometimes the curve can only be bent so far. I’m sure most of the editors voted for one or the other. But who cares about that?
The Airing of the Grievances
So if I don’t have major beef with the conservative voters struggling to figure out what to do in the Era of Trump, whom do I have a problem with? Well, here is a short field guide.
The Benighted. These are mostly decent people who, from early on, really thought Donald Trump to be a man well-suited for the job of president. As a generalization I don’t think these people are evil or bigoted. Basically, I just think they’ve been conned by a conman.
The Alt-righters. The less said about these creatures, the better. Mostly composed of Twitter and comment-section trolls, this coprophagic phylum is convinced Trump is the tip of the spear of some new white-nationalist takeover of the party and the country. They think it’s hilarious to bait Trump’s critics with Klan-vintage racism and Nazi-style anti-Semitism. Probably my biggest complaint about the benighted is the degree to which they make apologies for the bigots or don’t care that the bigots speak in their name.
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The False Priests. As you can only be disappointed in your friends, this is the group I am most disappointed in: public intellectuals, pundits, and politicians who have a long record of claiming to be purer-than-thou on conservative litmus-tests but who suddenly started defenestrating their principles to get onboard the Trump train.
The Fake Moderates. These are the folks who’ve been bleating and whining for years that the conservatism of National Review, Ted Cruz, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, et al. was too harsh, too mean, and too rhetorically strident. They not only urged the GOP to be more inclusive and nice, they raised inclusivity and niceness to a kind of ideological litmus test all its own. And now they enthusiastically support a guy who mocks the disabled, smears immigrants, and wants to ban Muslims.
The Establishment of Whores. Very closely related to the Fake Moderates but still a distinct subspecies, these are the quislings, opportunists, lobbyists, remoras, and mercenaries who don’t in fact believe in anything at all beyond their own self-interest. They were against Trump when it was in their interests, and now they are for him for the same reason.
The Closet #NeverTrumpers. Washington (and New York!) is full of pundits, journalists, TV “strategists,” and politicians who tell my friends and me they agree with the #NeverTrumpers 100 percent. But put a microphone in their face and suddenly they overflow with a strange new respect for our orange-hued national savior. I find this sort of thing disgusting and always have.
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The Resigned. This is the group of nominally pro-Trump people about whom I have mixed emotions and the most sympathy. I’ve tried to keep names out of this, but this category requires concrete examples. On the night of the Indiana primary, Ted Cruz said he would support “the nominee.” He never said Trump’s name. Personally, I couldn’t support a man who said the things Trump did about my wife and father, never mind the rest of it. But I’m also not a politician. Cruz pledged to support the nominee and I’m not much inclined to vilify him if he offers some grudging, pro-forma support. [See correction]. The same goes for Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, and others who’ve said or hinted that they’d still support the nominee, albeit reluctantly and with grave reservations.
But there’s a difference between checking a box and selling your soul. Which brings me to . . .
As I wrote in a column last week, I think Rick Perry has defiled himself. He took a strong, principled stand against Trump early on, likening him to a “cancer” on the GOP. He said that a Trumpified Republican party would lead to “perdition.” It didn’t work out well for him. Now that it’s Trump’s party, he says he wants to help this cancer “any way I can,” including being considered for his running mate.
My friend James Taranto castigated me for that column. He writes:
We’re going to go out on a limb and say Perry did not mean those words literally. Taking them figuratively, he concluded it was no longer wise to demonize Trump. We suppose if [Peter] Wehner ever changes his mind about Trump — a big if, but hey, he wouldn’t be the first — Goldberg will accuse him of wanting to infect people with Zika.
This is bizarre. I may not be the philologist James is, but I do grok that Perry was speaking metaphorically when he said Trump was a cancer and leading us to Hell. But speaking figuratively and speaking seriously are not antipodes. One can use metaphors and still speak with sincerity. When Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,” he was speaking metaphorically but not insincerely. I made the mistake of thinking Rick Perry was serious when he said these things. Perhaps Taranto’s the wiser man for cynically believing words never matter when uttered by politicians. (Apparently the Trump campaign doesn’t think words matter, either.)
Later on Taranto writes of me:
His vision is so distorted by his loathing for Trump that he fails to see the “litmus test” he cites — the expectation that a political party’s elected officeholders will fall in behind the party’s presidential nominee — for what it is: a feature of every ordinary campaign.
I would reply that James is demonstrating Stakhanovite partisan water-carrying. By his logic, it just doesn’t matter what a politician says or stands for, if he’s the nominee everyone must fall in line, because that is what partisans do. Taking this claim even remotely seriously, party loyalty can never ask too much of a politician (or apparently of conservative pundits). So if the GOP somehow nominated Bernie Sanders or Caligula’s horse, it would be perfectly fine for members of the conservative party to rally around the nominee because “that’s a feature of every ordinary campaign.”
And if during the primaries, Rick Perry had said, “We cannot have a socialist running our party,” or, “It’s folly to put a horse at the top of the ticket,” I would be the fool for criticizing him when he eventually volunteered to be the horse’s running mate?
What Taranto misses is that by Perry’s own words, Trump is not an “ordinary” candidate. For some reason, Taranto seems keen on normalizing Trump as one these days. That’s fine, but that’s his opinion. Not mine. Not Trump’s, and not Perry’s — until recently. Taranto is free to try to “normalize” Trump, but that requires argument not assertion and question-begging.
But Taranto is right in at least one sense. I am the fool for taking Perry seriously, for thinking that he was speaking with some semblance of actual conviction. I will be hard-pressed to make these kinds of mistakes again — about Perry or any other politician. That is one of Trump’s greatest accomplishments. He won by declaring the political class morally bankrupt and craven, and as a reward the political class proved him right.
The Ballot & the Pen
And that brings me back to an important lesson I learned from the cruise. It’s a painful lesson and one can only learn it from friends.
I’ve been called a partisan hack by liberals ever since I started writing. That’s part of the game. Liberals confuse defending conservative principles with water-carrying for the Republican party. Conservatives do the same thing with liberal writers. Obviously, in the case of some writers the accusation is true, on both sides of the aisle (I have many names in mind). And, to be sure, team spirit infects even the best of us from time to time. Lord knows, I’ve let my partisan passions infect my judgment on occasion.
But I never really suspected my fans and “Dear Readers” thought I was simply a publicist for the RNC. When I announced on the boat that I would never vote for Trump (hardly a secret), many in the audience gasped. I’ve been getting epistolary versions of that gasp from many of you over the past few months. It’s time to throw in the towel, they say. Trump wasn’t my first choice either, but we’ve got to make the best of it. I get that, coming from voters. But my vote isn’t my vocation.
The upshot of these friends’ complaints seems to be that they always assumed I was a partisan apparatchik, and when push came to shove, I’d head out to the RNC well and carry its water as instructed. (Reince Priebus would pat my head, “You’re a good man, Gunga Jonah.”) This is a punch to the gut for me; they’re disappointed I am not living down to their expectations. Again, my job is to tell the truth as I see it.
My Dark Confession
And so here I will confess the truth to you.
During a panel Q&A, a passenger on the cruise made a strong case for voting Trump. He ably argued that we know Hillary will be terrible, while we can only suspect Trump will be. Trump will probably do some things conservatives will like — Supreme Court appointments, etc. — while we know for a fact Hillary will not.
And here’s what I said: I agree. If the election were a perfect tie, and the vote fell to me and me alone, I’d probably vote for none other than Donald Trump for precisely these reasons.
The questioner declared victory, and many in the audience applauded.
And then I said, “But I will never vote for Donald Trump.”
My vote won’t decide the election. And I am not bound by hypotheticals like that. As I told the gentleman, I can come up with an endless number of hypothetical choices between two horrible options.
The only one I could come up with in the heat of the moment was being forced to choose between being shredded to death by a giant cheese-grater or fed to a pack of half-starved wolverines. In that hypothetical situation, I’d vote to be grated to death. But I’m not in that situation nor am I in a situation where I get to, or have to, choose between Clinton and Trump. I have other options. I can vote — sigh — for Gary Johnson. Or I can write-in Phil Gramm. Or I can just not vote.
But here’s the really important point: In neither situation would I be obliged to lie about my choices. I wouldn’t be required to say how much I love peckish wolverines or how much I admire Donald Trump. I wouldn’t be duty-bound to tell my fellow Americans that death-by-cheese grater really isn’t that bad, or that Hillary Clinton isn’t a corrupt and inveterate liar.This is why I think the conservatives who are saying “I’m with her” about Clinton are making an enormous error in judgment. Trump’s biggest boosters are Hell-bent on claiming that being opposed to Trump is being for Hillary. Everyday, I’m besieged with the accusation that I am for Hillary. This is a lie, pure and simple. I would be in favor of a conservative third-party candidate if there were one who could win. But while I am very sympathetic to Jay Cost’s case for a 1912 replay, I remain unconvinced we should opt to lose. Still, if it is folly for conservatives to run a third-party true-conservative candidate, it is abject madness to say that conservatives should support Hillary Clinton. The “I’m with her” crowd is buying into the false hypothetical.
The few public Trump opponents left still like to quote Alexander Hamilton’s argument:
If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.
That may be a compelling argument for some to vote for Hillary Clinton, but it is not an argument for conservatives to endorse her. Quite the opposite.
Embrace the Suck
I keep saying this, but no one seems to believe me: My vote doesn’t matter. What matters, at least to me, is that I can sleep with a clear conscience. Contrary to Peggy Noonan’s exasperation with the #NeverTrump folks, my motivations have nothing to do with protecting my turf. (It would be far safer and probably more profitable for me to board the Trump Train near the back and keep my head down.) Nor is this about some kind of elitist vanity. It’s just what I believe and, frankly, I weary of being told I should join the new “conservatism” by someone who supported Barack Obama.
I honestly believe that a President Trump would do enormous, perhaps fatal, damage to the conservative movement as we know it. I also believe that without the conservative movement, this country is toast. But I further believe that Hillary Clinton would do obvious and enormous damage to the country. That’s why I’m not voting for either of them. That’s why this election sucks. But I don’t write in the voting booth. I don’t get paid to offer my opinions at the ballot box. And I don’t work for the G-d damn GOP.
Various & Sundry
Canine Update: Alas, I don’t have very much to report. The Dingo is as dingo-y as ever. Shortly before we left for our trip, I took the beasts out for a morning patrol, per usual. Zoë was pretty worked up (Pippa is always worked up for her morning walk). Zoë started barking out the window by the front door and standing up on her hind legs to bark through the glass in the door. There was no one out there that I could see, but she was all torqued up. I put her on a leash and headed to the car. Apparently, she was furious at a crow that was pecking at a road-kill squirrel up the block. I pulled her leash and put her in the car. I put Pippa in, too. I started the car. I looked in the rearview mirror, expecting to see the Dingo staring back at me. Instead I saw the tip of her tail going out the window. She tore up the block after the crow. She then took the squirrel carcass and carried it back to the house where she “hid” it on our front lawn. She then proceeded to yell at the crow and its friends in the trees. Being a dingo requires constant vigilance.
Meanwhile Pippa’s limp keeps coming back. We had her checked for Lyme disease a few weeks ago and she was in the clear. Now we’re worried about something more serious. She’s going to the orthopedist tomorrow. Here they are this morning. And here’s Pippa trying to get Zoë to play.
My column today is on the selective way liberals claim to be on the side of science, except when they think science is bigoted.
The latest GLoP Podcast is out. We talk Game of Thrones, Facebook, and some other stuff.