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 (including the new prime-time hosts of Trump TV),
And perhaps fittingly, it looks like Trump might actually win, though I still very much doubt it. I doubt it for all the pundity kinds of reasons that pundits pundify about. So, let’s just leave all that there.
On the other hand, things certainly look better for him than anyone could have imagined prior to Jim Comey’s October surprise and all that’s followed. It was just two weeks ago that Kellyanne Conway was winking and nodding about how she had one foot out the door. Even Laura Ingraham was distancing herself from the gang she now touts as a Merry Band of Brothers whose victory will yield glory she will deserve her portion of.
Long ago, I made peace with the fact that this election will yield one form of ass ache or another. Once you reconcile yourself to that fact, day-to-day changes in the horse race are really pretty meaningless. Also, part of it is that I am really enjoying watching the flop-sweat panic of the Democrats and the media. Only someone with a heart of stone could fail to laugh at watching the Great Migration of Chickens coming home to roost. Even after all the millions upon millions of dollars spent, the carefully calibrated messaging, and the years of focus groups and strategizing, Clinton Inc. has never managed to fix the central problem: Hillary Clinton.
Clinton World has always thought they could substitute planning and backroom scheming for charm, charisma, and personality. Don’t get me wrong, planning and scheming have taken Hillary very far. But some cooks just can’t work the front of the room, and she’s one of them. This has been obvious ever since Hillary’s single-best news-cycle day was when she was captured buying a burrito (bowl) on a security camera.
Don’t get me wrong, planning and scheming have taken Hillary very far.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now know it literally took the Clinton campaign twelve hours and twelve staffers to come up with a single tweet. Contrast that with Donald Trump’s approach to Twitter and one conjures the image of General Hillary agonizing over the exact position of every soldier and artillery piece and pouring over detailed plans for the defense of the city — only to sit back in disbelief as Godzilla tramples it all.
More importantly, we know that the Clinton campaign was a subsidiary of Clinton Inc.
Time and again we see from the Podesta e-mails that John Podesta and Robby Mook — the campaign chairman and campaign manager, respectively — were on the outside of the true inner circle, flummoxed by the secretiveness and paranoia of the Empress and her praetorians. Neera Tanden summarized the Clinton worldview in a single line. Rather than do the right thing by admitting having done wrong, “they wanted to get away with it.” What’s “it”? In this case, it was the e-mail fiasco, but it could have been almost anything these mincers and schemers have been up to for the past 30 years.
Hillary Clinton deserves to lose, and I don’t know a serious political observer who doesn’t think she’d be down double digits in the polls if she were running against a standard Republican.
What Might Have Been
And that’s an important point. All of the reasons Trump is doing well now have almost nothing to do with him, save in one regard: He’s finally discovered some semblance of discipline and restraint. “Donald, stay on point,” he said more to himself than to the audience at a rally in Florida. “No sidetracks Donald, nice and easy.”
(I’m not sure why, but he reminded me of when Homer Simpson discovered a box of trash on the sidewalk. “Wire hangers? Expired medicine? Old newspapers?! Okay Homer, stay calm and quietly get this stuff inside your house!”)
But other than managing not to step on himself — the bare minimum any of us should expect from a candidate — the fact that the election is tightening doesn’t have much to do with Trump.
Donald Trump didn’t force Comey to cough up a hairball on the nation’s doorstep eleven days before the election. He certainly didn’t make Hillary Clinton the spectacularly horrible candidate she is, or force her to set up her secret server. Heck, when she did that, Trump was still saying nice things about her and donating (other peoples’ money) to the Clinton Foundation.
Trump says he has nothing to do with the WikiLeaks disclosures that have eaten away at the thin and spotty veneer of Hillary’s credibility like voracious termites devouring their way through aged and fraying balsa wood. If that’s true, he deserves no credit for the damage they’ve done to her candidacy. And if that is a lie, then he has disqualified himself from any public office and should be on trial.
Nor did Donald Trump create the problems with Obamacare that have caused millions of people to face massive premium hikes right before the election. Indeed, as recently as the primaries, he still believed that single-payer health care works great in Canada and elsewhere.
There’s a good analogy in all this. Back during the fights over Obamacare, I would often say that if we actually believe what we conservatives claim to believe in, then we should have some confidence that Obamacare wouldn’t work and that we would be proven right, eventually. For example, here’s what I wrote in 2009:
Obamacare is a vast, deeply polarizing demonstration project for progressive ideas. It is terrible policy, but because I think it’s terrible policy, it may well result in a beneficial backlash. “Example is the school of mankind,” proclaimed Edmund Burke, “and they will learn at no other.” Democrats insist they’re pushing for health-care reform against a political headwind because “history” compels them to. Republicans are standing athwart “history” yelling, “Stop!”
Politically, one side will be proved right, and the side proved wrong will pay a staggering price. Everyone’s all in.
The Democrats, have been paying a price, politically, for Obamacare ever since. John Podhoretz summarized it well this week:
The most important political story during the nearly eight years of the Obama presidency is how that presidency delivered a neutron-bomb strike to his party. Obama and the political structure of America have been left standing — but nearly 1,000 Democratic officeholders have been defeated.
In the House of Representatives, three successive elections in 2010, 2012 and 2014 have seen 63 Democratic Congress members lose their seats. In 2009, Democrats held 60 Senate seats. Right now, they hold 46.
So out of 535 elected positions in the US Congress, Obama has overseen a 14 percent reduction in Democratic officeholding — and the loss of majorities in both chambers.
Nationally, the numbers are even more stark. Democrats have lost 910 seats in state legislatures since 2009, while Republicans have gained 12 governor’s mansions. Overall, according to Louis Jacobson of Governing magazine, “Democratic losses in the Senate have so far reached 22 percent, 27 percent in the House, 36 percent in governorships and a stunning 59 percent in fully controlled state legislatures.”
Not all of this is due to Obamacare, but a really big chunk of it is. Obamacare has been an albatross for Democrats in virtually every swing state and district in every election since its passage. The result has been to make the Democratic party a far more left-wing party than it otherwise might be — because only very liberal Democrats from very liberal states and districts could survive the drag of Obama and Obamacare.
So how is Trump like Obamacare? Well, first he’s an enormous mistake — a wager made on a mistaken theory about the political landscape and how the GOP needs to think about its future. If Trump loses, he will be an albatross for the GOP for a long time to come. He and his minions have reinforced stereotypes about conservatives that will make it more difficult to win with young people, women, minorities, and persuadable white voters generally for years.
Second, and more personally, I feel very much the same way about the “issue” of Donald Trump and “Trumpism” that I did about Obamacare. I was proven right about Obamacare (and Obama) and I feel equally confident that, win or lose, I will be proven right about Trump.
I feel very much the same way about the ‘issue’ of Donald Trump and ‘Trumpism’ that I did about Obamacare.
Specifically, I honestly and sincerely believe he has the makings of a disastrous president. He’s a man of tawdry character whose outsized lizard-brain can’t see any issue outside of the prism of his own staggering self-regard. He has no intellectual or instinctual commitment to notions of liberty and limited government, and if you take his (very rare) word for it that he does, then you are the perfect mark, the kind every conman looks for: someone who desperately wants the con to be true.
I keep hearing from Trump cultists on Twitter that I’ve been wrong about “everything.” But I haven’t been. I’ve been consistently right about how beatable and flawed Hillary Clinton is, for example. The only important thing I’ve been wrong about has been Trump’s chances in the primaries and in the general election. The sources of my error in the primaries stemmed from several factors. First, there’s the fact that I hadn’t appreciated how a combination of free media, celebrity, and the structural, collective-action problems of a 17-candidate race could open a path for Trump. As for the general election, I was empirically right that he would lose at least until James Comey’s letter surfaced, and I think — albeit with less confidence — that I am still right.
Oh, and I was wrong about one other thing. In retrospect, I was a bit of fool for not anticipating how so many “true conservative” media types would eagerly defenestrate their principles and judgment in order to get on the Trump Train. That’s been a vital, if disappointing, lesson that has set me off on rounds of extended soul-searching — not my soul so much, but the soul of the Republican party and the conservative movement. I remain steadfastly confident Donald Trump deserves my revulsion and contempt.
The Test of Time
I have argued at length that the phrase “the right side of history” is a bogus rhetorical device used by people incapable of making their arguments on the merits. But that doesn’t mean that the passage of time doesn’t vindicate certain stances — and repudiate others. Lincoln Steffens spoke for most progressive intellectuals when he said, upon returning from the Soviet Union, “I’ve been to the future — and it works.” No. It didn’t then, and most sane and reasonable people acknowledge that now.
Which brings me back to Trump, Obamacare, and the school of mankind. Trump’s most devoted followers think they are part of a major movement. Maybe they are. Though I do laugh when I hear people talk about the global movement against globalism. But I remain confident that most Republicans — and certainly most conservatives — who are rallying to Trump are doing so because they see him as the lesser of two evils. (I heard my friend Dennis Prager say the other day that the “lesser of two evils is good,” which I don’t think will go down in history as one of his most time-honored maxims.) According to Pew, 11 percent of Trump supporters say they would be disappointed or angry if their candidate won. That is not quite the kindling upon which to stoke a new prairie fire of populist nationalism.
If Trump wins, even his most ardent Never Trump opponents — me included — must restart the clock and give him some benefit of the doubt. We only have one president at a time.
Still, I have always argued that voting against Hillary on the grounds that “she’s worse” is a perfectly legitimate position. What I cannot get my head around is the idea that any rational person — conservative or liberal — could actually buy any of Trump’s promises or the notion that he’s some modern-day Cincinnatus laying down his golf clubs to save the Republic, abolish the administrative state, bring back manufacturing jobs (an understandable hope, even if most of those jobs have been lost to automation), wipe away the muck of political correctness, and “Make America Great Again.” Such claims seem no less ridiculous to me than all of the messianic talk about Barack Obama, “the lightworker.”
My skepticism about Obama was vindicated and I remain confident my skepticism of Trump will be, too.
I will say, however, that if Trump wins, even his most ardent Never Trump opponents — me included — must restart the clock and give him some benefit of the doubt. We only have one president at a time.
Behind the scenes, Trump’s Republican backers insist that they will be able to manage and steer Trump toward positive ends. “He just wants to make speeches about making America great again,” they say. “We’ll do all the heavy-lifting on policy.” I am profoundly dubious of this. The idea that one could hand the keys of the Oval Office to this glandular oaf and expect it to not go to his head strikes me as ridiculous. Character is destiny, and given his character we can predict what the destiny of the Trump presidency would be.
But we all owe it to the country to give him his shot. I will be delighted to be proven wrong. But given that I actually believe the things I believe in, I don’t have high hopes.
Various & Sundry
I’m running very late because I had to go to a parent–teacher conference and do a stint on the Diane Rehm Show Friday morning, eating up much valuable “news”lettering time. So, I’ll be brief.
Canine Update: I’m still recovering from my wounds from the deer attack. Both the dogs and I are a little skittish about the park where it happened, which I’m now convinced is cursed.
Exactly one week later, we were back at the scene of the crime. I was throwing a ball for the spaniel as the dingo was launching anti-varmint sorties. Suddenly, at the other end of the field we saw bobby lights coming towards us. As they came closer, I realized they were not will-o-the-wisps or aliens, but two corgies. The dingo and the spaniel were both freaked out by it. The fight or flight response kicked in, with the dingo taking the fight portfolio and the spaniel opting for flight.
Zoë started after the corgies, which breaks my heart. No one was hurt, but I hate it when she gets into scraps with other dogs. I tackled Zoë and pinned her to the ground (which didn’t help what I think is a deer-inflicted bruised or cracked rib). I held her down by the neck and yelled at her to make it clear such behavior is unacceptable. When we got up, the spaniel was gone. We searched for 15 minutes, but Pippa was nowhere to be found. I called my wife, who had to leave for Alaska later in the day for a family emergency, and told her I didn’t know what to do. She got dressed and said she would drive over and help me look. But when she got to the front door, there was Pippa who had run all the way home.
This is rather amazing as we live just under a mile away and she had to cross several busy intersections. Moreover, she has never walked that route. When I saw her, I felt a bit like Ron Burgundy after Baxter ate the wheel of cheese: “I’m not even mad, that’s amazing.”
My first column of the week was on James Comey’s decision and how Hillary Clinton deserves the bulk of the blame.
My Friday column was on one of my perennial topics: The folly of early voting.
Ben Howe’s new Trump documentary, The Sociopath, is out. I’m in it. Ironically, I’m also in Dinesh D’Souza’s Hillary documentary, which pretty much sums up my year.