This week has been a vindication for much-maligned Trump supporters. Not only did the president have the best week of his administration, an internecine feud erupted within the “NeverTrump” tribe. First, the great week. The president fulfilled a key campaign promise with his signing this morning of the tax reform bill that also eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate and opened up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. He reprioritized our national security interests with his National Security Statement issued Monday And finally, who can’t be proud of the the announcement that the United States would finally be “taking names” of our foes at the United Nations? There is palpable satisfaction among Trump voters and even reluctant supporters.
Though ultimately less important, on one level, the “NeverTrump” infighting may be even more delicious than the solid week of accomplishments. Before the primary elections, an influential and vocal group of conservatives loosely banded together to oppose Trump’s candidacy; this included the editors of National Review and TheWeekly Standard, conservative columnists for the Washington Post and New York Times, authors such as Tom Nichols, and the presidential ticket of independents Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn. But since Trump won (and subsequently amassed a record any legitimate conservative would have hailed had it come from a different Republican) a growing rift has developed between the various factions in NeverTrumpland. On one side are influencers who gradually, if begrudgingly, acknowledge Trump is governing in a way far more palatable to their “principled conservatism” than they expected. While they still bemoan his temperament and approach, they commend his achievements.
On the other side are opportunists who have become traitors to the “conservative” cause they once championed as they shrewdly trade their integrity for air time on MSNBC or CNN to rant about the president. (I have written about them here and here.) They have publicly speculated—or hoped, to put it more accurately—that Trump would not survive the first year of his presidency, and encouraged his staff and Congressional Republicans to abandon the Trump Titanic before the Mueller iceberg took it down. Their message has become inchoate and unhinged, and decidedly not conservative.
The widening rift between the two camps turned into a chasm this week. On Monday, National Review Online published a column by its editor, Charles C. W. Cooke, denouncing the hyperbole and hypocrisy of Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s allegedly conservative blogger. Cooke, not exactly a fan of President Trump, compared Rubin to Trump’s most “unprincipled acolytes” who demand blind loyalty to the MAGA cause: “Rubin has become precisely what she dislikes in others: a monomaniac and a bore, whose visceral dislike of her opponents has prompted her to drop the keys to her conscience into a well.”
Cooke identifies several issues on which Rubin has flip-flopped since Trump was elected, including the Paris Climate Accord, Obama’s Iran deal, the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, and gun control. To illustrate her reversals, Cooke cited Rubin’s own words and columns. (Cooke also linked to my recent article about Rubin.) Cooke calls her byline “tragically misleading,” noting “she is not in fact writing from a ‘conservative perspective,’ but as just one more voice among a host of Trump-obsessed zealots who add nothing to our discourse. In so doing, she does conservatism a sincere disservice.”
It was a fair but unvarnished profile of a once-credible conservative who has lost any shred of integrity since November 2016. But it didn’t take long for others in her camp to rise to Rubin’s defense.
The next day, David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and diehard NeverTrumper, posted a retort to Cooke in The Atlantic. It was the verbal version of a junk drawer, an odd mix of throwaway lines and anecdotes that did nothing to refute Cooke’s central argument about Rubin’s doublespeak.
Frum calls Cooke’s column a “savagely personal attack” on Rubin—it wasn’t—and misrepresents Cooke’s view of Trump, falsely accusing Cooke of “speaking fiercely of Donald Trump before the election, [but] has since mostly avoided the uncongenial subject.” (I invite Frum to listen to any one of NRO’s “The Editors” weekly podcasts to hear Cooke’s often harsh opinion about Donald Trump.)
Frum then weirdly writes: “Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.” It is fine to acknowledge that conservatism may take a different shape based on the prevailing political climate (though Frum and his crew seemed to have had quite a hard time doing that in 2016), but it does not mean you abandon key principles—less intrusive federal government, a non-punitive tax code, strong national defense, a compassionate but not graft-ridden social safety net—just because your candidate lost and you are embarrassed.
To try and make sense of the reaction to Rubin from those who wish to remain on the honest right, even if they aren’t full-throated Trump supporters, Frum then calls Rubin a member of the “embattled center-right” who is joined by other brave, anti-Trump mouthpieces such as Max Boot, Mona Charen, Bill Kristol, John Podhoretz, Evan McMullin, Mindy Finn, Tom Nichols, and Joe Scarborough. (Yes, he refers to Scarborough as center-right.)
Indeed, that very crew also jumped to Rubin’s defense and heaped praise on Frum for his chivalric missive on her behalf:
But then Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise and one of the nastier NeverTrumpers who not only criticizes the president, but also demeans his voters, administration, and supporters in Congress, got a little over his skis with this Tweet storm:
This prompted a reply by National Review author Jim Geraghty: “What, is all U.S. policy supposed to stand still for four years? That’s an impossibility, so stop wasting time imagining a world where Trump never does anything as president. Policy will change in the Trump years, so you might as well push for the policies to be changed in your preferred direction.” The two continued to tussle a bit on Twitter.
There were other back-and-forth articles, including a follow-up by Cooke and a piece by Jonah Goldberg, and plenty of play on social media.
Let’s just say, for those of us who have been demeaned by some NeverTrumpers, and who have called out their harsh rhetoric and destructive agenda, it was gratifying to watch this play out. Not only is it time for anti-Trump conservatives to acknowledge this president’s bold and conservative-friendly presidency so far, it is time to call bullshit on those who refuse to do so. Admitting you were wrong—or at least mistaken in your assessment of both the electorate and a president—is never easy. But holding on to a dishonest narrative that a president—who is now doing things that alleged “conservatives” once proclaimed to be among their objectives—is somehow working to undermine those goals, is not being conservative. In fact, it’s just lying.
I suspect all of this is related to the fact that people who fancy themselves smarter than the rest of us—I am looking at you, Tom Nichols—were flat wrong about Trump. They continue to say “we knew who Trump was all along.” Did you really? Did you expect he would govern the way he has? Did you anticipate the massive regulatory rollback, the conservative judicial picks, the snubbing of the global aristocracy, the strong Cabinet choices, the push for energy independence? Did you expect he would expose the appalling lack of integrity in the nation’s media, or usher in frightening revelations about a wholly corrupt Obama Administration, which many NeverTrumpers blatantly ignore?
Here, I’ll answer for you: No, you did not. So perhaps we “Bubbas” who you think fell for “boob bait” (as people such as Rubin and Kristol so eruditely like to put it) knew something you didn’t. Maybe, despite your credentials and advanced degrees and Beltway influence, you were blind to something that the folks out here in flyover country detected about Trump. You were wrong, and you refuse to admit it.
A good week for the president, his voters, and the country. A bad week for the NeverTrump sore losers who keep digging a hole that will be tough—if not impossible—to climb out of. Happy to toss them a rope, though, when the apologies come.