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.
President Obama, accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, meets with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran nuclear deal in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington on Sept. 10, 2015. (Associated Press)
In May 2016, deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes took a victory lap in the New York Times to celebrate the Obama administration’s signature foreign-policy win. Rhodes had helped orchestrate the campaign to ensure that Congress would fail to stop President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal from going into effect, and in a remarkably unguarded interview for a New York Times Magazine profile, the failed novelist–turned–foreign-policy spinmaster boasted of how a tame press corps that he dubbed an “echo chamber” had done his bidding.
At the time, some in the Obama camp chastised Rhodes for spilling the beans on how the mainstream media had dutifully bought the president’s disingenuous arguments for a pact that did not end the nuclear threat, expired within a decade (making an Iranian bomb inevitable), and both strengthened and enriched the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with few tough questions asked. But while Rhodes and the rest of the Obama team have given way to President Trump’s staff, the media echo chamber devoted to defending Obama’s appeasement of Iran that he cultivated is still with us.
The evidence for that was on display this week in the aftermath of Politico’s scoop about the way the Obama administration blocked federal investigations of Hezbollah’s drug-running, money-laundering, and terror operations during the Iran-deal negotiations. Josh Meyer’s three-part series was based on interviews with Drug Enforcement Administration personnel and other well-placed sources within the federal government who worked on Project Cassandra. Meyer built a strong case that showed that efforts to halt the regular traffic of cash, drugs, and terrorists between Beirut, Tehran, and Venezuela was quashed by orders from the top of the Obama administration. Then CIA director John Brennan and Secretary of State John Kerry believed nothing should be allowed to interfere with the nuclear talks, even if meant Iran’s narcoterrorist foot soldiers were allowed to escape justice.
Meyer’s report made sense not just because the DEA sources pointed to the way a promising probe had been prevented from making arrests but also because Brennan was on record as believing that Hezbollah “moderates” must be cultivated, and Kerry had made it plain that he was willing to make any possible concession to get Iran to agree to any kind of deal, no matter how weak it might prove to be.
If true, the undermining of Cassandra is a major scandal, since it shows that the Obama administration was willing to prioritize the interests of Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as their Russian allies over its duty to protect American citizens. At the very least, it rates a congressional investigation as well as an internal probe of U.S. intelligence agencies to determine exactly what the Obama foreign-policy team knew and when they knew it with regard to decisions taken to hamstring Cassandra operations.
The Cassandra story ought to resonate with the media, since it comes at the end of a year during which Washington has been transfixed by an investigation into whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with a foreign power and whether the president obstructed the probe looking into that matter. Though not exactly analogous to those still-unproven allegations, the possibility that President Obama and his minions obstructed the justice system in order to avoid offending Iran and Russia is a scandal that is every bit as bad as, if not worse than, what Trump is accused of doing.
Yet the strangest thing about this story is the way it is being ignored by the same mainstream media that breathlessly report every twist and turn in the Russia-collusion investigation, even when there is nothing to report other than baseless speculation.
In the days since it was first published, the New York Times has treated it as a non-story. The Washington Post’s sole article on it consisted of a blog post, by one of its liberal opinion writers, devoted to quotes from Obama-administration alumni dismissing both Meyer and his sources as neoconservative propaganda without actually refuting any of the story’s main points. The broadcast channels and the liberal news channels have similarly avoided the scandal. Nor is there any sign that any of the legacy mainstream media are seeking to follow up on Meyer’s reporting to break new angles on a story that examines the nexus between policymaking and law enforcement. The only coverage the Hezbollah scandal has received has been in conservative-leaning media such as Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post.
Outlets such as CNN take great umbrage when President Trump and others on the right deride their work as “fake news” because of the liberal bias that is endemic throughout the mainstream media. At the same time, liberals dismiss Fox News as worthless propaganda because of its willingness to give platforms to Trump supporters and to report on stories Democrats don’t like.
That Politico, a Washington news website whose liberal bias is no secret, is willing to report on a scandal involving a Democratic administration is to its credit. It also should have signaled to other liberal outlets that this was a story whose implications were so serious that it transcended the usual left–right news divide. Yet after lying down for Obama on Iran while he was in office, the liberal media seem still to be unwilling to hold the former president and his team accountable for the unsavory way in which they gave away American interests in order please a foreign power, the same offense they believe Trump committed with Russia.
In doing so, the liberal media are only fueling the conviction of conservatives that nothing they broadcast or publish is to be trusted. Those who lament the bifurcation of the media as well as the tendency of a growing segment of Americans to read, listen to, and watch only those outlets that confirm their pre-existing opinions and biases must look to the mainstream blackout on this story by Obama’s old echo chamber as one more reason why the public has lost faith in the media.