Donald Trump presents a threat – we can debate how big a threat, but a threat – to the conservative movement and the Republican Party. As conservatives and Republicans, we need a battle plan that has an endgame that gives Trump a way out of the primaries without running a third-party campaign, and brings his current supporters into the fold to not only support the Republican presidential nominee, but ideally help us select a more conservative nominee, party and platform. So there are limits to how much we should be attacking voters who are listening to Trump and like what they hear.
But there’s a difference between followers and leaders. If you’re in a position of leadership – elected officials, organizers, fundraisers, cable and talk radio hosts, pundits, columnists, bloggers – and you’re actively encouraging the Trump phenomenon, you are neither a conservative nor a Republican anymore and should not expect anyone to take you seriously again. Today’s case in point: Laura Ingraham.
Ingraham has hardly been the worst offender in Trump-boosting, but she has tirelessly aided the raising of Trump’s profile, attacked his critics and made the ridiculous argument – given the dynamics of this 17-candidate field – that any criticism of Trump must mean you support Jeb Bush. A taste just from her Twitter feed:
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) July 8, 2015
Hilarious that pundits are demanding GOP nominees attack Trump, which just helps the TOP DOG–Bush. Only Trump criticizing HIM.
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) July 9, 2015
If you think attacking Trump will help anyone but Jeb you haven't been to this rodeo before. https://t.co/qlL8mkeymJ
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) July 20, 2015
Meanwhile, she hauls off on this website over Erick’s decision to disinvite Trump from this weekend’s RedState Gathering, going so far as to call this site “JebState” despite the fact – clear to anyone capable of basic English reading comprehension – that none of our front-page writers has been touting Jeb (at most, some but not all of us consider him an acceptable third, fourth or fifth choice).
Trump on fire & the man who disinvited him is feeling the heat. Let the people decide. http://t.co/cxrSJicbN6
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 10, 2015
JebState Walks it Back: A Trump Education for the Establishment | RedState http://t.co/6m2HpvIbtx
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 10, 2015
The problem with building this narrative – that there is only The Establishment For Jeb and The Conservatives For Trump – is that it requires that we be born yesterday and know nothing at all about Donald Trump or the dynamics of the Republican Party. On the former point, I’m a New Yorker and I’ve been watching the man up close since the mid-80s…look at Trump’s long history of big-government social liberalism, of major, recent donations to Hillary Clinton, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer. The man is simply no sort of conservative – he has a few vaguely right-wing positions, like dislike of immigration, but on the whole his politics are those of Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire who likes law and order but has no time or patience for really any of the philosophical traditions of our movement.
BUT HE FIGHTS! That’s what we’re told, although unlike a whole list of the people running in our party in 2016, he has no history whatsoever of ever lifting a finger for a single thing conservatives have ever wanted, or to resist any of the many insanities visited on my city by the Democrats (where was Trump in 2013 when Bill de Blasio defeated a badly underfunded Republican opponent? Heck, Trump could have run – unlike the presidency, Mayor of New York is actually a job that fits his experience, qualifications and hazy ideology). And lo and behold, Ingraham finds herself shocked this morning to discover that, on the great social-issue and size-of-government battle of 2015, Trump is…not so ready for a fight:
All Republicans shd demand FULL DEFUND of PP. Didn't Trump say he wd shut down govt over PP last week? https://t.co/DPfn1ojMgs
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) August 11, 2015
Trump: I would look at the individual things that they do, and maybe some of the things are good, and maybe, I know a lot of the things are bad. But certainly the abortion aspect of it should not be funded by government, absolutely.
CNN: So you would take a look at it before you’d defund it. That’s what’s being asked right now. Many in your party are doing the opposite. They’re saying defund it, and then look at it. You’re saying look at it first.
Trump: I would look at the good aspects of it. I’m sure they do some things properly and good and good for women. And I would look at that.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s opponents have actually done something about Planned Parenthood – Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and, yes, Jeb Bush all actually took serious action against Planned Parenthood in their states, in several cases defunding them. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) have all been engaged in the battle in the Senate to do the same at the federal level. We can compare and contrast the degree of their involvements and success in these initiatives, but at least they have a record to judge. Trump has been MIA on this for years – and one of the results of that is that he hasn’t thought through the basic fact that, because money is fungible, subsidizing any of the operations of the nation’s largest performer of abortions (rather than re-routing that money to community health centers not engaged in abortions) is a boon to the merchants of death.
The erosion of our credibility – and unreliability of any results we might hope to obtain from doing so – from backing such a man is similar to my concern with running another Northeastern business tycoon four years ago:
The other point I would make about integrity is that it goes close to the core of why a Romney nomination worries me so much: because we would all have to make so many compromises to defend him that at the end of the day we may not even recognize ourselves. Romney has, in a career in public office of just four years (plus about 8 years’ worth of campaigning), changed his position on just about every major issue you can think of, and his signature accomplishment in office was to be wrong on the largest policy issue of this campaign…But aside from his business biography, his primary campaign has been built entirely on arguments and strategies – about touting his own electability and dividing, coopting or delegitimizing other Republicans – none of which will be of any use in the general election. What, then, will we as politically active Republicans say about him? I was not a huge fan of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)‘s record, but I was comfortable making honest points about the things McCain had been consistent on over the years – national security, free trade, nuclear power, public integrity, pork-barrel spending. There were spots of solid ground on which to plant ourselves with McCain, and he had a history of digging himself in on those and fighting for things he believed in. But Mitt Romney’s record is just one endless sheet of thin ice as far as the eye can see – there’s no way to have any kind of confidence that we can tell people he stands for something today without being made fools of tomorrow. We who have laughed along with Jim Geraghty’s prescient point that every Obama promise comes with an expiration date will be the ones laughed at, and worse yet we will know the critics are right. Every time I try to talk myself into thinking we can live with him, I run into this problem. It’s one that particularly bedeviled Republicans during the Nixon years – many partisan Republicans loved Nixon because he made the right enemies and fought them without cease or mercy, but the man’s actual policies compromised so many of our principles that the party was crippled in the process even before Watergate. We can stand for Romney, but we’ll find soon enough that that’s all we stand for.
Trump is Romney without the things that made Romney at least an admirable man and a plausible political candidate – his strong family, his leadership in his church, his many charitable works, the fact that his business enterprises always made money for his partners, his salvation of the 2002 Winter Olympics, and his having some actual experience winning an election and being a governor. And like Romney, Trump is using the single issue of immigration (on which, like Romney, his record before was not so consistent) as a substitute for having conservative convictions and a conservative record on all the other issues. And it seems that many of the same people who fell for Romney in 2008 and 2012 are falling now for the same act.
Besides Trump’s incoherence (at best) on the issues conservatives care about, there’s the electoral havoc. He has, of course, threatened to run third party, which as everyone knows would present a real threat of re-creating the conditions that helped the Clintons win the White House in 1992 and 1996, because Democratic voters, with their transactional relationship with power and their love for identity politics, will be far less interested in a third party campaign like Trump’s. But even in the short run, what Trump is doing right now is sucking the oxygen out of the race the way, say, Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann did in 2012. And the net result of those campaigns was to make it harder for a lesser-known but serious conservative alternative to develop, which gave us Romney. This is precisely why multiple media reports suggest that the Jeb camp is almost as giddy about Trump as the Hillary camp – because when the Trump balloon inevitably deflates (and it will), Jeb will still have the highest name recognition left in the field. This is not my first rodeo, so I’m not fool enough to ignore the dynamics in play. And that’s even before we discuss how the Democrats plan to Todd Akinize Trump – that is, to use things he says against other more responsible and sane Republicans.
A fair amount of Trump’s current showing in the polls, of course, is just a figment of high name recognition, massive media coverage (greatly abetted by the likes of Ingraham and other conservative media figures) and poorly constructed polls that don’t zero in on likely primary voters. And a fair amount of the really loud Trump support on Twitter in particular seems to come from either 1) the white supremacist fringe or 2) what seems like bought and paid-for astroturf, both of which tend to create noise vastly out of proportion to their numbers.
But for all of that, Trump does have some real support, both among Republicans fed up with the many failures of elected Republicans and among the broad mass of already-disenchanted eligible voters, many of whom we may want to reach and bring back to the fold if we want to alter the dynamics of 2012, let alone 1992:
So, I get the fact that – however frustrating it can be trying to bring the facts of Trump’s actual record to his enthusiasts – we ultimately will need to persuade them rather than insult them if we want to build a winning coalition again. But that’s the voters. I hold people like Ingraham to a higher standard. We did that here in late 2008, when people with various grievances against Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) or Sarah Palin gave open or tacit support to Barack Obama:
We have been treated in recent weeks to an unfortunate procession of people on the Right lending their assistance to Barack Obama against the Republican presidential ticket of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sarah Palin. These people should never be listened to or employed in any responsible or prominent position by anyone in the Republican Party or the conservative movement again.
I believed that of those people then, and seven years later everything we have seen from Obama has vindicated it. And I am quite comfortable saying the same to those who would encourage the destructive path that Trump has chosen. Leaders – and even talk radio entertainers are leaders, whether they like it or not – have a responsibility not to lead those who come to them for guidance astray. Jesus was never more condemnatory than on this topic, in Matthew 18:6-7:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
Donald Trump’s feckless campaign is a millstone. Please, Laura Ingraham and everyone else in conservative media: take it off your necks, or be drowned by it.