There are days when I feel bad about taking a paycheck for this job. Sure, I actually work pretty hard and I’m chained to the computer for some relatively long hours, but that’s nothing to really ask anyone to have any sympathy for. And at the end of the day my work product is nothing physical or tangible; just a bunch of pixels on a screen. I’ve actually taken up cooking just as a way to have the satisfaction of creating something physical with my hands every day. But I digress.
I figure that the actual job of the pundit – insofar as value is created for people who read and consume punditry – is to act as a filter for the news and statements of politicians, for benefit of people who can’t sit and watch the news all day and filter all the politician BS through the facts. The job of a pundit – especially one who specializes in commentary from a given ideological perspective, is to filter the statements and actions of politicians and the media through their own expertise in a given subject area and offer what is considered to be an informed opinion as to who is full of crap and who is telling the truth.
Now listen, no one gets everything right. I definitely did not get everything right this primary season (although my central thesis, that the %60+ of people who were not with Trump in the beginning would never coalesce around him, turned out to be true). I agree that the fact that I predicted Trump would not win goes against me in the credibility column. I underestimated the intellectual rot in the conservative movement and overestimated the intelligence of Republican primary voters. It’s a mistake I hope I’ve learned from as I move on, and I face it honestly with you so that you can determine whether I will be more accurate in the future based on what I said I’ve learned. I will only say in my defense that it was an understandable mistake and definitely one that reflected an understanding of politics right up until July of 2015.
On the other hand, here comes Ann Coulter, explaining her thoughts on Trump’s anticipated flip-flop on immigration, as one of the central figures in the movement who has encouraged everyone to support Trump based on his views on immigration alone.
Author Ann Coulter, who is out promoting her new book In Trump We Trust, isn’t happy about Trump’s ever softening illegal immigration stance and is blaming consultants for the change.
“I think this is a mistake. It sounds like it’s coming from consultants,” Coulter said last night on Hardball with Chris Matthews. “I’ve thought he’s made other mistakes, and I’ve given him constructive criticism when I think he makes a mistake. I think this is a mistake.”
Now, there’s a lot to unpack here, but let me start with the error from which all the other really easy, glaringly obvious errors flow. That is the error that says, “It sounds like it’s coming from consultants.” This is the fundamental reason Coulter misunderstands and mischaracterizes what Trump is doing. It isn’t that Trump is now sounding like consultants, it’s that he sounds like Trump.
Trump, after all was the one who was criticizing Mitt Romney’s immigration plan as “too cruel” as recently as 2012. It was also Trump who said in both 2011 and 2013 that he supported a path to legalization for non-violent illegal immigrants who are already here. It was Trump who months ago hinted to the New York Times editorial board that the wall just just a rhetorical one as opposed to a real one, and if you still somehow weren’t paying attention, Trump criticized Obama’s immigration plan as being too strict in June of this year.
Now, this is not a completely clear issue because I will grant to Coulter, et al that Trump has at times said completely different things about immigration – things that they would like. So obviously, he was not being truthful one of those times. This requires a pundit to engage in a little critical thinking about basic human behaviors. Trump has expressed two different, conflicting viewpoints about illegal immigration during his life.
On the one hand, you have the public statements Trump made to his followers during a Republican Presidential campaign. On the other hand, you have the public statements Trump made at literally every other time in his life other than when he was running for President as an ostensible Republican.
In order to believe that Trump is sounding like the consultants got to him now, but was telling the honest truth when he first announced his run for President, you have to make the assumption that Trump is more honest when making promises whose votes he wants than he is when speaking at literally any other time. And I’m sorry, but that is a really stupid thing to believe. That is an absolute failure in terms of accurately informing your audience of the likelihood that Trump would betray them on immigration. And it’s not a close call, either – everyone with a triple-digit IQ knows to instinctively distrust politicians on the trail, especially when their statements conflict with statements made off the trail.
It’s especially egregious because Coulter has had adequate opportunity to witness Trump in action on the campaign trail; in fact, it’s been a significant part of her job – she even wrote a book about it. She’s had plenty of opportunity to watch Trump flip on his own tax plan (twice), espouse about 5 different positions on abortion in a 72 hour time span, and so on and so on. You can’t name literally a single thing Trump has been consistent on throughout this campaign. The idea that Trump would hold fast to a position he first arrived at the day he started campaigning, when he showed a dizzying ability to switch positions multiple times within the same day on pretty much every issue he considered – well, again, it’s kind of stupid. It’s kind of a total failure to engage critical thinking at all before passing opinions about a candidate on to your audience.
In fact, it’s indicative of such profound cluelessness that perhaps the more charitable explanation is actually that Coulter doesn’t believe any of the things she says, and is cynically manipulating a dull audience for her own financial benefit. That wouldn’t speak well of her as a person, but it would at least make her an intentional evil genius of some sort, instead of some unintentionally evil dullard. I can’t seen inside Coulter’s head, so I can’t begin to guess.
Either way, this episode should be accompanied by a drop in credibility – whatever amount you feel such an error deserves, I guess. After all, after this election is over, conservatives are going to have to choose between two different kinds of pundits – pundits who were wrong about whether Trump would win the primary, or pundits who were wrong about both whether he would lose the general and about what sort of conservative he was. I know which one I consider to be the more serious error, but you can make your own determination on that score, understanding that my opinion is not exactly free of bias.