As Donald Trump’s first year in the White House ends observers are taking stock. Eugene Robinson speaks for many Democrats and disaffected independents: “Just a few more days,” he wrote, “and this awful, rotten, no-good, ridiculous, rancorous, sordid, disgraceful year in the civic life of our nation will be over.”
Yet the right is divided.
Many in its Never Trump faction remain alarmed by President Trump’s behavior and dismayed that so many Republicans have fallen in line behind him. But others on the right are forcefully arguing that Trump’s first year in office has proved to be a striking success worthy of applause from conservatives.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, declared Trump’s first year “a historic success.”
Roger Simon went farther at PJ Media.
“More conservative goals have been achieved or put in motion in eleven months than in any time in recent, or even distant, memory,” he declared. “It’s an astonishing reversal for our country accompanied by the beginnings of an economic boom.” However, he continued, the left is determined to mount a counterattack:
They cannot let this stand and are marshaling all their forces from the media to Hollywood to the academy, not to mention at least some of the investigative units of the FBI. The next year seems poised to be an ideological duel as close to the death as we have seen in a long time. If the right does not win, the gains of 2017 will be stymied by the election of 2018 and completely washed away in 2020. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation and we need the NeverTrumpers’ help. We need — to borrow a hoary leftist term — a united front.
It shouldn’t be all that difficult. The basic intentions of the Trumpkins (as we have been derided) and the NeverTrumpers were never that far apart. It was more an issue of style and strategy, of decorum really. And, of course, that ugly secret — some felt they were losing their power.
Time to get over it.
The Trump boosters are dead wrong.
That’s the judgment of a majority of Americans: Roughly 57 percent of those surveyed disapprove of Trump’s job performance as of December 26, 2017.
And that majority is substantively correct.
It isn’t that Trump has no accomplishments to his name, or that Republicans are obligated to ignore actions that they agree with because of the president’s flaws.
Ramesh Ponnuru sums up Trump’s policy record well by observing that “people who voted for Trump in November 2016 on the theory that he would deliver policies radically different from what other Republicans would do,” which is to say, many in his base, “should be disappointed,” whereas “those who voted for him because he would usually line up with conservatives and sign Republican bills, on the other hand, have reason to be pleased with his policy record.”
Of course, Trump has presided over many policy failures. Any president could pass a tax bill or confirm federal judges given a Senate and House that is controlled by their party. And Trump’s tax bill failed to simplify the system while his federal court appointments include embarrassingly unqualified choices. But even without those caveats to the two policy achievements that conservatives cite most often, there are sound reasons to justify opposition from Never Trumpers.
Some relate to incompetence, others to lack of transparency.
And the most important and damning traits that distinguish Trump from his predecessors are his willingness to stoke animus against minority groups for political gain; the energy he has given to white supremacists; the indiscipline of his public statements; the frequency with which he blatantly lies to the public; and the unsavory characters that he brought with him into the federal government—including Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, for starters.
Only Never Trumpers can credibly claim to stand against the moral abominations that suffused Trump’s political rise and the first year of his presidency. They alone are conserving a faction on the right that stands against deplorability in the face of a president who remains a cruel, mendacious egomaniac. They alone can credibly claim to oppose racial demagoguery.
Insofar as most Republicans celebrate Trump as a success story, rather than repudiating him as an affront to basic standards of decency, they transgress against the Founding belief in the importance of character in leaders while disgracing themselves and doing shortsighted violence to the GOP’s long term prospects. To the question, “Did you oppose the man who repeatedly stoked hatred of us?” they will have to tell Hispanics, Muslims, and African Americans, “No.”
In fact, Pro-Trumpers are sullying the fiscally laissez faire party for a generation, a tragedy for those who believe in free-market economics and small government. Neither George W. Bush nor John McCain nor Mitt Romney deserved criticism they got from some quarters for alleged racial animus. But I don’t blame voters who are rooting for Republicans to be routed in Election 2018: The GOP no longer passes the threshold test of opposing open bigotry.
Just last month, my colleague David Graham offered a mere snapshot of Trump’s most recent deplorable behavior. “He retweeted inflammatory and misleading anti-Islam videos from a bigoted far-right British politician,” he wrote. “He baselessly implied that NBC host Joe Scarborough, a onetime informal adviser, might have been involved in the death of an intern years ago in Florida. And several outlets reported that the president privately continues to claim preposterous things, including that it wasn’t him on the Access Hollywood tape and that Barack Obama really wasn’t born in the United States.”
All alone, spreading propaganda directed at a religious minority group would’ve been a shocking act for any past president. For Trump, more tweets like it could come any moment and no one in the United States would be surprised. Insofar as a voter backlash can repudiate the bigot in the White House and his choice to stoke racial and ethnic divisions for power, the country will benefit.
For now, the man responsible for so much bigotry is the same one that the RNC is declaring a historic success, and the same one Roger Simon wants to form a “united front” behind. If a Democratic president ever behaved half as irresponsibly as Trump the entire right would explode in righteous indignation. Yet Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, and many more besides stand with Trump no matter how nakedly he engages in character assassination or how often he openly stokes ethnic tensions.
At best, they are blind to the role Trump has played in emboldening Richard Spencer and the other deplorables who marched beneath Nazi flags in Charlottesville. (Imagine hesitating to repudiate a mob that chanted “Jews will not replace us.”) Nor do they acknowledge the indefensibility of Trump’s alliance with Bannon, even as fellow conservatives like David French and Ben Shapiro are targeted by the virulent racists and anti-Semites Bannon helped to cultivate.
Sooner or later, the GOP will face a backlash over the unsavory forces they’ve allied with and unleashed, just as they faced a backlash after Pete Wilson’s embrace of Proposition 187 in California and the excesses of George W. Bush, especially the catastrophic Iraq War (bygone causes that Rush Limbaugh and friends championed). The GOP will deserve every bit of its next fall from power. And only Never Trumpers will have the credibility to pick up the pieces and rebuild.