Understanding Differences in Never Trumpism

A common lament in leftist (and some right-wing) circles is that #NeverTrump conservatives mouth criticisms of Trump, but by their actions demonstrate they are no better than Trumpists. For instance, Senator Ben Sasse, a very vocal critic of Trump since day one, still votes “with” Trump over 90 percent of the time, thus showing himself to be a hypocrite.

The nub of the argument seems to be that conservatives ought to vote against their ideological interests to demonstrate their solidarity with the anti-Trump cause, otherwise they will be lumped in as enemies to the people. This attitude reflects a deep misunderstanding of Trump critics and the distinctions of flavors among his detractors on the right.

To understand better, we need to step back to the primaries. This piece does a pretty good job in explaining where Trump’s support came from. It also helps explain where it did not come from. The most consistent and vociferous opposition to Trump within the Republican party came from those who labelled themselves “strongly conservative.” These were principally Cruz voters, though some preferred Rubio and some of the other candidates. In exit polls, particularly in the early stages of the primary, they were the category showing the weakest support for Trump. Support for Trump increased through each step away from strong conservatives, to mild conservatives, to moderates, and then even Democrats. As the article shows, moderate is perhaps not the best descriptor of a typical Trump supporter, though these individuals were definitely not traditional conservatives – being far less concerned with issues related to government spending, economic freedom, or opposition to abortion.

For those who opposed Trump, opposition can be labeled in one of two categories: ideology and personality. Ideological opponents of Trump deemed him to be a RINO in the truest sense of the term. He was literally a Democrat who called himself a Republican, but who still clung to many of his “big government” principles. He may have mouthed certain conservative pieties, but in his heart he remained something of an authoritarian. Conservative opposition to Trump was built largely, though not solely, on these grounds.

More moderate voters also had some ideological grounds for disagreement, but their concerns were centered more around personality: Trump was an uncouth, half-witted blabbermouth who catered to the worst instincts of his supporters. To be sure most conservative critics of Trump also felt the same way, but the points of emphasis were different. These types of voters tended to cluster around Kasich and Rubio. They are also why some of us never referred to ourselves as NeverTrumpers, because those who were most fervent in that designation were #AndNotCruzEither.

If you understand this gap in reasoning, you can understand why certain parts of the right have been more comfortable in praising and supporting Trump on policy, or have become outright supporters. The more one’s suspicion of Trump was based on ideology, the easier it is to support him to one degree or another. I am not going to get into an in-depth analysis of whether or not Trump’s presidency is truly conservative, or whether he has delivered as many conservative policy victories as his supporters claim. But he has certainly not governed against conservative principles as much as his detractors feared. (Trump’s tariff policies have been the one area where has most governed against conservative ideology, but the results of those actions have not been as severe as feared, even if not as successful as pretended they are).

Conservatives who put a good deal of emphasis on the personality side (raises hand) are not as positive about Trump as those who don’t care as much about those concerns. But they are much more sanguine about him than those whose primary concerns were attitudinal. Not only has Trump affirmed their worst fears, he has governed relatively conservatively. Because here’s the rub: while moderate Republicans distrusted Trump due to personal considerations, the most hostile of this group have moved away for more ideological reasons. Maybe it’s better put this way: moderate NeverTrumpers were barely tethered to the Republican party to begin with. Trump has pushed them over the edge because now they feel completely alienated.

I’m going to use the most recent defection as an example. Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise, and a very vocal critic of both Trump and the populist base of support (Nichols makes me look like a rabid man of the people democrat in comparison), announced he is finally leaving the Republican party. Frankly I didn’t know he was in it. Let’s go over some of the reasons he provides:

Small things sometimes matter, and Collins is among the smallest of things in the political world. And yet, she helped me finally to accept what I had been denying. Her speech on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh convinced me that the Republican Party now exists for one reason, and one reason only: for the exercise of raw political power, and not even for ends I would otherwise applaud or even support.

I have written on social media and elsewhere how I feel about Kavanaugh’s nomination. I initially viewed his nomination positively, as a standard GOP judicial appointment; then grew concerned about whether he should continue on as a nominee with the accusations against him; and finally, was appalled by his behavior in front of the Senate.

It was Collins, however, who made me realize that there would be no moderates to lead conservatives out of the rubble of the Trump era. Senator Jeff Flake is retiring and took a pass, and with all due respect to Senator Lisa Murkowski—who at least admitted that her “no” vote on cloture meant “no” rather than drag out the drama—she will not be the focus of a rejuvenated party.

When Collins spoke, she took the floor of the Senate to calm an anxious and divided nation by giving us all an extended soliloquy on… the severability of a clause.

The severability of a clause? Seriously?

It took almost half an hour before Collins got to the accusations against Kavanaugh, but the rest of what she said was irrelevant. She had clearly made up her mind weeks earlier, and she completely ignored Kavanaugh’s volcanic and bizarre performance in front of the Senate.

Nichols claims Susan Collins’s speech was the final straw for him. Let’s do to Nichols what is unable to do for Collins: take him at face value. He thinks he has been abandoned because one of the last true moderates has shown she is a true Trumpian, interested in only raw political power. Her speech, he says, was a sham because she had already made her mind up and was now just making an excuse to justify her vote.

I’ve discussed Collins’s speech, and had a much different takeaway. I can understand Nichols’s cynicism, but I don’t think he has made a convincing case in his favor. Nichols argues that Collins was biased in favor of Kavanaugh, but here he glosses over his own bias. Nichols had already expressed his opposition to Kavanaugh, and thus he dismisses Collins through his own biased prism. Kavanaugh’s testimony before the Senate was “volcanic and bizarre” only if you were already predisposed towards opposing him. For those unconvinced that Dr. Ford had adequately proven her allegations, and who thought the other allegations against him were outrageous fabrications, Kavanaugh’s performance was completely understandable. It’s okay to come to a different conclusion, but Nichols seems incapable of contemplating that Collins – and most other Kavanaugh defenders – are acting in good faith.

Nichols then says he cannot join the Democrats because of their execrable behavior, but says the Republicans were worse.

The Republicans, however, have now eclipsed the Democrats as a threat to the rule of law and to the constitutional norms of American society. They have become all about winning. Winning means not losing, and so instead of acting like a co-equal branch of government responsible for advice and consent, congressional Republicans now act like a parliamentary party facing the constant threat of a vote of no-confidence.

He’s not entirely wrong about the shift in Republican attitudes, but it is strange to make this argument in light of the Kavanaugh proceedings. The Democrats were the ones who threw every manner of hyperbolic, unreasonable argument against Kavanaugh, and that was before the Ford allegation. The Democrats never gave him a fair shot, and tried every maneuver to win by smearing him at every turn. Moreover, it’s difficult to claim Republicans were acting like authoritarians (as Nichols believes the GOP has become) when they were not the ones who seemed to abandon the concept of innocent until proven guilty during this process.

Nichols further claims Republicans have abandoned principle in pursuit of pure power politics.

Politics is about the exercise of power. But the new Trumpist GOP is not exercising power in the pursuit of anything resembling principle, and certainly not for conservative or Republican principles.

Free trade? Republicans are suddenly in love with tariffs, and now sound like bad imitations of early 1980s protectionist Democrats. A robust foreign policy? Not only have Republicans abandoned their claim to being the national-security party, they have managed to convince the party faithful that Russia—an avowed enemy that directly attacked our political institutions—is less of a threat than their neighbors who might be voting for Democrats. Respect for law enforcement? The GOP is backing Trump in attacks on the FBI and the entire intelligence community as Special Counsel Robert Mueller closes in on the web of lies, financial arrangements, and Russian entanglements known collectively as the Trump campaign.

Again, he’s not totally wrong, but he’s also not completely right. I’ve already mentioned tariffs, where Nichols has a much stronger argument. But how much has the GOP gone wobbly on national security? I, too, weep when some Trumpists shrug their shoulders at Putin’s malevolence, and Trump’s verbal sucking up to dictators is sickening. But has this actually impacted policy? When it comes to real world actions, Trump has not been a shrinking violet with regards to Russia. As for the Mueller investigation – I’ll just say it’s not as simplistic as Nichols is making it out to be.

He continues:

And most important, on the rule of law, congressional Republicans have utterly collapsed. They have sold their souls, purely at Trump’s behest, living in fear of the dreaded primary challenges that would take them away from the Forbidden City and send them back home to the provinces. Yes, an anti-constitutional senator like Hirono is unnerving, but she’s a piker next to her Republican colleagues, who have completely reversed themselves on everything from the limits of executive power to the independence of the judiciary, all to serve their leader in a way that would make the most devoted cult follower of Kim Jong Un blush.

Have they? This is a nice rant, but is it actually true? Again, presumption of innocence is an aspect of demonstrating respect for the rule of law, and I think the Democrats have been woefully worse. Nichols may be right about individual Republican Congressmen being afraid to take on Trump, but where has it manifested in disrespect for the rule of law? I’m less than convinced by this particular argument.

Nichols says its other conservatives who have abandoned their principles, not he.

Maybe it’s me. I’m not a Republican anymore, but am I still a conservative? Limited government: check. Strong national defense: check. Respect for tradition and deep distrust of sudden, dramatic change: check. Belief that people spend their money more wisely than government? That America is an exceptional nation with a global mission? That we are, in fact, a shining city on a hill and an example to others? Check, check, check.

This will hopefully be the subject of future posts, but “limited government” is a meaningless bit of shorthand offered by people trying to prove their conservative bona fides, but which proves nothing. “Respect for tradition and deep distrust of sudden, dramatic change” is the only point of substance, and it is a very good one.

So Nichols is bit more credible as a somewhat conservative Trump critic than others who have publicly said they were leaving the Republican party. But then he continues:

But I can’t deny that I’ve strayed from the party. I believe abortion should remain legal. I am against the death penalty in all its forms outside of killing in war. I don’t think what’s good for massive corporations is always good for America. In foreign affairs, I am an institutionalist, a supporter of working through international bodies and agreements. I think our defense budget is too big, too centered on expensive toys, and that we are still too entranced by nuclear weapons.

 

Not every Republican who has left the party in the age of Trump is pro abortion (I left and am most definitely not pro abortion), but it does seem like every public figure who has made a public break is. Can someone who believes abortion should remain legal really call themselves a traditional conservative? Again, this could be the subject of an entirely different post or twenty, so I don’t want to dive too deeply on this. But no. The answer is no.

As for the rest of this, I actually am on the same page with Nichols with the possible exception of being an institutionalist, but I don’t think many conservatives would have a problem with any of these points, at least in the abstract. But how does one concretely reflect these principles in the real world? Aye, there’s the rub, and I suspect Nichols might be underplaying his differences.

I’ve run longer than I intended, and perhaps more dismissive of Nichols than I meant to be. As a registered Independent I am in no position to critique someone who no longer feels they can remain in the current GOP. But I do think Nichols is indicative of a larger break within right-wing circles. One begins to wonder if Trump is the real reason for moderates to leave the Republican party, or is he simply the excuse?

 

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The Four MVPs of the Kavanaugh Confirmation

Now that Brett Kavanaugh has finally been confirmed to take a seat on the Supreme Court, I would like to highlight the four individuals who played an essential part in getting him past the finished line.

I have been following politics for the better part of three decades. I admit to certain biases, and I have been very critical of all four of these individuals. But all four deserve kudos.

Donald Trump: Brett Stephens is singing his praises, so he’s done something right. I’m not sure any other Republican president would have stood firm on this nomination. Moreover, for once in his presidency Trump knew to keep quiet. Well, mostly. He couldn’t help but take some potshots at Doctor Ford at a rally earlier this week, but aside from that, he let the process play out. This might have been the best moment of his presidency.

Mitch McConnell: Ah, Cocaine Mitch triumphs again. He, too, gets credit for keeping his head down and not wavering on the nominee. Despite the fact that it is widely rumored that he was not a fan of the pick, McConnell never threw in the towel. But his role in this fiasco goes further back. He took advantage of the opening Harry Reid so helpfully provided him, and he has outmaneuvered the Democrats every step of the way. The Democrats scored some own goals, it is true, but the Senate Majority Leader took advantage and has been every bit as critical as President Trump(‘s advisors) in ensuring that originalist judges get confirmed at a breathtaking pace. The reshaping of the Court will be McConnell’s legacy, and a damned fine one at that.

Lindsey Graham; The turning point in the Kavanugh confirmation process may have been Kavanaugh’s own testimony, but Graham also changed the dynamics by his heated chiding of his Senate colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. Who knew that moment would cause Graham to go full Bullworth, as he’s been on a roll ever since. This picture is a wonderful representation of Graham’s newfound DGAF attitude.

What’s impressive about Graham’s shift in attitude is, unlike some of the theatrics coming from the folks on the other side, you don’t get the impression it’s a put on. He’s not running for higher office, and whatever conservatives around the country may think of him, he probably has that seat for as long as he wants it.

Susan Collins: Fifteen minutes into her floor speech, I said, “She just loves this attention.” But as she continued, I appreciated what she was doing. Though it is likely to be fruitless in the end, I think it was her attempt to calm the mobs and bring perspective on Kavanaugh’s ascendancy to the Supreme Court. Even though I don’t think too many people will take her message to heart, she deserves credit for trying.

Some conservatives have joked that her floor speech convinced them that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed. Time will tell what kind of Justice he will be. I do hope he disappoints conservatives from time to time. The entire point is that the men and women of the court are not super legislators, so I would be more disappointed in Kavanaugh if he never rendered a decision upsetting to conservatives. My hope is that if I do disagree with his vote, he justifies it in a more convincing manner than Anthony Kennedy.

So here we are. At least we can finally put this rancor behind us.

Or not.

Rethinking Jeff Flake’s Rethinking

John McCormack credits Jeff Flake for helping to clear Brett Kavanaugh’s name through his push for a one week pause in the proceedings.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 4, Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer spoke to the press following a confidential briefing about the FBI’s supplemental background check. While the senators were limited about what they could say, Feinstein focused first on the fact that neither Kavanaugh nor Ford, who testified publicly for hours last week, were interviewed by the FBI.

If the FBI investigation had turned up some groundbreaking new information, that is not the kind of thing you’d expect the Democratic senators to focus on.

The FBI interviewed all the alleged party attendees—Ford’s lifelong female friend Leland Ingham Keyser, Kavanaugh friend P.J. Smyth, and alleged accomplice Mark Judge. Keyser had previously said she recalls no party at which Kavanaugh was present and does not know Kavanaugh. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication Keyser has changed her story.

The FBI also interviewed Chris Garrett, a person Ford went out with around the time of the alleged assault in 1982 and Ford’s only known social connection to Kavanaugh and Judge. The FBI also interviewed Tim Gaudette, who hosted a July 1, 1982, party that has been the focus of much speculation. Schumer and Feinstein gave no indication those interviews turned up groundbreaking information.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley said in a statement: “This investigation found no hint of misconduct and the same is true of the six prior FBI background investigations conducted during Judge Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service.”

Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a key undecided vote, said this morning: “It appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

Indeed, the constant goalpost moving is a sure sign that the FBI investigation turned up nothing to corroborate Ford’s allegations, and other developments suggest Ford’s case against Kavanaugh is more suspect than we thought even a week ago.

So, did Flake wind up helping Kavanaugh, or at least did he help engineer something which will at ease some of the bitter feelings against him? I am not sure about that. Susan Collins is set to announce her vote, and Flake has already said he is now a yes (though he’s said that before). If Collins and/or Manchin vote for Kavanaugh, then he will be confirmed despite Lisa Murkowski’s no vote. At the very least, then, this pause didn’t hurt Kavanaugh.

But did it really make a difference? Did the general public’s opinion of the situation change appreciably? McCormack ably lays out the various ways the case against Kavanaugh has crumbled, but how many people are paying close attention and had their opinions change? That may be unknowable.

At the very least, I have been moved enough to delete an earlier post about Flake’s actions from a week ago. It was much too snarky and condescending, and in retrospect I let emotions run away from me.

Oddly, it was listening to Rush Limbaugh that caused me to delete the post. I have listened to Limbaugh only a handful of times in the past three years, and just happened to catch his program for a few minutes today. He was actually very understanding towards Flake, Collins, and Murkowski. The three of them have been inundated with calls, emails, tweets, etc, and they have received vile threats against them and their families. All Republicans have, but these three have borne the brunt of most of the anger. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face that much hate, and to receive credible threats against one’s security.

Buckling to the angry voices – as Flake may have done after being confronted by angry protesters – does embolden those angry voices, but I also haven’t been in his shoes. I’m not totally convinced Flake should receive credit for his seeming change of heart, but I’ll give him enough benefit of the doubt to back off my earlier denunciation.

Random Observations

– One of the talking points going around is that Brett Kavanaugh is acting “entitled” to a SCOTUS seat, because showing emotion about being accused of a sex crime is assuredly a signal of one’s entitlement. These very same people have talked about the Merrick Garland “seat” as though President Obama’s mere nomination meant Garland was entitled to the seat.

– Speaking of double standards, the Catholic left is lining up against Kavanaugh. America Magazine has urged he be  voted down, shocking no one exactly. Meanwhile detective Steven Greydanus and Dr. Watson, err Mark Shea crack the code of Kavanaugh’s high school yearbook and thus conclude that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Shea is of course one of the members of the papal online guard who resort to ad hominem attacks anytime the current pontiff is alleged to have gone soft on clerics guilty of abuse. And of course these claims contain much more corroboration than those against Kavanaugh. But Shea, nevertheless, is on the lookout to tamp down those unreasonable Christianists. (I should emphasize here why I noted my Catholicism in my initial post. This internecine warfare is another topic I will be sure to deal with in the future.)

– Yale law students are certainly free to take time off to protest, but I do hope none of those protesting wearing “Believe All Women” shirts, or shirts with slogans to that effect, ever work in a public defender’s office. Similarly, I do hope all those other online warriors who have expressed similar opinions are never assigned to a jury on a rape case.

Power Politics

There is a political party in America where a not inconsiderable number of its members evidently believe that the FBI is staffed by infallible men who have superhuman like abilities to discover the truth of accusations, even into areas over which they have no jurisdiction, and who also implicitly think that any man accused of rape is guilty until proven innocent.

The new law and order party: the Democrats of 2018.

Let me tackle the somewhat less serious issue first. The mantra, repeated endlessly for the past two weeks, is all we need to do to get to the bottom of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh is have the FBI investigate. Nevermind that the allegations do not involve a federal crime, or that Kavanaugh has been investigated (so to speak) multiple times by the FBI due to the positions he has held or has been nominated for. No, that’s not enough. Only the FBI has the authority and skills to determine the truth.

AG Conservative explains why this is all a load of bunk better than I can. Long story short, Congress is itself an investigative body. An FBI investigation will yield nothing that has not already been revealed. This is nothing more than a delaying tactic, but it’s a farce we’ll have to endure for another week to satisfy the man from Arizona with the spine of jell-o.

As for the #BelieveSurvivors contingent, this is a bit more delicate. Women who bring forward rape allegations should not be ceremoniously disregarded or mocked (though the allegations brought to light by porn lawyer Michael Avenatti are so bizarre they may merit being disregarded out of hand). A woman should not be made to feel like her life is threatened were she to bring forward an allegation or charge.

But the idea that all women should be entirely believed automatically is another. Of course, the logical corollary to “the accuser should be believed” is not necessarily “the accused is therefore guilty.” Even if one believes some kind of attack happened to the accuser, there could be any number of lapses in memory that mean the accused is not the guilty party. Leaving that aside, though, in today’s world “believe the accuser” is de facto “assume the accused is guilty.” And that is grossly unfair both as a matter of law and social construct.

One of the more repugnant critiques of any attempt at defending Kavanaugh is to say that this is merely a “job interview,” not a trial. Once again, the aforementioned AG Conservative is a good source for rebuttals to this argument. Of course Kavanaugh is not entitled to the Supreme Court seat, nor is the bar as high in assessing his guilt or innocence as high as it would be if he were on trial. But that does not mean the burden of proof is flipped and the presumption of guilt hold sway until he somehow prove his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.

For Brett Kavanaugh, more than just a job is at stake. His reputation has already been sullied, and if his nomination were to be withdrawn “just to save face,” the presumption of guilt will linger for the rest of his life. Indeed, for millions he is already assumed to be guilty, but that is their problem. It is not right to have a man be considered an attempted rapist just because of the existence of the accusation. And if you think that all the other facts of his life make this a consideration not worth keeping in mind, then I would like to see how you treat a false accusation leveled against you.

Another issue with this presumption of guilt (or automatic belief in the veracity of the accuser’s claim) is that is has put sexual assault crimes in a special category. If Brett Kavanaugh had been alleged to have gotten drunk and assaulted one of his classmates, I don’t think we’d be seeing a “believe the man” campaign. Even granting that sexual assault or rape are much more traumatic for the victims and meriting of special scorn (and I do grant that), that does not mean all the rules of due process fly out the window only for crimes of a sexual nature.

Over the past few months I have been listening to the Constitutionally Speaking podcast, and it’s made me look more closely at the ratification debates. The lack of a guarantee of jury trials in civil cases, and the lack of a bill of rights including a due process guarantee are among the most important causes of opposition to the constitution. This recognition of the vital importance of due process is not just some legal mumbo jumbo applicable solely to defendants at court. It is a reflection of the importance our society places on fair play. Indeed our country’s abandonment of that principle with regards to certain segments of society is rightfully seen as one of the primary blots on our nation’s history. Funny that the people who are quickest to condemn our country’s past for failing to live up to this ideal are the ones loudest in their condemnation of Kavanaugh.

For too long conservatives have been too quick to believe men in badges, and have also tended to be the quickest in assuming the defendant in a trial is guilty before all the evidence comes in. That has been changing over the past few years, at least in certain conservative circles. More conservatives are coming to appreciate the importance of respecting the rights of the accused – and even the condemned, at least when it comes to conservative embrace of prison reform. Most conservatives (though sadly not enough) rightly were outraged at the murders of Philando Castile and Botham Jean, and though we may debate some of the elements of #BlackLivesMatter, there’s a growing appreciation of the extreme fallibility of men and women of the law.

So that makes these recent developments all the more chilling. The left is becoming more comfortable with goon-like tactics while abandoning the concept of due process.

I think there’s a name for that.

 

 

The Radicalization of a Conservative

I stands what I can stands and I can’t stands no more – Popeye

If you think kicking off the initial post of this blog with a quote from Popeye is an indication of a lack of seriousness on my part, I will encourage you now to go ahead and peruse social media. Check out the accounts of our elected officials. Look at the profiles of “mainstream” media “reporters.” Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now then, doesn’t Popeye seem like a sage in comparison to the drek you just read?

Let me state up front who I am. I am a politically conservative Roman Catholic of a certain age. I strenuously opposed the nomination of Donald Trump, and did not vote for him in the general election. For technical and logistical reasons I do not call myself a “Never Trumper.” I have not become a fan of Donald Trump, though I support and appreciate many of his policy goals and initiatives, none the least of which are his judicial selections – but more on that in a second. A lifelong Republican, I changed to Independent days before the 2016 Republican convention. This November I intended to vote only to reelect my governor, and then leave all other offices on the ballot blank.

After what I witnessed yesterday, and have been witnessing for the past two weeks, I will be voting straight line Republican in November. Moreover, I will not be sitting on the sidelines anymore as the left – and yes, the American left does merit most of the blame for the circus our republic has become – becomes committed to acquiring power at all costs.

This does not mean I have become a “Trumpist,” nor will I become (I hope) a blind Republican partisan stooge. It does mean that recent events have, for lack of a better term, “radicalized” me. No, you don’t have to alert homeland security. The greatest extent my radicalization will take is writing angry screeds on the internet. But make no mistake: I am angry, or at least I am angry about what our politics have become.

I intend not just to write about current events. As the blog title indicates, history is important to me, and will endeavor to write historically-informed posts. The next few posts, however, will focus on the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and the disgusting treatment he received from Democrats on the committee, as well as what public reaction to those hearings has revealed about the mindset of the American left.