The conservative crackup, to use Mr. Tyrrell’s term, continues apace, as even within the pages of National Review, which published a special issue devoted to attacking Donald Trump, you find dissent to the party line. Actually, this is to their credit. It comes in the form of a piece by Conrad Black putting the case for Trump rather well.
In fact, I think he does it better than the more romantic Jeff Lord has been doing it in these pages. Jeff Lord keeps trying to show that Trump, like Ronald Reagan, is an ex-liberal turned conservative. Much shrewder psychologically, and casting a cold political eye, Black looks at Trump and sees the obvious, he is a mainstream liberal, but neither radical nor ideologically driven (like the Democratic candidates), on the contrary: he is a results man, a pragmatist. As you expect a successful businessman to be and which is, Black argues, what you really need in Washington, not a right-wing purist.
Which by the way is a Republican attitude. It may be a little premature or beside the point for conservative writers to hastily jump on such Republicans as Bob Dole and Rudy Giuliani for their allegedly unseemly haste to move toward Trump while fearing the more ideological Cruz; in fact, it smells of inquisition, political commissars, and all that sort of thing. Republicans are the stupid party, to their immense credit — the stupider the politicians, the more they leave us alone — and it is typical of conservatives, intellectuals, activists, what-all, to never get this straight.
Thus NR hedges, or at least acknowledges the need, the moral need as well as the practical need, for open debate, which after all is a conservative axiom. This has been TAS’s attitude all along, with about half the regular contributors writing in support of Trump and the other half attacking him. The Weekly Standard has been one-sided, as has been the Wall Street Journal, unless you take a recent piece by Holman Jenkins, Jr. as a kind of tongue in cheek dissent against his own paper’s orthodoxy on this issue — though he ends his mock-open mindedness with a surprise endorsement of Rubio, who otherwise doesn’t appear in the column. It is a cute piece, the sarcasm cleverly directed at all sides while maintaining the superior tone vis-à-vis Trump. It is in its way refreshingly self-deprecating of the journalist’s trade, while everyone else is overwrought and anguished.
Because face it, from the beginning, it was obvious Donald Trump viewed the whole operation as a clever business move. Publicity, getting your name in the news, that is the name of the game. By showing up the vacuity, the lack of courage, the sheer amateurishness of the political class and much of the media, he positions himself as one smart guy, a winner not a loser, and whatever happens, the public will buy his brand, whatever package he sells next.
Then, realizing it might actually happen, he, nimble business entrepreneur, quickly revises his business plan and figures, why not go for it? After a term (or two) in that ridiculous city, back to New York and then the sky’s really the limit, biggest name in the country since John D. Rockefeller, forget those kids, Gates and Jobs and Zuckerberg and the rest.
All the conservative objections to Trump — they are well summed up by another WSJ columnist, their resident liberal William Galston — are perfectly reasonable, solid, and important in themselves, but, Black shows, irrelevant. This is presidential politics, the biggest deal-making game of all, and Trump has it cold on all the other candidates in this realm. Black, like Mr. Tyrrell in his own piece taking sides with the pro-Donalds, underlines that the important things are the simple ones (which conservatives used to view as a virtue when Reagan showed how true this was). Trump knows zilch about the nuclear triad or the difference between Kurds and al-Quds? Maybe, but he knows this: America comes first, second, and last, and the American people sense that Trump knows this, while they have strong reason to doubt, if I may recast a famous quip about Senator Joe McCarthy, whether their Washington elites know it.
Trump dismisses the NR attack on him as the meaningless gasp of a “losing” publication. Here again, you could say, this shows his vulgarity, his complete disregard for ideas and their consequences — a conservative dogma — his cluelessness. But, again see Conrad Black, the presidency is not a job for which you can be prepared with ideas and clues and what-all that you gain from reading conservative publications or any other kind, including Tolstoy. Maybe Donald Trump has not read Tolstoy. So maybe — they hold this against him — he misjudges Putin. Well, so did G.W. Bush misjudge Putin. G.W. Bush, assisted by supremely intelligent intellectuals like Paul Wolfowitz, Condi Rice, the vice president, and the Secretary of Defense (alleged experts on the Russian political style), misjudged a lot more than Vladimir Putin, come to think of it, and he was supported in his misjudgment by, broadly speaking, most conservative intellectuals outside the so-called paleoconservatives, even if they often gave him what the Marxists used to call “critical” support.
Personally, I am not against on “critical” support. That would be to abdicate critical reason. But as practiced by Marxist and conservative ideologically driven intellectuals, it tends to be an exercise in insufferable sanctimony. The same Liddell Hart wannabees, alleged experts on counterinsurgency and democracy-promotion and pre-emptive wars to end all wars, the same who gave us the cakewalk into Iraq and the “easier than Afghanistan” campaign in Libya, are incorrigible, and it takes a soldier, a Bing West, to ask them to shut up a little and pay attention to the terrain, which of course they never do.
But you need critical thinking. So you want them to be critical, only intelligently so, which is probably asking too much. Still again, you have to keep in mind that we didn’t start it. The war of Islam against itself, spilling over into a war against the West, dates from way back before 9/11. It is their problem, not ours, though of course they have made it ours. This must be kept in mind at all times.
But having said that, when you have a failing commander, you replace him. You ditch Meade and you name Grant. The screw up in our democratic system is that we ditched Bush and anointed Obama, failure for failure. That, my friends, was not a good move.
The Trump excitement could be over as soon as the primaries begin, as voter exasperation is replaced by the sobriety that comes with standing alone in the awesome responsibility of democratic duty. Frankly, it does not speak well for our society to have allowed so much hysteria to envelop the democratic process before it even begins, and it is all the more embarrassing when you know the boondoggling that your tax dollars pay for in sham programs of distant “democracy building.”
Yes, we are the friends of liberty everywhere, but it ill becomes us to meddle in other people’s politics, except when we are quite sure we can influence them to our advantage. Which occasions by definition are rare.
Instead of hyperventilating about whether or not Donald Trump knows the difference between a triad and a doodad, shouldn’t the candidates, Democratic and Republican together, state that in the face of the Iranian leader’s explicit denial of the Holocaust, they understand the nuclear pact with Tehran was an unfortunate error and they will work to reverse it?
That would be real bipartisanship and, more to the point, true statesmanship.
It would also put some sense back into this zany electoral year before we get engulfed in our own madness, the prelude, the Greeks warned us — I mean the Ancients, not the Levantine schnorers who now inhabit the Peloponnese — to self-destruction.