Earlier this week, front-page Wall Street Journal: TRUMP IN CONTROL AFTER CRUZ EXITS
The New York Post (same company) screamed: THE NOMINEE, subhead: “Can you believe it?”
The Journal ran a piece saying the Republican Party had only itself to blame. However, it also editorialized that the third party option proposed by a number of observers of the American scene will fail, and the great New York newspaper counseled against it. The party should run its nominee, and watch him lose, and draw the consequences. A third party would serve only to give Trump’s voters an excuse for his loss.
Seeing as how often and how massively the commentators, like the pollsters, have misjudged the Trump movement, how can the Journal be so sure? One of the leading anti-Trump conservative opinion leaders, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, all but accused theJournal of making a disingenuous argument for party unity because it could not bring itself to openly endorse their fellow-New Yorker. Note that the Journal, as a matter of editorial policy, does not officially endorse candidates, but it does have a way of making it clear where it thinks the more harm will come as between two candidates.
Indeed, a day or two later, perhaps feeling a little less hung over, the same editorialists, unless they called in a pinch hitter, got the old fighting spirit up again and grudgingly noted that while Donald Trump is no Gipper, he is more likely to go with the recommendations of a conservative-leaning Congress — once he has his famous wall, they added a trifle maliciously — than the likely Democratic alternative, who is committed to tyrannical redistributive statism. “This is an election,” they wrote, “not the Spanish civil war,” not a bad line if somewhat overwrought to underscore that in a free regime, you close ranks behind the least bad option rather than aim for an unattainable purity.
Now I will say up front that although I, personally (as per my view that it’s not about me, which I think is a sensible view in the best tradition of American newspaper writing unlike some people around here), I, personally, will endorse no one until told to do so whereupon I will put on my editorialist’s hat (a bowler) as opposed to my reporter’s hat (a borsalino). I have observed with interest the third-party concept.
Some confusion arose the other day when I used something called the Kristol-VandeHei-Kaplan-Kondracke gambit to describe the general field of stop-Trump theories — a veritable cottage industry — but it should have been clear that these four minds did not think entirely alike.
Messrs. Kristol and Kondracke believe the year requires a third party; Mr. Kristol to save conservatism, Mr. Kondracke to seize the opportunity to revive the moribund “vital center” of American politics. Mr. VandeHei also suggests this could be the year of the third party, but, apart from sharing his confreres’ loathing for Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, he views the imperative in practical terms, as a way to profit — for the benefit of the country — from voter frustration with the Washington nomenklatura. As to Mr. Kaplan, all he said, expressing an opinion without official TAS endorsement — we are nothing if not catholic on this paper, and this reminds me, if you get a chance to see an old classic, The Nun’s Story, seize it, all of Fred Zinneman’s films are germane to the present political environment— was that the Republicans’ best option was to draft Senator Jim Webb.
Now the question would seem to be, to return to that headline, whether Donald Trump is going to go into cruise control now, and will this help or hurt him in the general election campaign.
The only answer is: no one knows.
What the primary season indicates, however, is that the country is in a Jacksonian mood. You do not need rocket science to see this. What it means, though, is that this is not a good time to get into philosophical squabbles about conservatism or liberalism. Such squabbles are always welcome, as long as they are conducted in a civil tone. The imperative now is to think about Americans, not the isms that voters are fed up with.
Walter Russell Mead wrote a classic on the Jacksonian temper in American politics a few years ago in, I believe, the National Interest. It should be required reading for anyone planning to take part in the fall campaign or cover it. Tom Wolfe, in his 2006 Jefferson Lecture, says that undiluted Jacksonianism is to be found in what he calls Good Ol’ Boys, who “are mainly but by no means exclusively Scots-Irish Protestants in background and are Born Fighting, to use the title of a brilliant recent work of ethnography by James Webb. They have been the backbone of American combat forces ever since the Revolution, including, as it turns out, both armies during the Civil War.… They place a premium on common sense and are skeptical of people with theories they don’t put to the test themselves.”
Tom Wolfe then offers an anecdote that is well worth reproducing in full:
It was the mid-1940s, during the second World War, and a bunch of good ol’ boys too old for military service were sitting around in a general store in Scotland County, North Carolina, waiting for a representative of a cattleman’s association. They fell to discussing the war.
One of them said, “Seems to me this whole war’s on account of one man, Adolph Hitler. ‘Stead a sending all these supply ships to England and whatnot and getting’m sunk out in the Atlantic Ocean by U-boats, why don’t we just go ov’ere and shoot him?”
“Whatcha mean, ‘just go ov’ere and shoot him’?”
“Just go to where he lives and shoot the sonofabitch.”
“I ’speck it ain’t that easy. He’s probably got a wall around his house.”
“Maybe he does. But you git me a boat to git me ov’ere and I’ll do it myself.”
“I’ll wait’il it’s night time… see… and then I’ll go around to the back of the house and climb the wall and hide behind a tree. I’ll stay there all night, and then in the morning, when he comes out in the yard to pee, I’ll shoot him.”
The story shows the Jacksonian “disdain for the futility of government and its cumbersome ways of approaching problems, a faith in common sense, reliance on the inner discipline of the individual — and guns.”
No one would suggest we start thinking or talking or acting like this, but we disdain at our peril the room this way of being holds in our national soul.