Been away, what’d I miss?
[Skims a year’s worth of news; turns ashen, stares somberly at wall; considers cutting wrists with edge of paper clip, but judges it a coward’s way out; sighs.]
Clearly we have our work cut out for us.
When last we addressed this august assembly a year ago, our old friends the rightbloggers — those busy folk who carry the conservative message to the masses online — were at something of a low ebb. Their Republicans held both houses of Congress*, but they weren’t getting much done with it aside from the occasional #Benghazi hearing; plus, President Obama was openly trolling them, dangling, for example, a possible executive order on immigration just to remind America how badly Republicans had fucked that one up. It got so bad that after years of crying for President Obama’s impeachment, rightbloggers were reduced to insisting that it was Obama who was trying to get them to impeach him.
The Republican Congress has since descended ever deeper into clusterfuck; former House Speaker John Boehner has quit, and, at this writing, the members are having great trouble pulling off their biennial shutdown ritual.
You might expect rightbloggers in these dark days to just give up and retreat to separatist communes. But don’t crack the Champagne yet, libtards! This is America, where every man gets a second chance and every well-endowed pressure group gets dozens of them. A new hope looms on the rightblogger horizon: the 2016 elections. If they can just get the ball over that goal line and hold Congress, they can have it all — an end to affordable health care, an army of Kim Davises to block gay marriage, and even a new war, possibly a World-class one, in the Middle East. Only a fool would walk away from such an opportunity!
True, their top candidates at the moment are, even by the debased standards of our time, ridiculous — uncontaminated by electoral experience or any apparent reason for running besides self-aggrandizement and perhaps a hike in their post-election speaking fees. But rightbloggers have grown to accept — and in some cases even love — them.
When Trump first blustered his way to the head of the pack (can you believe it was more than two months ago?), top conservatives like George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer harrumphed that he was unsuitable. Will insisted Trump was a “counterfeit Republican,” and some of the brethren went so far as to imply he was a liberal — the National Review’s Peter Wood even compared Trump, in what surely must be a first, to Gore Vidal.
But Trump kept up his insult-comedy campaign, shrewdly adding some stereotypical conservative-type things to throw the hounds off the scent — for example, praying with some televangelists and declaring that “young, strong” Syrian refugees, of whom the Obama administration has consented to accept a tiny handful, might “turn out to be ISIS” and take over America in a military coup.
This, time, and success have done their work, and Trump is now more or less a mainstream Republican conservative: Movement godfather Grover Norquist has praised Trump’s ridiculous tax plan as “pro-growth” and “Reaganite,” and at the New York Times Ross Douthat has speculated on “How Trump Might Help Reform Conservatives,” praising the “popular and bipartisan appeal” of his policies. They and others have apparently decided that Trump is, to paraphrase the Shangri-Las, good-mad, but he’s not liberal.
Hard on Trump’s heels in Republican polling is Dr. Ben Carson, whom many conservatives (including Krauthammer) have praised as “the anti-Trump” — that is, he gently mutters rather than brays his absurd beliefs, among them that America is on the verge of a fascist putsch — something he’s been saying for years and, now that the spotlight has fallen upon him, has started saying again, with no apparent damage to the growth of his popularity. Best of all, he’s the rare black conservative whose name ordinary people might have heard — if Democrats criticize him, they can say, as Daniel J. Flynn did at the American Spectator, it’s just because they’re all Klansmen, or at least used to be back in the Fifties. What’s not to like?
Also polling double digits is Carly Fiorina, best known for serving as CEO of Hewlett-Packard and nearly wrecking it, presiding over massive layoffs while enriching herself. This her supporters shrug off as irrelevant; Fiorina is the rare female conservative whose name ordinary people might have heard (plus she’s really anti-abortion). And if Democrats denounce her, you can say they’re anti-business. At Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle wondered why we should care about Fiorina’s record as CEO: “People are far too prone to confuse outcomes with good decision-making,” sighed McArdle, pointing out factors that might have made her failure inevitable. So maybe it wasn’t her fault, and we’ll just have to elect her president to find out (or, if she screws that up, president of the World Bank or something. Third time’s the charm!).
Behind these top dogs skulk several Republican candidates who have actually served in high office (including presumed anointee Jeb Bush) wondering what the hell happened. Or maybe the smarter among them realize that, in this age of Auto-Tune and Uber, professional politicians such as themselves have been, as the business scholars might say, disintermediated — for why do we need trained, credentialed officeholders to run for president when, with the proper reserves of money and media influence, you could conceivably make a suitable candidate out of a reality TV clown or a surgeon or a failed CEO? In fact, you could probably make a suitable candidate with a 3-D printer, perhaps using Reagan’s death-mask and a bunch of National Review columns as a template.
To give you some idea of how this works, look at the reactions to Thursday’s massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
As happened after Sandy Hook and every massacre since then, conservatives immediately leapt to defend the real victims of all such events, namely guns. At the Washington Post, for example, Eugene Volokh compared the destructive capability of guns with that of alcohol; if you’re going to have more restrictions on one, he suggested, why not the other? We’re just going to have to live with the fact that sometimes children or lunatics will get hold of a six-pack, or of a loaded gun; chances that they’ll kill someone are — working back of the envelope, here — roughly the same with each; as with Fiorina’s HP tenure, there’s just no way to know for sure.
At the National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke dismissed arguments that less gun-crazy jurisdictions than the U.S. have fewer gun massacres by pleading American exceptionalism, pointing out that guns are so popular here that if the government tried an Australian-style ban, “such a move would lead to massive unrest, widespread civil disobedience, and possibly even a war.” So not only would it be futile — gun owners would kill you. Better to just learn to live with regular massacres, with which your odds are better.
Whatever you think of Volokh’s or Cooke’s reasoning, though, you can’t say it’s much worse than that of the top Republican candidates. Fiorina pointed out that Umpqua “was a gun-free zone and yet somehow this individual got onto campus with not one gun but several guns” — so what are you gonna do, besides enforce our obviously inadequate current laws? Carson sighed that “there are those who are going to be calling for gun control,” and proposed an alternative: Because the gunman at Umpqua allegedly asked if any of his victims were Christians, Carson “urges his millions of followers to change their Facebook photograph to an image of a hashtag: #IAmAChristian,” reported Breitbart.com. That’ll show him!
Trump, meanwhile, said the problem was “mental illness” — something which apparently doesn’t exist in the other Western countries that don’t have regular massacres — and that “if you had a couple of the teachers or someone with guns in that room, you would have been a hell of a lot better off.” Ridiculous as his answers may sound to you, given what came out of Fiorina and Carson (not to mention poor Jeb and the rest), Trump sounds like a mainstream conservative — perhaps even an elder statesman. So if you don’t like the idea of a Republican president, don’t feel too confident you’ll be saved by the weakness of their candidates. In fact, the way things are going, be grateful they aren’t saving themselves some money by just running rightbloggers.
*UPDATE. The GOP didn’t actually regain the Senate until that year’s election — guess the Democrats weren’t doing much with it, either.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 5, 2015