After all the times we’ve heard it said that Trump is on his way out, it’s hard to believe that this time he’s really being shoved aside, as the papers now tell us, by the better credentialed, more mainstream right-winger Ted Cruz. But let us treat this as a valedictory anyway — not for the short-fingered vulgarian’s political career, but for the strange love-hate rightbloggers have had with it and him.
Some people may not know that before this election cycle, Trump had already nosed around conservative politics. He was introduced at the 2011 CPAC convention, a key destination for ambitious right-wingers, as “thinking about tossing his hat into the ring” for the 2012 Presidential election. Trump then rehearsed some of the shtick he’d use later, including the need to Make America Great Again™ (he threw around some now-familiar tropes: “whipping post for the rest of the world… they are not treating us properly… we have become the laughing stock of the world…”).
Around that time, perhaps advised that every presidential candidate needs a “big issue,” Trump started championing the Obama birther conspiracy theory. (“No, I didn’t mean that!” I can imagine some consultant screaming at his TV.) This aroused some excitement among rightbloggers (“he’s tough as John Wayne toilet paper, and wouldn’t think twice about hitting terrorists hard” — Some Guy at RedState), not to mention Sarah Palin — The Donald was sticking it to those libtards!
But even then Trump had some non-fans on the right: At National Review, Jonah Goldberg pointed out that Trump wasn’t a real conservative; after all, he had once advocated for universal healthcare, unlike Mitt Romney — OK, just like Mitt Romney, but you couldn’t trust Trump because he was “self-promoting” and “narcissistic,” unlike your usual Presidential candidate.
Trump “reflects the id of a certain segment of populist opinion,” sniffed Goldberg’s colleague Rich Lowry. In fact, he wrote, Trump reminded him of Barack Obama, “an arrogant celebrity with a talent for branding who knows much less than he thinks…”
Flash forward to the present, and you’ll find that the National Review crowd is by and large cleaving to that same line — that even though Trump is currently right in key with the conservative movement in demanding heavy restrictions on Muslim immigration in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting (in fact, a ban on all them Muslims — because why not!), Trump is not only a liberal who for some reason has been the Republican front-runner for four months, but also another Barack Obama. e.g.: “Obama and Trump: Two of a Kind,” headlined NR’s Victor Davis Hanson; “Obama and Trump Are ‘Misunderestimating’ the American People,” claimed his colleague Michael Barone.
Their arguments didn’t make much sense. Hanson hallucinated a connection between Trump’s “golden name tags and Obama’s faux Greek columns” at a 2008 campaign speech. (Another Hanson passage began, “The two see the world in similarly materialist — though, again, opposite — terms…” and disintegrated from there.) Barone actually claimed Obama’s call to eschew prejudice against Muslims was equivalent to Trump’s call to ban Muslims.
But they didn’t have to make sense, because “Obama” is, for rightbloggers, more or less a slur — something they can call anybody they don’t like. For obvious reasons this idea has been promoted up the chain to the Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio campaigns.
Anti-Trump rightbloggers also attack him on policy. After all, he often says he’ll protect Social Security — what self-respecting conservative would do that? (“He’ll attack political correctness and then pledge to protect entitlements,” marveled the New York Times’ Ross Douthat.) “TRUMP IS NOT A CONSERVATIVE; TRUMP SUPPORTS ETHANOL SUBSIDIES,” cried The Astute Bloggers. “Until recently,” Jonah Goldberg groused, “he was for higher taxes on the wealthy, taking in Syrian refugees, and single-payer health care.” Goldberg, on the other hand, was against all these things back in the day, man.
Some arguments against Trump’s conservatism are more… abstract. “Trump is not a conservative,” insisted Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller. Instead, he’s the product of “a continued cultural revolution that began in the 1960s. This might have begun on the Left, but the degradation of traditional family values is now ubiquitous.” Huh? He continued: “[T]he fact that it is ostensibly conservatives who are supporting Trump only demonstrates just how pervasive these trends are.” In other words, hippies are obnoxious, Trump is obnoxious, there, I hit my word count.
But ultimately it’s probably too big of a lift for rightbloggers to convince their readers that Trump is an Obama-style liberal — especially considering many of their readers are probably Trump supporters — so some try to split the difference and give us Trumpism without Trump — that is, supporting his racist, authoritarian ideas without supporting their author.
At National Review, for example, David French (who just days earlier had published “Dispelling the ‘Few Extremists’ Myth – the Muslim World Is Overcome with Hate,”) came out against Trump’s Muslim ban as too extreme. While reiterating there are “hundreds of millions of Muslims supporting the worst kinds of religious intolerance and tens of millions more outright terrorist sympathizers,” French said he knew some Muslims he personally would allow into America — Army interpreters, for example, and some Muslims fighting against ISIS (assuming they don’t turn terrorist later, as U.S.-backed freedom fighters have been known to do). Thus, “by tacking to the opposite of Obama’s scolding self-righteousness, Trump isn’t charting his own course so much as merely reacting” — imagine, a reactionary conservative! — while French was taking what in rightblogger world would be considered a moderate position.
As it happens, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that Republicans are split (39% for, 38% against) on Trump’s proposed blanket ban — and a Rasmussen poll found “66% of Likely Republican Voters favor a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here.” This suggests Trump is at least close to the GOP voter sweet spot — and who knows what they’ll think if someone else with a Muslim name shoots someplace up? (Non-Muslim shoot-‘em-ups, we have seen, don’t mean much to them except more evidence of the importance of Second Amendment rights.)
Some rightbloggers remain less squeamish about Trump’s ban. “Citizens of foreign lands have no constitutional right to migrate,” said Pat Buchanan at The American Conservative. “And federal law gives a president broad powers in deciding who comes and who does not, especially in wartime.” Yet, said Buchanan, “Trump was being called a fascist demagogue and compared to Hitler and Mussolini.” Pat knows how it is, and sympathizes.
But Buchanan, like Trump, is déclassé among rightbloggers — and you have to admit, New Thing Ted Cruz knows how to play both ends against the middle. “Cruz Rejects Trump’s Muslim Immigration Ban,” boldly announced Joel Gehrke at National Review. Those who read further found this: “Cruz broke ever-so-gently with rival Donald Trump’s more radical call for a temporary ban on all migration from Muslim countries, saying he disagreed with the idea but refusing to comment on its constitutionality… ‘Certainly, in the media, there has been no shortage of criticism of Donald Trump and I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics’ [said Cruz].” Later, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-4 for a “sense of the Senate” resolution stating “that the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion, as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this Nation was founded.” Cruz voted against it.
Who knows what the folks out there in middle America think? From a rightblogger perspective, who cares? Trump is a scary, crazy guy who owes them nothing at all — whereas Cruz is a scary, crazy U.S. Senator who has networked extensively within his party and his movement, and can, if elected, be counted on to deliver the sinecures, exclusive interviews, and everything else that traditionally goes with a Republican victory. I have always assumed Republican voters would eventually recede from Trump as the prospect of an actual election hove into view. But I’m even more confident about predicting the retreat of rightbloggers from his crusade. To paraphrase a very old New York joke about Trump reacting to the offer of a blowjob in an elevator: what’s in it for them?