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On Convention Eve, Rightbloggers Wonder (but Not Too Hard) Where It All Went Wrong

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The Republican Convention starts tonight and, unless the brave lads of #NeverTrump crash through the roof of the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and seize power, the Grand Old Party is going to nominate a TV clown for president.

The horrors of this result will reveal themselves over time. But as Trump and his people prepare to savor victory, what are rightbloggers preparing to savor? Some seem ready for a big bite of the proverbial shit sandwich. Others smell opportunity and feast on dreams of a post-Trump restoration.

None of them, alas, seems inclined toward the diet that would offer hope of positive reform: namely, crow.

First, I must point out that the #NeverTrump cause to which old-line conservatives — such as the editors of National Review — plighted their troth is dead as a gun-control bill in Congress. A few diehards, unaware that their cause is lost, remain holed up in the hills (“He will be stopped,” pledged Virginia delegate Beau Correll to ABC News with the confidence of a Confederate ancestor.)

At RedState, Susan Wright said that while the #NeverTrumpers “may have been tamped down…that doesn’t mean they’re giving up.” Though a Trump overthrow was in her estimation “highly unlikely,” she held out hope for at least that traditional consolation prize of RedStaters: a purge. “[GOP Chair] Reince Priebus will have been exposed for the corrupt and despicable coward he is,” she seethed. And as for his accomplices? “They are the antithesis of everything the conservative movement embodies. And they need to be dismissed.” And they say there are no idealists left in politics!

A few had higher hopes: “I can reliably report,” said the American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer, “that the former U.S. Senator from Oklahoma, Dr. Tom Coburn, would accept a draft from the convention floor if delegates petition successfully to put his name in nomination.” Well, he’s no David French, but you go with the ridiculous eleventh-hour insurgent candidacy you’ve got.

Aside from this, the #NeverTrump bandwagon has clearly broken down, and its onetime firebrands are everywhere seen wandering away with their hands in their pockets, whistling. Because let’s face it — Trump is running against Hillary Clinton, rightbloggers’ primary hate object for nearly a quarter of a century, and when push comes to shove we all know how they’ll vote.

In fact, National Review is currently promoting its August “Tricky Hillary” issue as a fundraiser. “Clintons, Round Two — this just cannot be,” said the email I received last week. “This will be a nightmare for America. Help us do our part. Help us keep a bright conservative spotlight on the hijinks and shenanigans of Hillary, Bill, and their foot soldiers and liberal media mouthpieces. Help us keep them from relocating to Pennsylvania Avenue. Do that by donating to National Review…”

Now when they see an old #NeverTrumper on the street, the smart players turn up their collars and watch fast with their heads down. Jeb Bush did an anti-Trump op-ed in the Washington Post last week, yet none of the rightbloggers I could find, not even putative #NeverTrumpers, rushed to thank him for supporting the cause. Those who did notice were contemptuous. (“Low energy former candidate pens low energy polemic against Trump,” laughed Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. Bush, in his view, was just “looking to poison the well for the man who sent him packing.”) That’s so March 2016!

At National Review, Rich Lowry — who led the magazine’s #NeverTrump charge — has reverted to dutiful coverage of the new GOP leader’s movements, such as Trump’s selection of Mike Pence for his running mate. “Pence mustered enthusiasm for Trump and you have to give him credit for a pretty good performance, all things considered,” reported Lowry. He did get some digs in at Trump, but just mild ones — “If the GOP establishment closed its eyes during [Pence’s] speech it could briefly pretend that this is a normal ticket” — nothing that would cause the many top Republicans who’ve endorsed Trump any embarrassment if they saw him at a party.

Trump’s choice of the ultra-conservative Indiana Governor seemed intended to reassure old-fashioned conservatives and, judging from rightbloggers’ reactions, it’s been a success.

“Having Indiana governor Mike Pence on the ticket may soothe some conservatives’ concerns,” said John Fund at National Review. “Pence is calm, disciplined, and a born-again Christian who has shown he can rhetorically temper his conservative principles.… Should Trump be elected, Pence would be a valuable go-between for Trump with Republican congressional leaders.”

“With his record and reputation for integrity, he adds credibility to Trump’s wild disrupter instincts,” cheered Michael Godwin at the New York Post. “The irony is that, at age 57, he is 13 years younger than Trump, yet is thrust into the role of the grownup.” Irony is one word for it.

Virginia Kruta of the Independent Journal Review listed “8 Things About Trump’s New VP Mike Pence That All Conservatives Will Love,” among them, “He’s a family man.… His religion is important to him.… His son is a Marine.… He fought against resettling Syrian refugees in Indiana…”

Not everyone was entranced. At the Federalist, David Harsanyi was pissed — as were other Holy Rollers like Rod Dreher and Mark Hemingway — that in 2015 Pence backed down on a RFRA that would have allowed fundamentalist Christians to discriminate against gay customers. In fact, this colored Harsanyi’s attitude toward Pence’s most famous un-Trumplike (former) opinion: that “calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.” “It’s commendable that Pence has such passionate feelings about the religious freedom of immigrants,” snorted Harsanyi. “If only he had similarly moved to support the Christian institutions in his own state. But then again, one of these positions took a modicum of courage, and the other took none.” Trust him, guys, backing Muslims and not Christians is just good politics in Indiana!

So while Newt, Christie, and the guy from Duck Dynasty are partying with the winners in Cleveland, what will recalcitrant rightbloggers do? Some have their eyes on the sparrow. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam laid out a “Cure for Trumpism” in the New York Times. Trump’s “celebrity-driven cult of personality” assures “there won’t be a coherent Trumpism after Trump,” they argued, and offered to lay out a post-Trump agenda for the Right.

But for the most part it sounded like Douthat and Salam actually wanted to accommodate “Trump’s working-class supporters,” who, they said, were “clearly voting against a party leadership that pays them lip service while ignoring their concerns,” which needed to be addressed.

For example, they suggested that Republican leaders become “more comfortable with five simple words: Invading Iraq was a mistake.” Record scratch! What the hell, the contractors have made enough money, and we ain’t even getting credit for it anymore.

Speaking of paydays, Trump’s people like economic populism too, so Douthat and Salam were willing to make a concession: “no new income tax cuts for households earning $250,000 or more.” Yes, Thurston and Lovey, you’ve gotten used to getting them on the regular but don’t worry, it’s just temporary: “under the right circumstances tax cuts for the rich really do have virtues,” said Douthat and Salam. “For now, however, Republicans need to repair a breach of trust.” When the ice caps flood Miami and they’re too scared to pay attention, that’s when we strike!

And if Trumpists don’t like Mexicans crowding their Home Depot parking lots, Douthat and Salam have a great third way: “favor high-skilled immigrants over low-skilled immigrants.” Out of sight, out of mind; besides, Trumpists probably don’t even know what an H-1B visa is.

Will it work? Ask in a couple of years. Meantime it’ll keep the brethren’s spirits up through the expected electoral disaster — unless Trump actually manages to pull it off, in which case they were 100 percent behind him all along and have a cousin who’d be perfect for a job at Treasury.