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Last week, the race for the White House went pretty much as you expected: Hillary Clinton relaxed with a highball while Trump repeatedly shat himself.
Until recently, rightbloggers had two options in dealing with Trump. There was the Never Trump option, where you declare yourself unalterably opposed to Trump, let the chips fall where they may. And there was the Whatever Trump option, where you LOL and shrug over Trump, but eventually get on that crazy train, possibly wearing dark glasses and an upturned collar.
Now, a third option is emerging, whereby you explain (sometimes after some mild anti-Trump jabber) how crucially important it is that Hillary Clinton be defeated or that you show solidarity with the white working class, then put a Luger on the desk in front of the voter and leave the room confident that he or she will do the right thing. We might call it Crypto Trump, or Dilet-Trump, or Trump with an Explanation, or Trump Incognito Mode. Or just plain sneaky!
But the approach has its advantages. A canny straddle between yes and no — now that Trump looks like a loser — leaves you no worse off if he stays dead. If he pulls up and out of his tailspin, you’re as good as on the Trump Train.
Significantly, there’s a bunch of this going on right now at erstwhile Never Trump HQ, National Review.
NR’s Deroy Murdock, for example, while admitting “Trump’s frequent inability to mute his internal monologue maddens even his most avid supporters,” nonetheless bade his fellow wingnuts pay attention to Trump’s solid policy statements — for example:
No doubt, Trump’s trade policies violate conservative doctrine on the free exchange of goods and services across borders. Still, it was good to hear Trump say on Monday, “Trade has big benefits, and I am in favor of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are.”
Did you get that? Trump’s in favor of trade! And he’ll make great deals! Those long nights with his new economic advisors have really paid off. If the Never Trump guys don’t loosen up, warned Murdock, “Crooked Hillary wins, likely with a large enough margin to claim a mandate.… She will floor it on January 20, and go from zero to socialism in seven seconds.” Kiss those great Trump trade deals goodbye! (Murdock later repeated the “Crooked Hillary” line, which seems to be a sign of loyalty among Trumpkins, like upturned mouth-corners among acolytes of the Joker.)
“Though [Trump’s] candidacy looks increasingly damaging for Republicans, conservatives can still find value in it,” said Murdock’s colleague Ramesh Ponnuru. Take immigration: While Trump is “neither sensible nor stable” on the issue, nonetheless “voters are right to worry,” especially when that worry is strong enough to get a buffoon nominated for President. So, said Ponnuru, “conservatives should follow his cue” by…alas, here Ponnuru just laid out some boilerplate Republican wank (e.g., “insisting that laws against illegal immigration be enforced in the workplace”), but maybe he wanted us to imagine it spoken in a blustery Trump voice.
Speaking of which, Ponnuru bade conservatives learn “Fun” from Trump. C’mon, lighten up! He said Hillary Clinton was too “uptight” to treat Tim Kaine the way Trump treats Mike Pence (i.e., with undisguised contempt), and while Trump’s “idea of fun fairly often turns into gleeful malice…Trump can also be an entertaining candidate.” Solution: Find a vicious psycho who we can trust to give us government sinecures if he wins!
Michael Barone also weighed in, telling readers the “nationalism” that some people find so frightening in Trump is actually pretty cool — it’s like the Olympics! “…the millions of people around the world watching the Rio Olympics…watch as the TV networks keep track of the medal count — and they root for the men and women they see representing their nations,” explained Barone. We Americans all cheer for Simone Biles, don’t we? Similarly, Donald Trump wants to keep out the Mexicans with a wall!
But “Hillary Clinton takes a different view,” says Barone. “She would not deport any noncriminal illegal immigrant, which amounts to a permanent open borders policy — as extreme a position as Trump’s now discarded ban on Muslim immigration.” Discarded, huh? Last I heard, he appeared ready to bring it back bigger than ever. (Speaking of the Olympics, Hillary has made a point of congratulating winners like Biles, Aly Raisman, and Simone Manuel; Trump hasn’t said much about them, despite his sunny nationalism. Wonder why?)
If this approach is too obvious or embarrassing for you, there’s a more discreet Incognito Mode shtick you can avail: Pretending that you’re just really sympathetic to all those poor white working-class people who (despite evidence to the contrary) you insist are Trump’s voter base, and that opposing Trump is not just a normal political choice but a gesture of contempt by snooty elitists against the Plain People.
In June, for example, Megan McArdle of Bloomberg said “elites need a rebuke. For all my criticisms of Trump and his supporters — and they have been many — I find myself quite sympathetic with the folks who are angry at the establishment. Elites are smug. They are obnoxiously condescending.… And I have to say that if I were out there in flyover country, I’d probably be pretty mad too.” (Let us pause to consider McArdle actually living in flyover country and trying to get her Thermomix serviced.)
But now there’s a shortcut you can take: A conservative columnist named J.D. Vance has a book out called Hillbilly Elegy, about his dysfunctional Appalachian upbringing, which he managed to rise above thanks to his tough “Mamaw” and the Marine Corps. At the American Conservative, in a column called “Hillbilly America: Do White Lives Matter?” Rod Dreher said the book explained “the enormous popularity of Donald Trump among the white working class.” Later Dreher interviewed Vance, who told him, “these people — my people — are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.” Also, Vance said the “condescension” of snooty non-Appalachians “is a big part of Trump’s appeal.”
Other conservatives, not all of them from hardscrabble beginnings, jumped at the chance to at least vicariously enjoy through Vance the love of the Plain People and to shake a fist at the snooty brie-and-arugula-eating liberals (over at the next table at Le Diplomate) who think Trump’s for dummies.
“Trump’s me-against-everybody combativeness, his refusal to back down, his vows to disrupt Washington deal-making are giving the hillbilly class a feeling they haven’t had in decades: That they’ve got a friend at the top,” gushed Kyle Smith at the New York Post.
“[Vance’s] take on why Trump resonates with poor whites is something people should consider,” wrote Tom Knighton in “Trump, Poor Whites, and the Sneers of the Elite” at PJ Media. For example, when one of Vance’s Yale law professors told him, “I can’t believe you were in the Marines. You just seem so nice,” Vance found that “incredibly insulting,” and Knighton understood. “There is a tendency among the so-called ‘tolerant’ to view rural and small-city whites as being a certain way.”
“Even if you don’t like Donald Trump, you should understand the pain of his poor white supporters,” said Jack Hunter at Rare. “So many of Donald Trump’s poor white supporters are hurting. Trump gives them a platform, however imperfect or misguided.” This Vance-Trump thing has even spread to CNN (“New book gives insight into Trump fervor”).
If you’re wondering what these rightbloggers are actually going to do for Vance’s hillbillies back home, besides pretend to care about them for a campaign season (answer: nothing), you’re missing the point — which is, if you think Trump’s beliefs are dumb, you’re being as condescending as Vance’s Yale Law professor; you think you’re “tolerant” because you like that other kind of people who aren’t voting for Trump, but White Lives Matter, etc.
So, in order not to be fatally elitist, you have to take Trump’s totally insane ideas seriously — just as the Trump Incognito Mode folks are doing. And if they can get people to take their ridiculous candidate seriously, their battle is half won.