A brief recap of where the sorting among conservatives stands now, then some additional thoughts.
Tevi Troy does a fairly nice job in laying out the broad strokes. There are the Ever Trumpers, including those who focus on criticizing Pres. Tump’s critics and those trying to build an intellectual infrastructure for Trumpism. There are the Conservative Trump Critics, including those implacably opposed to the Trump presidency and those picking their battles over specific issues. And there are the Safe Space Conservatives, the anti-anti-Trumpers who (for various reasons) focus on attacking or criticizing Trump’s opponents and critics, but seemingly reluctant to affirmatively defend Trump.
Jonathan V. Last proposed a largely similar framework, adding the possibility of anti-anti-anti-Trumpers. Last argues that perhaps the media and the professional Left are not qualitatively different than they have been in the past and that “focusing on the excesses of the anti-Trump forces means focusing on a meta-issue rather than the primary issue.”
Charles C. W. Cooke took issue with JVL’s seeming limitation of anti-Trumpers to those like David Frum who are concerned about being or becoming a soft authoritarian.
Cooke’s point is well-taken, especially since — as David French, no Trump fan, has pointed out, Trump is so far less authoritarian than Pres. Obama on a number of fronts.
Yet I don’t know that Cooke is correct in describing himself as anti-Trump, either. He has taken the position that he will criticize Trump when he’s wrong (from a conservative perspective), praise him when he’s right, and keep a tally of each. This is why I tend to prefer Troy’s admittedly less felicitous “Conservative Trump Critics.”
Even within that category, there will be some friction, but I would reconcile Troy and Last by noting that one group is essentially implacably opposed to the Trump presidency not only because of Trump’s occasional rhetorical nods toward authoritarianism, but also out of broader concerns regarding his character, seeming indifference to corruption (or the appearance thereof), and so forth.
I understand those concerns, which is why I keep referring to the possible Clinton scenario taking hold among the GOP and the conservative movement. The Clintons — and the norms they destroyed in our politics — opened the door for the Trump administration. It is not irrational to recoil at the thought of which doors Trump may open for future administrations.
Yet I find myself more in the second group of critics with Cooke and John Podhoretz (Troy’s example). Trump is the President. I can root for him to make conservative decisions and criticize the progressive ones. As a populist — and a narcissist — he may respond to public opinion. The longer-term consequences of his election are largely baked into the cake now, though they may hinge somewhat on how successful he is.
That key question of success brings me to the anti-anti-Trumpers. Although I write media criticism from time to time, I want to stay out of this camp. Here’s why.
Trump will either succeed or fail. If Trump is successful, the odds are that conservatism will find itself even more marginalized in the GOP and our politics generally. If Trump fails, the odds are that he will have damaged the only political party that represents conservatives (despite not being all that conservative already), thereby marginalizing conservatism as a political force.
I’m not That Guy who thinks people should be forced to state their opinions on everything, even people who have less excuse to avoid an opinion than, say, Taylor Swift. And I don’t expect anti-anti-Trumpers should care whether they disappoint me.
But maybe some of them have children, or nieces and nephews. If anti-anti-Trumpers really believe conservatism will make a better future, I wonder what their explanation to those kids would be for having said little about Trump when he’s wrong. Perhaps something about the lesser of two evils. After all, it’s never too early for cynicism.
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