As I went about my Tuesday, I hadn’t been planning to write something critical of Pres. Trump or his media defenders. That was before coming across The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman, writing about Neil Gorsuch’s ascension to the Supreme Court.
Freeman writes: “[Monday] morning Neil Gorsuch became the 113th Justice of the Supreme Court, vindicating the decision of conservatives to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. This may signal the end of the Republican NeverTrump movement, which in its heyday attracted the support of literally dozens of think-tank scholars and columnists in a broad coalition that stretched from Washington, D.C. to as far away as Manhattan.”
Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that one hasn’t seen much of the #NeverTrump hashtag since the election, when most pundits of that stripe decided to back Trump when he did the right things (like nominating Gorsuch) and criticize him when he missteps (like the botched rollout of the travel ban).
Instead, it is apparently necessary to review How You Got Gorsuch for those who may have recently been struck on the head by a large, blunt object.
Originally, candidate Trump suggested that he might appoint his sister, a pro-choice federal appeals judge, to the SCOTUS. He later claimed he was joking about this, but he also suggested during a debate that judges sign bills. It was fairly obvious that when it came to judicial nominations, Trump was as much a Know Nothing as he was on… well, most everything else. And it was quite disturbing to NeverTrump types and others, especially following the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
So it was that in March 2016, Trump took the unusual step of promising to make public a list of potential SCOTUS nominees. His campaign worked with the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to compile that list. “Worked with” is also a fairly charitable description; the news story in the prior link used the word “outsourced.”
As Ilya Shapiro observed while this work was proceeding, FedSoc was a “hotbed” of NeverTrump sentiment. FedSoc and Heritage represent precisely the think-tankers Freeman chose to gratuitously insult in the WSJ. The quiet assistance of a small number of such key people, whose assistance was by no means guaranteed, came at a crucial time for the Trump campaign.
During the campaign, the NeverTrump crowd was routinely bashed by Trump fans for putting their principles above winning. But without such people, it is unlikely the Trump campaign would have compiled and published such a list. And without such people willing to give the campaign the benefit of their uncompromised, principled analysis, the list would likely have been ineffective.
Trump’s defenders would like to pretend that anyone with NeverTrump views, by definition, could not assist Trump. It is also typical of the “binary choice” myth Trump’s defenders propagated that all NeverTrumpers necessarily wanted Hillary Clinton to win. This ignores the entire history of politics producing otherwise unimaginable alliances, and ignores the role of NeverTrump types in pressuring Trump in the first instance to do something that would prove crucial to the victory of his own campaign.
Indeed, it was generally outlets like National Review, which had published a special “Against Trump” issue, that kept beating the drum for Trump to publish that list, right up to the very day he finally did it.
When Trump published that first list (Gorsuch would subsequently appear on a supplemental list), people across the political spectrum understood what it represented.
The Hill noted the list was a response to attacks from “true conservatives” like Ted Cruz that Trump could not be trusted to nominate conservative judges. Even Gawker recognized the role played by FedSoc, adding that the list was an offering to a GOP faction led by Bill Kristol — one of the most visible NeverTrumpers at the time.
The list became a prime talking point for selling Trump to conservatives by people like radio talker Hugh Hewitt. I mention Hewitt in particular because he is by his own admission a Party Man and as such previously advocated for the SCOTUS nomination of a mediocrity like Harriet Miers.
It was opposition from dissident conservatives (including not only future NeverTrumpers like Kristol, but also a number of future Trump supporters, ironically) that caused Miers to withdraw and Samuel Alito to become the nominee. Anyone think that was the wrong move? Bueller?
Then as now, those who want a SCOTUS more grounded in the text of the Constitution than the fashionable political causes of the day — and those who want to brag about nominees with this philosophy — ought to thank, not insult, those who work to identify such jurists, those who publicly agitate for their nomination, and those who work behind the scenes to ensure it happens.
OTOH, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the plan is to simply be a lackey for anything a nominally-GOP administration proposes.
But why make a big deal out of Freeman’s anti-historical cheap shot? Aren’t I being a bit too touchy about this?
Well, I live in the world where Pres. Trump’s job approval ratings are trending badly for him. I live in the world where Trump’s support is eroding even with core parts of his base.
I live in the world where insulting people likely to be allies in that Reagan 80 percent way is bad advocacy and bad politics, particularly when those being inaccurately insulted are largely responsible for someone like Gorsuch being nominated in the first instance.
I live in the world where the Trump administration still routinely embarrasses itself. If and when they do so on a truly grand scale, people like Freeman may find they have reaped silences where there might have been tepid support, or criticism where there might have been silences.
And yet Trump and his media defenders can’t seem to give up attacking those from whom they probably need support, as we saw when the President and various of Murdoch’s minions decided to try to place all the blame for the failure of a bad and wildly unpopular healthcare bill on the conservative Freedom Caucus, rather than the House leaders who drafted it in secret or the President who backed it to the bitter end.
I have used harsher language here than I usually do precisely to demonstrate that snark is something which may please the writer and his friends, but is unlikely to win hearts and minds, which is generally the object of successful politics.
Kicking one’s supposed allies is a very Trumpian trait, but one not likely to serve Trump or his media defenders well in the medium-term.
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