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Lucky We Didn't Panic
Not panicking is hardly a consolation prize in the wake of nearly 200,000 deaths, economic devastation, and educational setbacks for the youngest Americans.
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Lucky We Didn’t Panic
Sometimes, I feel like the last four years has played out like the Harry Potter series would have if Ron, and not Harry, had been the protagonist. But that isn’t really fair to Ron. No, JK Rowling, for all her brilliance, never quite crafted a character like Donald Trump. To get even close to a character that approaches our current president, we would have to wrap up equal parts Ron, Draco, and Professors Trelawney and Lockhart into a single character. Only then would we have the proper dosage of oaf, shallow, haughty, arrogant, clueless, and fraud.
Seriously though. This last week, it’s been revealed that President Trump knew from the very beginning that COVID-19 was way beyond the common flu, despite his constant messaging to the contrary for much of the year. Why the disconnect between what he knew and what he said? Because, he claims, he didn’t “want to create a panic.” And Trump’s supporters are nodding their heads like this explanation is totally reasonable.
This is just absurd to me. It’s like defending the mayor in Jaws for keeping the beach open and having everyone swim in shark-infested waters because causing a panic by telling people the truth would have been so much worse. Not panicking is hardly a consolation prize in the wake of nearly 200,000 deaths, economic devastation, and educational setbacks for the youngest Americans.
But even setting that all aside, at what point did conservatives decide they wanted leadership that hid reality from them? When did it become a plank of the Republican party that they’d prefer leadership that lied to them because they couldn’t handle the truth? When did conservatism develop such pessimism of America and Americans that we no longer believed we should try to come together in the face of crisis and honestly confront troubling realities with open eyes and determined hearts? Haven’t I just been told for four years that Trump’s greatest asset was his willingness to tell it how it is?
The Cancel Culture On the Right
By the way, takes like the segment above are a big reason why I’m just one of many conservatives who are now persona non grata to their own movement. For how much railing against political correctness and the cancel culture seems to be a major plank of conservative culture, they’ve sure gotten good at doing the same kinds of things over the course of the Trump era.
It may seem hard to believe now, but a pretty solid majority of Republicans voted against Donald Trump in the 2016 primary. And, it was only after a lot of frustration and the adoption of a lesser-of-two-evils outlook by Republican voters that they pulled the lever for Trump and gave him the presidency. In fact, the backlash against Trump in October 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape was so severe, he would have been devastated if the election had been in that month instead of the next (Comey’s November surprise is probably what gave Republicans the excuse they needed to ignore their dislike for Trump’s character).
It’s true that today, Donald Trump is supported overwhelmingly by rank-and-file Republicans, so much so that it’s essentially a form of political suicide for a pundit or politician to speak out too aggressively against him. But that level of conformity didn’t happen overnight, nor do I think the GOP is a solid block of diehard supporters like Trump and his enablers (and the Left and their enablers) want you to think it is.
First off, it’s important to understand what Trump’s mandate was. To put it simply: he isn’t Hillary. A lot of Republicans went into the ballot box in 2016 with an almost hopeless sense of resignation. The polling numbers had been consistently negative, and Trump’s unforced errors had turned huge swathes of the electorate against him. Republicans and conservatives were bracing themselves for another Clinton in the White House.
But then, Trump shocked the country (and reportedly even himself) by winning. Trump pretty much had a blank check with many Republicans after that because his greatest accomplishment was completed on day one of his presidency: he kept Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular Democrat in a generation, out of the White House.
But that wasn’t enough to truly unite Republicans and conservatives under Trump’s banner. Again, if we can remember, the Republican Party of 2017 looked a lot different from today. Reince Priebus had effectively merged the Trump campaign with segments of RNC leadership, significantly moderating the White House transition and crafting a surprisingly respectable initial cabinet. The McConnell-Ryan tag team proceeded with a legislative agenda that was altogether different from anything Trump had campaigned on (and refused to give Trump his wall, btw). And, insurgent conservatives continued to insist that Trump was ideologically impure and continued to harass him and his message (remember when the President threatened to support primary challenges against House Freedom Caucus members?).
So, what changed? What got the Republican Party from fractured and disjointed to fully embracing its new identity as the party of Trump? The answer: siege mentality and cancel culture.
Even in 2017, when Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party wasn’t quite assured, the media, the Left, and certain segments of what remained of the 2016 #NeverTrump effort had begun embracing a narrative of hysteria and anxiety centered around Donald Trump. This over-the-top response created an opening for Trump and his supporters.
Rank-and-file conservatives were turned off by the efforts of some Trump skeptics as they became associated with the #Resistance movement and began mingling with progressives and hard-left agitators. Typical, everyday Republicans grew distrustful of the media sources whose coverage was clearly and consistently anti-Trump, often absurdly so. Trump voters became Trump supporters as they were attacked as fascists and racists for their difficult choice.
Operatives on the Right, such as Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity, took advantage of the political situation. They spun a narrative that painted “NeverTrumpers” as even worse than Democrats. They began convincing Republicans that Donald Trump wasn’t a lesser evil but a greater good, a champion against Leftist forces and their closet faux-conservative supporters. Anything that drove the Left crazy was to be celebrated, and anyone who spoke against Trump was in league with the anti-American Left.
One by one, the pundits and politicians either fell in line or were dismissed from importance in the conservative movement as the consequences for standing against Trump became too costly. Now, we have a political party not so much completely enraptured by a Trump-eccentric narrative as held hostage by it.
More Republicans than either the Left or Right narratives would have you believe still have significant grievances with Donald Trump, but they know what to expect if they speak up. They would be canceled by the Right’s own insidious kind of cancel culture. (And who would stick up for them if they did speak up? The Democrats and their enablers? Hardly.)
But How Long Can Trump’s Dominance Last?
The prevailing opinion out there is that, for better or worse, the Republican Party is saddled to Donald Trump. Opponents of the Republican Party, even the more centrist elements, have largely concluded that the GOP must be burned to the ground. As for Republicans themselves, they seem content to ride this thing out to the bitter end.
But let’s imagine for a moment that the President sinks below 35% in the polls and stays there. At some point, GOP strategists (especially those working for Republicans in the Senate) would have to do the hard math and make a decision: go out with the President in an inglorious blaze of political hellfire or salvage what chances they still have at holding on to the Senate and perhaps sniping a few of the competitive seats in the House.
The real question is, would such a pivot even be possible at this point? Again, prevailing wisdom says no. But I think there’s more a chance it could happen than most think. It’s definitely still a sliver of a chance, but a chance nevertheless.
As I mentioned earlier, Trump’s dominance of the GOP has been accomplished more through the silencing and attacking of his enemies than by actually building a truly strong following. I’d go so far as to argue a pivot away from Trump could have already been accomplished in light of revelations in the past week if there was somewhere else for Republicans and conservatives to go other than to the Democrats and Biden.
Several scenarios come to mind that, had they played out, would have Trump’s re-election already doomed by now. The two most prominent in my mind are Justin Amash as the Libertarian candidate or Joe Biden choosing to present a split-ticket with a moderate but respected Republican, like Condoleezza Rice.
What do both of those scenarios have in common? They would have given an off-ramp for Trump-voting Republicans. It would have given them a way to distance themselves from Donald Trump without feeling like they’re going against their interests, options that could have insulated them from the cancel culture of the Right.
Without such options, without a viable off-ramp, Republicans and conservatives are going to just shrug and keep plugging along under Donald Trump’s leadership. Unless, as I mentioned earlier, Trump really does take a dramatic sink in the polls and stays there.
But even then, for the Republican Party to make a pivot, it would have to be towards something they can support without feeling like they’re betraying their values. (I use the word feel here for a reason. Opponents of Trumpism can argue that conservatives have compromised their values and principles by supporting Trump, and I’d mostly agree. But they don’t feel like they have, and they would definitely feel like they were by voting for Biden. That’s just reality.)
A desire to keep the Senate in Republican hands would be the only goal that could convince Republicans to pivot away from Donald Trump. The desire to maintain some check on a Joe Biden presidency (and more importantly, a check on die-hard progressives in the House) is the only impulse strong enough in this political climate to wrest the GOP out of Trump’s grasp.
Frankly, this is why calls to “burn it down” are so unhelpful. The impulse to punish Republican Senators for their sycophancy is understandable. But if the broader goal beyond removing Trump is a renewal of the conservative movement and the reclaiming of the Republican Party in the name of conservative principles and the founding vision, then getting rank-and-file conservatives and Republicans to embrace a post-Trump outlook has to be the most important consideration.
I published a part of Episode 2’s transcript on Medium last week: Shall We Play a Game?
I discussed the arbitrary nature of the “Great Awokening” at NOQ Report.
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