In the aftermath of last Tuesday’s Super Trump Sweep of five primary states, more people have started signaling that they are resigned to Trump’s winning the Republican nomination for president. I am not quite there yet—I think optimism is a good virtue, at least right up until the last possible moment—but I will say that it does not look good, at least for those of us who recognize Trump’s fraudulent shtick for what it is. From a large pool of really astonishing talent, the GOP’s choices have been winnowed down to Donald Trump (who is too stupid to even comprehend conservatism and too much of a liberal to ever adopt it if he could), John Kasich (who, for Pete’s sake, was endorsed by the New York Times editorial board) and Ted Cruz (who is an actual, real conservative, which is apparently a grand faux pas among the conservative base these days). We had the chance of the young century so far and we blew it on a guy who literally announced he would make soldiers commit war crimes in his name. We squandered perhaps the presidential moment of a generation on Donald J. Trump.
Over at his website, Mark Steyn wants us to give up the ghost and get on with it:
[B]arring the intervention of the FBI and the Justice Department into the Democrat primary, the United States presidential election this November will offer voters a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That’s not “boosterism”, as this no-name tweeter puts it. It’s arithmetic, it’s reality, it’s what it is and where we are. This year’s primary campaigns were the semi-finals: On the Democrat side, socialism lost to cronyism. On the Republican side, constitutional conservatism lost to populist nationalism. Cronyism and populism advance to the Super Bowl. Deal with it. They’re the only two teams left. Pick yours.
Well, excuse us for being concerned about “boosterism,” but that’s about what we’ve been seeing from a fair number of conservative boosters over nearly the last year—and even from Steyn himself, to a certain extent: Steyn, who has spent months praising Trump’s ability to “move the needle” on the topic of immigration, as if Trump’s proposal to “build a wall” were a serious idea rather than a quick grab for ratings. Steyn also actually seemed to take seriously Trump’s gestures towards substantive policy, rather than recognize that Trump himself has no real grasp of any policy of any kind; he denied “supporting” Trump but also claimed that Trump was “the guy talking about the critical issue [of immigration] in less dishonest terms than anybody else,” as if Trump’s superlative dishonesty on every topic about which he opens his mouth isn’t the most self-evident fact on the planet; he said that we owe Trump a “debt of gratitude” for speaking so bluntly of immigration, as if Trump’s positions on immigration weren’t as malleable and fly-by-night as even Trump himself admits.
Steyn is a world-renowned free speech activist, and deservedly so—he is one of the best on the ground; he has not only fought against government censorship but in some cases helped to scuttle it completely—but what was his reaction in the wake of Donald Trump’s desire to “open up” libel laws in order to “sue [newspapers] and win lots of money?” He initially said “I didn’t see that one coming,” and then later remarked, rather laconically for Steyn, that Trump was “horrible for free speech.” For someone who approvingly and appropriately quoted Salman Rushdie as saying, “Free speech is the whole thing; the whole ball game,” and for someone who has been justly praised as an unrelenting opponent of censorship, this was a tepid, lackluster condemnation of what should have been an immediately damnable and career-ending remark by Trump. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky fear of Donald Trump’s desire to shut up people who criticize him. Trump is demonstrably an opponent of free speech, not just theoretically: a few years ago he sued an author simply “to make his life miserable.” The guy who thinks “free speech is the whole ball game” should have been on this like white on rice.
Trump is an impostor and a charlatan who has done serious damage to conservatism over the past year. This should have been an easy one: even the most mildly principled conservative should have been able to spot Trump’s chicanery from a mile away and immediately denounce it for what it was. Many of us did, in fact. It might not have made a difference in the end—the media’s unprecedented coverage of Trump, along with the unique political moment we’re in, were probably enough to sustain Trump this far regardless of any real conservative efforts—but it would have been far more heartening and encouraging if Steyn and many others had seen Trump for what he really is: not a fellow who was going to “move the needle,” not someone to whom we owe anything, much less gratitude—but rather a serial liar, a fraud, a blowhard, a big-government liberal until about five minutes ago, an opportunist, a hostile opponent of the First Amendment and someone who by his own admission will change his own idiotic opinions when the politics are opportune.
So pardon me if I’m not quite ready to “deal with it:” I’m still smarting from the fact that more than a few intelligent, talented conservatives couldn’t be bothered to openly and strongly reject Donald Trump from the get-go—that people like Steyn, and Ann Coulter, and Milo the Greek, and even Ben Carson, along with dozens of other big names on the Right couldn’t and still can’t see past the obvious ruse, or else just don’t care that much. (Last summer Steyn himself acknowledged that Trump was potentially unreliable on the issues, but he nonetheless liked the disruption Trump was causing: “Why not let him run around a while longer?” he asked. Look where that got us.)
In fact, contra Steyn, I don’t think one even has to “deal with it,” at least as long as “dealing with it” means “voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.” I will do neither. I share my colleague Tom Nichols’s opinion that Hillary Clinton is, absurdly, the preferable candidate to Donald Trump, and at one time I even imagined I might vote for her. But at this point I do not think I am capable of voting for either one: Trump the once-big-government-liberal-turned-wannabe-strongman or Hillary the corrupt, cackling old grandma of the Clinton political machine. I’ll take neither. I’ll write in someone, probably Ted Cruz, even if that constitutes—in the perverse, jaded American political jargon—“throwing my vote away.” Even if that were an accurate assessment, I’d rather “throw my vote away” to a fellow like Ted Cruz then give it to one of those lunatics.
Trump has deceived a great many Americans during this campaign. Would that he had not deceived a fair number of principled, popular conservatives while he was at it; would that they had not allowed themselves to be deceived.