The Last Temptation of NeverTrump

The Last Temptation of NeverTrump 1

Last Sunday this section was turned over to essays making the case against the re-election of Donald Trump. I read all of the pieces, and found more than a few points with which I disagreed. But my commitment to contrarianism only goes so far: Fundamentally I agree with my colleagues that Trump should not be …

Heyyyyyy — you aren’t even going to let me make a case here?

Excuse me?

Oh, you know who I am. You let me slip out during the Covington Catholic controversy, remember, when the media that puts on kid gloves around Hunter Biden decided a random teenager with a smile they didn’t like was the face of white supremacy. Well, I’m back.

Ah, sure — you’re my right-wing id. And let me guess — you want to make the case that I should vote for Trump? I figured the coronavirus experience had shamed you into silence.

Shame is what you should feel, sellout. Look, I get that you’re a lost cause. But someone needs to tell you that you’re going to miss Trump when he’s gone.

Am I indeed? All right, go ahead, make the case.

I mean, it’s not particularly complicated. I read your columns about the Republicans, even your long-ago book (and I saw its sales figures, so I know I’m in exclusive company), and all these years you’ve wanted — what? A populist G.O.P. that helps working families, something like that, with a more restrained foreign policy than the Bush era and a pro-life, religious core? Do I have that right?

You do.

That’s what Donald Trump has given you, you bloody ingrate, to the extent you ever get what you want in politics.

Oh, you mean the economic populism of a corporate tax cut and an “infrastructure week” that’s just a running joke.

No, I mean that Trump did two big things that no other president would have done together. He actually cut immigration rates and he backed a looser monetary policy.

You mean he ran an inhumane family separation policy and he appointed a bunch of hard-money cranks to the Federal Reserve.

The inhumane policy was abandoned quickly, and the cranks weren’t actually confirmed. I’m talking about results, not problems with particular appointees or policies. Why do you think the economy ran hot for so long, and low-wage workers did a lot better under Trump than under Obama? Loose money, tight borders. A Democrat might have given you one; Ted Cruz might have given you the other. Only Trump could deliver both.

The inhumane policy is still having awful consequences, and Jerome Powell deserves more credit for loose money than Trump’s jawboning.

Obama signed off on plenty of inhumane policies — those detention centers went up on his watch, remember, and he had record deportations, too. And, yeah, Powell deserves credit, but who appointed him? The economy under Trump was the best for the working class in two decades. And kicking him out means we go back to mass low-skilled immigration, back to wage stagnation …

Most economists think immigration’s effects on wages are pretty minimal.

Most economists these days have liberal biases that make them elevate weird case studies over simple common sense. Look, we just ran the policy experiment! Tighter borders, higher wages. You won’t talk me out of this.

I thought you were the one talking me out of my …

… your anti-Trump pieties, yeah, I am. Because then there’s foreign policy. No new wars! The Islamic State routed! At least the beginning of a withdrawal from Afghanistan! A bunch of Arab-Israeli peace agreements that would have won a normal president the Nobel Peace Prize!

No new wars except the ones we almost stumbled into with North Korea and Iran, and the ones percolating in regions where the United States has abdicated its superpower role. A non-withdrawal from Afghanistan because Trump can’t execute on his own positions.

“Percolating” is a word people use to describe things that aren’t actually that bad. Trump almost went to war with Iran, yeah, but in the end he left John Bolton at the altar. Put the Democrats back in and we’ll get the kind of “humanitarian” interventions and “fund-the-moderate-jihadists” gambits that ravaged Libya and made the Syrian situation worse.

Biden had a decent Obama-era record of opposing unwise escalations.

Personnel is policy, man! All the liberal hawks are coming back! You’ll see. And speaking of personnel, there’s nowhere you’re more ungrateful than the Supreme Court, where Trump has given you exactly what you wanted …

Neil Gorsuch, culture-war hall monitor?

Come on, no Republican president would have done better. Your big complaint was choosing Brett Kavanaugh over Amy Coney Barrett, and you’re getting Barrett, too.

And I support her elevation …

… but not the president who put her there. Oh, your hands are so clean!

Better than wading in corruption and demagogy and mass death, yeah. Can I offer some comebacks?

That wasn’t one?

I mean, it was a distillation. There are some ways that Trump has been better than I feared, and things he’s done that I wholeheartedly support. But he’s also the most corrupt American president of modern times: The liberals are wrong to see him as a dictator, but that doesn’t make his web of self-enrichment and pardons for cronies and Ukrainian abuses a good thing. He’s a bigot and an aggressive liar, he winks at violence, and he’s exacerbated one of his party’s worst tendencies, its obsession with the minor threat of voter fraud and its eagerness to throw up impediments to voting. What he’s given to cultural conservatives with the courts, he’s taken by making us seem like hypocrites and making embarrassments like Jerry Falwell Jr. the face of conservative Christendom. He’s radicalized young people and empowered some truly terrible tendencies on the left that will reshape American institutions deep into Amy Coney Barrett’s old age. And I haven’t even gotten to the coronavirus.

We’ll get to it. But you know, because you’ve written about it, that there was self-enrichment in Washington long before Trump. It was just laundered through respectable channels rather than the Trump hotels. I’ll concede that Trump is more naked about it, more impeachable. But sometimes you have to vote for the corrupt candidate when the policy stakes are more important.

And the birther candidate.

And the — look, Trump says racially offensive stuff, but he’s going to win more minority votes than he did last time, more than Mitt Romney did. You write skeptically about white liberals who have become more “anti-racist” than African-Americans, but you’re doing the same weird thing: If Trump is expanding the G.O.P.’s appeal to minorities, who are you to say he’s too racist?

He’s benefiting from larger trends toward class and gender polarization, and he’s emphatically not expanding the G.O.P.’s appeal overall —

Right, because wimps like you won’t support him! All this stuff about how he’s “radicalized” people and hurt religious witness — that’s just self-serving intuition, with no hard data behind it. It’s a convenient excuse.

No more convenient than you ignoring all the Americans who have died from a pandemic on Trump’s utterly incompetent watch.

You yourself have written that Trump can’t be held responsible for all those deaths. You said our response had a lot in common with Europe’s — and look at their case numbers lately. You were right!

I also said that we were modestly worse in ways that can be attributed to Trump’s terrible crisis management, which is not improving as we head deeper into the fall. So that “modestly” could add up to 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 dead. That’s the worst excess-death fiasco for an American president since the Vietnam War.

And Joe Biden could repeal the Hyde Amendment, fund abortion with public money, and preside over an extra 60,000 abortions every single year.

Which is why I want Republicans to hold their position in the Senate and prevent that from happening — and I’m not the one dragging them downward, Trump is!

You know, liberals always say that pro-lifers don’t really think that fetuses are human beings, and you’re proving them right. You think pandemic deaths are worse than the possibility of hundreds of thousands more abortions. Your concern for the unborn is fake news.

No, I think the pro-life movement isn’t going to win a long-term victory if it becomes a political suicide pact, where any anti-abortion politician, however incompetent or malevolent, merits our support. What if the pandemic had been a little worse? What if it had killed children in large numbers? What if some even greater peril comes along in Trump’s second term? What if there’s a great-power war? 2020 has been a lesson in what it means to have a totally incompetent president in a crisis. We should heed it.

I’m sorry to see you revert to fearmongering.

And I’m sorry that you can’t look at this situation the way a lot of Trump supporters did in 2016, when they conceded they were gambling, putting an unfit figure in the White House, because the stakes with the Supreme Court were so high. Well, guess what — you won the judicial part of the gamble, and in the pandemic you also got a taste of what can go wrong when you play dice with the presidency. So why not just take your high court winnings and walk away from the table, instead of going double or nothing hoping that the next disaster isn’t worse?

And let you be a free-rider on our wager?

Is it all about me?

I’m in your head, how could it be otherwise?

Then you know that it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if, by some miracle, Trump won one more time — if his presidency is part of a bipartisan chastisement, and God isn’t finished with us yet. But if God wants that, He doesn’t need my vote to do it. And the last year, in all its misery and chaos, has vindicated almost all of the reasons I withheld that vote last time.

You’re giving yourself —

The last word, yes. Talk to you on the other side.

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