I see that my National Review friends are writing their letters to Santa a bit early. Some, like Rich Lowry’s recent paean to Ron DeSantis, are asking for that shiny new firetruck all the cool kids want. Others, like Charles Cooke’s febrile King Lear-like anti-Trump expostulation (“never, never, never, never, never”) hearken back to NR’s infamous “Against Trump” issue and are mostly negative: “No coal, please, Santa, and especially No More Trump!”
I remember when I first heard the expression that Donald Trump “lived rent-free in the heads of his opponents.” “Vivid,” I thought, “and quite right.” Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol, Max Boot — the list of people obsessed with the forty-fifth president of the United States is long. It pains me to say that Charlie Cooke seems to have offered some choice real estate to that concession.
He begins his column by noting that the former president has not yet announced whether he is going to run again in 2024. That set him off: “Donald Trump?” he spluttered. “In 2024? Why on earth would conservatives choose that guy?” I’ll list some reasons in a moment. First, let’s get the rest of Charlie’s opening aria out on the stage:
I’m serious: Why? Why would we do that when we have a choice? The idea should be absurd, risible, farcical, outré. It should be a punchline, a mania, the preserve of the demented fringe. Politics matters. And because politics matters, it is a bad idea to allow politics to be held hostage by someone who, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t really care. Donald Trump is an extraordinarily selfish man, and he is only too happy to subordinate your interests to his own. Why let him? It is one thing to say, “Well, he may have been a fickle boor, but I liked some of what he did once he was in office”; it’s quite another to put yourself through four more years of the man when you don’t have to. Whatever justification there may have been for picking the “lesser of two evils” in the 2016 or 2020 general election — a justification that was a great deal stronger before Trump refused to accept, and then tried to overturn, the results of the latter — it cannot obtain in 2022.
Phew! I suspect he felt better getting that off his chest.
I confess that I have never been able to get my mind around the animus that fuels the anti-Trump, well, mania. Charlie’s word is apt. I understand that there are plenty of things to criticize about Trump. Indeed, I went into the 2016 election writing a passel of columns criticizing him when not ridiculing him. After the briefest dalliance with Scott Walker, I was an enthusiastic supporter of Ted Cruz, a politician I continue to admire.
But as Charlie observes, “politics matters,” and when Cruz bowed out and the real choice (I leave David French and Evan McMuffin to one side) was between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton I regarded as impossible. Among other things, I think she is (with the possible exception of Joe Biden) among the most corrupt people ever to run for the office. But I also didn’t like the idea of passing the presidency as a prize between a handful of families. Anyway, faute de mieux, it was Trump.
At least, it was faute de mieux at the beginning. As the campaign went into the home stretch, I found myself agreeing with more and more of what Trump said. The United States needed to protect the border: check. We needed to put America First on everything from trade to national security: check. Democratic-run inner cities were disasters: check. We needed to exploit our energy resources — especially our abundant supplies of coal, gas and oil: check. We needed to say no to the “green energy” fanatics: check. We needed judges and justices who embodied the judicial philosophy of Antonin Scalia: check. You know the list: it is long and robust.
To everyone’s amazement, Trump won. What then? He began keeping his promises. One by one, he kept them. The border? Yes. The Keystone pipeline and fracking? Yes. By the time Trump left office, America was energy independent; indeed, it was a net exporter of energy. Now Joe Biden is begging Iran and Venezuela to sell us oil. Three Supreme Court justices and hundreds of federal judges? Yes. The stock market boomed under Trump even as unemployment, especially minority unemployment, sank to historic lows. He enacted historic tax cuts. He spent a trillion or two upgrading the military. He moved our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The world was supposed to end when he did that, but it didn’t.
The list goes on and on. About the only promise that Trump made that he couldn’t deliver on was ending Obamacare, but that was because of the venal John McCain, who put his personal hatred of Trump above his party’s and his country’s interest.
Was Trump “divisive”? Yes, but more so than Joe Biden? Is he “extraordinarily selfish,” as Charlie says? I don’t know. Stories of his personal generosity to individuals abound, but who cares? Politicians are not running for sainthood. In my judgment, Trump had the single most successful first term of any president in recent memory. Charlie later laments Trump’s “torpidness,” but I suspect that was a lapsus calami. After “absurd, risible, farcical, outré…a punchline, a mania, the preserve of the demented fringe,” why not throw in “torpidness” for good measure? But think about it: has there ever been a more energetic, less torpid president?
All this brings me back to the adamantine animus against Trump. Charlie says that Trump refused to accept and later tried to “overturn” the results of the 2020 election. My own feeling is that the more we learn about the 2020 election, the more understandable Trump’s unhappiness is. The same goes for the January 6 protest: it was not an effort to “overturn” the election; it was a protest against the many irregularities that tainted the election — a protest, by the way, in which the FBI and other government agencies seemed to have played an important role, just as they did in the farcical Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot.
Will Donald Trump run in 2024? Some people who claim to be in a position to know say yes. Others say no. As I have said myself, there are reasons to be chary of a Trump candidacy in 2024. But the main reason, I think, is not anything that makes it into Charlie’s bill of indictment. Rather, it is Trump’s age. If my math is right, Trump would be the same age in January 2025 that Joe Biden was when he took office. That is not encouraging. The American government is too much a gerontocracy, I think, and some fresh blood in the corridors of power would be a good thing.
That said, I would eagerly support Trump should he be the nominee. Why? Three reasons. One, I agree with almost every particular of his platform and believe, from his performance the first time around, that he would continue to deliver peace and prosperity for the American people. I just hope that he has a more loyal team and fewer snakes in the civil service. Two, I think Trump would win: he has tens of millions of avid supporters. Three, it would infuriate the cadre of Never Trumpers, on the well-pressed right as well as the left, and that is a spectacle that would be worth the price of admission.
The prospect of that spectacle brings me back to the puzzlement I mentioned earlier: why the unstoppable animus against Trump? I do not believe it is because people think he is a man of “bad character” or that he issued mean tweets or that he is “divisive.” Such things are mere placeholders. I used to say that the main objection to Trump is “aesthetic,” by which term I meant to encompass his unconventional style and unclubbableness. If Nancy Mitford were writing about Donald Trump, she would certainly describe him as “Non-U.” It’s a matter of class.
Trump is an intruder on the regime class of American politics. Once upon a time, it boasted lots of homespun elements. But for decades now it has been the province of an administrative elite whose perfect incarnation is Davos Man. Such people believe they have a natural, almost an hereditary, right to rule. The American people disabused them of that presumption in 2016. The elite was aghast and vowed never to let it happen again.
That’s why they are moving heaven and earth to prevent a return showing in 2024.
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