Dallas talk radio host Grant Stinchfield, writing at The Federalist, contends that “The Never Trump Movement Is Anti-American And Hypocritical.” Stinchfield’s article is a small masterpiece of the kind of point-missing, perspective-lacking commentary that got us into this mess in the first place. Three examples of why before we get to the meat of his argument:
1. Ad Hominem
A hallmark of bad punditry is excessive name-calling in lieu of argument. In a column that runs barely more than 800 words, Stinchfield refers to those of us who won’t vote for Trump as “anti-American,” “ultra-conservative” (an odd charge for a guy who claims the Tea Party mantle), “arrogant know-it-alls who may be more narcissistic than Trump,” “ridiculous,” “nonsensical,” “throw[ing] a temper tantrum,” “whining and crying,” “sound[ing] like my seven-year-old son when I told him he could not have two cookies.”
This is not a particularly effective tactic for persuading people to vote for your side.
2. Assumption of Bad Faith
It’s always easier to avoid confronting the best arguments against you if you assume that your opponents don’t mean them and are acting from nefarious hidden motives. Rather than engage with the possibility that objectors to Trump have legitimate causes for doing so, Stinchfield accuses us of “acting exactly like the party elitists they purport to despise,” people who “seek to control the outcome of the election. They will stop at nothing to get their way”. He claims that Paul Ryan is “actively working to destroy America” and “acting like a spoiled rich kid who didn’t get what he cried for: a nominee like Jeb Bush.” As if Ryan, who endorsed nobody in the race, could only have wanted Jeb rather than the dozen-plus other alternatives to Trump. The need to brand all opponents of Trump as secret Jeb supporters was a hallmark of the Trump flacks throughout the primary (like Laura Ingraham trying to brand this website “JebState”).
Sometimes, it helps to remember what you were arguing yesterday. Stinchfield last appeared in the pages of The Federalist less than a month ago, writing a piece entitled “I Regret Voting For Donald Trump”. A flavor:
Donald Trump is off the rails. He is a train wreck. It’s not just his antics and childish behavior that has me so put off, it’s his failure to improve as a candidate.
After nine months on the campaign trail, I expected Trump to fully grasp the issues and have in-depth policy solutions to our problems….I fell victim to my own hatred. Donald Trump offered me a vehicle to stick it to the bloviating bureaucrats I despise…Trump was the guy who was going to scare the hell out of the “establishment,” the guy who was going to turn Washington on its head. So I voted with anger in my heart. I gave my vote to Trump with expectation he would find his way by putting smart constitutional conservatives by his side…
Sadly, I did exactly what my mother always warned me not to do. I made an important decision while in an emotionally fragile state of anger and despair. My vote for Trump amounted to a vendetta against the ruling class of DC career politicians. I made a mistake.
It’s why I am publicly apologizing to governors Rick Perry and Scott Walker. I abandoned them way too early. I now realize their level-headed grasp on conservative values and principles would have made them the perfect candidates to carry a torch of limited government straight into the White House.
Governor Perry, Governor Walker: I am sorry. The worst part I fear it’s too late. Can anyone save the Republican Party?…I have always said that the only way we lose to Hillary is if we sabotage ourselves. It’s amazing to me that’s exactly what we’re doing.
The date on that piece: April 19, 2016. Of course, that night, Trump won a majority of the vote for the first time (in his home state of New York), and his sweep of the Northeast and his win in Indiana put the race away, and now Stinchfield is back to lecturing us about following Trump. You would think, having been fooled by Trump before, he would have a little more humility in addressing those of us who saw through the Trump fraud from the very beginning. It seems not.
You’re Not The Boss of Me
Stinchfield’s main argument is that Trump’s status as the GOP nominee obligates us to follow him:
Trump is the boss now. It’s his party to lead. Ryan claims Trump “inherited” the party of Lincoln and Reagan. In reality, Trump won it in decisive fashion. The Never Trumpers like Ryan refuse to talk about reality. Trump has already surpassed 10 million votes. That’s more than Mitt Romney’s primary vote total from 2012 as well as John McCain’s from 2008.
To start with, yes: Trump has the delegates, so by the rules of the party, the nomination is his. But this is still America. Party membership is not mandatory. Nobody has to vote for anyone just because he’s “the boss,” and the day we do, this isn’t America anymore in any meaningful way.
Moreover, what’s missing here is that – with California, New Jersey, and five other states to go – there have also been more than 16 million votes cast against Trump, comprising 60% of the vote prior to the last of his opponents dropping out. That’s 5 million more than the votes cast against John McCain, 7 million more than were cast against Romney, 10 million more than were cast against Bob Dole (all of whom lost). More people have already voted against Donald Trump in the primaries than have ever voted for a Republican presidential nominee.
The opposition to Trump has been unprecedentedly broad. More than 60% of GOP voters cast ballots against Trump in the following states:
(That’s not even counting the convention voting in Wyoming and Colorado or the votes in DC or Puerto Rico). In a number of these states (like Texas), more people voted against Trump than voted in the entire 2012 primary; in some (like Iowa), more voted against Trump than had ever voted in a Republican primary before. Every one of those votes was for a candidate with radically different views than Trump, and Republican leaders should not easily abandon the 60% of the party that wanted a Republican nominee who stood for Republican ideas, ideals and proposals.
Paul Ryan comes in for most of Stinchfield’s ire, despite the fact that he has been equivocal and tentative thus far in withholding his support for Trump. But Ryan’s not only the highest-ranking Republican in the country, he’s obligated to do what is best for his two constituencies – the voters of his district (who backed Ted Cruz over Trump in the April 5 primary) and, as Speaker, the members of the GOP House caucus. If his approach to Trump has been a cautious, arms-length one, perhaps Stinchfield should consider that this is because a wholehearted embrace of Trump would be very bad for a lot of Ryan’s caucus, trapped as they are between irate “never Trump” conservatives and non-Republicans in their district electorates who are horrified by Trump. Stinchfield claims that “Trump and the Ryan Establishment both need each other now more than ever. Trump needs their money and support, they need Trump to win back the White House to help roll back President Obama’s damaging agenda.” But this assumes three facts not in evidence, which Stinchfield makes no effort to support: (1) that Trump has a realistic prospect of winning the White House, rather than having destroyed such prospects for the GOP already by winning the nomination; (2) that support from Ryan would help Trump win, rather than diluting both of their brands at once; and (3) that anything in Trump’s record suggests that he would roll back any of Obama’s agenda. Stinchfield claims that Trump ” wants to build a border wall, beef up our military, simplify the tax code, and appoint a ‘Scalia-like’ Supreme Court nominee,” but aside from the wall, there’s no reason to suspect he means any of this, given how often he has also said the opposite (Trump celebrated his clinching the nomination by denouncing his own tax plan, and just last month said he did not want to change the abortion laws).
Playing To Win, Not Rooting For Laundry
More broadly, Stinchfield gives short shrift to how very dangerous Trump is to our party and our movement, to say nothing of the fact that his ignorance – which Stinchfield recognized a month ago, when he thought we might stop Trump – and instability would make him a perilously bad Commander-in-Chief for the country. I’m all in favor of telling people to grow up and take one for the team in most situations, but Trump is truly a bridge too far, much worse than any prior GOP nominee, and Stinchfield completely ignores the reasons why.
One of the oldest and most anti-social arguments thrown around routinely in primary elections is the threat to abandon the party’s nominee in the general election. I have for years argued against such threats, which are counterproductive and dangerous. Politics is a team sport, and that sometimes means accepting members of the team who are not our first choice. But just as even the mildest of citizens can be pushed in the direst case to the point of armed rebellion, we finally face a “Republican” nominee, in Donald Trump, so awful and so untrustworthy that I and a great many others could not possibly vote for him in November, no matter his opponent. The reason for that is not one flaw or deviation or another from the party platform, but the whole set of problems he presents put together.
The point of voting Republican is to win: win elections, so we can win policy battles, so we can build our movement to win more elections and more policy battles, with the ultimate goal of making America a better place by implementing ideas that work. Sometimes you have to make compromises between elections and policy – win a little less here to win a little more there, win a little less now to win a little more in the future, go big now and pay the piper at the next turn. Sometimes, for the sake of teamwork, one faction of the party has to take a bit of a back seat to another faction, without staging a teary-eyed breakup every time your own favorite people and agendas don’t come out at the top of the pile. But unless you draw a check from the Party (which believe me, I don’t), winning elections solely for the sake of winning elections is not worth the effort – we don’t get involved in politics to “root for laundry,” just mindlessly cheer on one side simply because it wears an “R” on its jersey. You have to actually deliver something different than what your opponents would deliver, or the whole exercise is a waste of time.
Doing that is not easy, and our party has failed many times to deliver what it promises, partly for lack of nerve, partly for lack of cohesion and competence, partly because some of our leaders do not actually believe the stuff they say they want to do. Sometimes they deserve to lose as a result, but we the voters do not. And the answer to a failure to deliver on promises is not to replace people who don’t believe in some of our goals and principles with people who don’t believe in any of our goals and principles. Which is Trump. One of the hallmarks of Trump – which we’ve seen again and again in his treatment even of those who endorse him enthusiastically – is that he sees loyalty as a one-way street, and will do nothing to help anyone else. Notice how Stinchfield (as is routine in this genre of “get on the Trump Train” harangue) spends not a word of his article arguing for what Trump should do to convince anyone they should support him. To the contrary, he basically tells Trump to tell the rest of us, “you’ll get nothing and like it”:
Trump needs to play hardball with Ryan and “The Establishment.” Trump purports to be a “deal maker.” He needs to realize he is operating from a position of strength, much to the dismay of GOP leadership.
So Stinchfield not only thinks we’re all obligated to support Trump, he doesn’t even think it’s a legitimate role of the party’s leaders to use what little leverage they have to try to negotiate with Trump now to throw a bone now and then to 60% of the party’s voters. How exactly is this supposed to be followed by a Trump Administration in which Republican voters or ideas have any influence at all?
“But Hillary!” Well, yes, I realize how bad Hillary Clinton is. But if your sole anti-anti-Trump argument is how horrible Hillary is, you still have to face the facts that (1) Trump himself thought it was a good idea in the recent past to support Hillary Clinton, including to be President, and (2) Trump’s nomination has extinguished any possibility of stopping her, and his enablers and supporters must be given an object lesson in the catastrophe they have brought upon us, so we don’t repeat the error in the future.
It gets even worse than that. Because Trump isn’t just running a dead-loser campaign with no loyalty to conservative principles or to Republican officeholders and candidates, and an embarrassing clown show everywhere he goes. He’s also been a willing magnet for every sort of bigotry under the sun, in ways that promise to poison everything we stand for or wish to accomplish ever again. As Wisconsin conservative talk radio icon Charlie Sykes put it:
[T]his is not just ideological, it’s not just the fact that he’s abandoned one position after another or that he has the penchant for internet hoaxes or conspiracy theories. I mean a week ago tonight, remember, he was peddling the notion that Ted Cruz’s dad had something do with the JFK assassination. So there are people who say that just because of party loyalty we’re supposed to forget all of that. I just don’t buy that. Because I’ve cautioned my fellow conservatives, you embrace Donald Trump, you embrace it all. You embrace every slur, every insult, every outrage, every falsehood. You’re going to spend the next six months defending, rationalizing, evading all that. And afterwards, you come back to women, to minorities, to young people and say, that wasn’t us. That’s not what we’re about. The reality is, if you support him to be president of the United States, that is who you are, and you own it.
Now, personally, I agree that Hillary Clinton is so terrible that I am willing to forgive those who conclude at the end of the day that they need to vote for Trump, and for the same reason I am inclined to forgive those who see Trump as so awful they must vote for Hillary. There are no good options remaining. For my part, I disagree with both camps, and will cast a protest vote rather than offer material cooperation to either of them.
But Sykes is right: if you do more than just cast a reluctant ballot for Trump, you own it all. There is nothing hypocritical or anti-American about standing up and refusing to be bullied into doing that. Indeed, in a country founded by revolution and a party that rose from the ashes after its founders bolted the Whigs and stood on its principles even when those principles pushed the nation into Civil War, there is hardly anything more American than that.