The Elites Do So Despise Populism!

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

As we have previously noted, Jennifer Rubin, one of The Washington Post’s supposedly conservative columnists,¹ has gone off the rails, is thoroughly consumed with #TrumpDerangementSyndrome when it comes to the President. “Rubin has been one of the most vocal conservative-leaning writers to frequently criticize the Presidency of Donald Trump, as well as the overall behavior of the Republican Party during Trump’s term in office. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dr. Munr Kazmir criticized Rubin for being “completely against policies she herself had championed for seemingly no other reason than Trump being in favor of them”. Rubin was criticized by Warren Henry of The Federalist for changing her view on John R. Bolton after he was named National Security Advisor of the Trump Administration.” But, now that he’s been fired left the Administration and written a condemn-Trump book, perhaps Mrs Rubin has changed her mind on him again.

There are some conservative #NeverTrumpers who have remained politically conservative, despite their hatred for the President personally; Patrick Frey, who blogs as Patterico, falls into that category. Mrs Rubin, on the other hand, has gone full-blown “progressive, having recently tweeted “We’re all AOC.”

No, Mrs Rubin, we’re not.

Really, there’s little more that Mrs Rubin could say which would surprise me anymore. A column by her on August 12th entitled “Republicans should listen to John Kasich” was just another in a long series of postings urging Republicans to not be Republicans, unremarkable save for one sentence:

You can either accept Trump as the new normal, or you can recognize he is a dangerous detour into unhinged populism and unfit for the job.

Unhinged populism, huh? The definition of populism can be slightly different from source to source, but it basically boils down to “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.” Wikipedia has a longer definition, but one which says the same thing.

Mrs Rubin is clearly one of the elites. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley for both her Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctorate degrees, she has had quite the career, writing for Commentary, Human Events, and The Weekly Standard, as well as being published in Politico, New York Post, New York Daily News, National Review, and The Jerusalem Post, and populism is something she very much despises. Writing about the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, she said:

Unfortunately, a lot of elites on the right and left (anti-immigrant right-wingers, anti-Wall Street left-wingers) fan the populist flames rather than work on difficult social and economic problems. Political and business leaders can acknowledge the instinct to batten down the hatches. They can see how economic uncertainty can devolve into the irrational politics of fear. They can see how easily resentment overwhelms sound policy. However, they should not encourage it.

Anti-free trade, anti-immigration and anti-interventionism sentiments may be part of an understandable backlash, but they are not constructive public policy. To the extent they fan bigotry, ignorance and anger, they are morally objectionable. Those in positions of responsibility in both the private and public sectors and ordinary citizens therefore have an obligation to keep their heads, deploy their common sense and retain their decency as they navigate choppy waters.

Britain, Europe and the world economy are going to take a hit from Brexit. The United Kingdom’s GDP decline due to exit from the E.U. is estimated to be 1.5 percent to 4.5 percent. The exit may be long and messy, with negative economic and political consequences for the West. The question, however, for Brits as well as Americans is how to respond to the underlying insecurities that give rise to populist spasms, counterproductive policies and dangerous demagogues.

And here comes the money line:

Policymakers and opinion-shapers need to empathize with the plight of their fellow citizens, but their obligation is to first do no harm. Inciting polarization and perpetuating economic illiteracy are unacceptable and risk setting off destructive forces.

Policymakers and opinion-shapers, huh? An “opinion-shaper” is what Mrs Rubin sees as her role in life, and, gosh darn it, it’s just a real problem when the public do not bend their opinions in the ways she wants them shaped.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, whatever you may think about him, did not try to shape public opinion, but to go along with it. Mr Trump did not somehow start the belief that illegal immigration was bad; he simply campaigned on what a whole lot of Americans already believed. Mr Trump did not begin the idea that international trade has hurt the United States; he simply capitalized on a belief that already existed in the minds of millions of Americans.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, firmly believed in the European Union, and attempted to counteract the growing ‘Euroskepticism’ with a referendum:

The Conservative Party won the (May 7, 2015) election with a majority. Soon afterwards, the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced into Parliament to enable the referendum. Cameron favoured remaining in a reformed EU, and sought to renegotiate on four key points: protection of the single market for non-eurozone countries, reduction of “red tape”, exempting Britain from “ever-closer union”, and restricting immigration from the rest of the EU.

The Prime Minister simply wanted support for a better deal for the UK within the EU, and polls at the time indicated that the government would win handily.


Of course, Mrs Rubin very much did not like that the great unwashed could make their opinions known, in an actual vote, rather than having their opinions shaped for them by their betters. As much as Mrs Rubin makes the obligatory obeisance to democracy, it is not a democracy of the people, but of those whose opinions have been shaped by the elites. Perhaps she might consider that her attitude is part of the reason Donald Trump is President today.

Mrs Rubin is of the opinion, as stated in the referenced column, that the GOP should be a “center-right party.” Perhaps, just perhaps, Republican voters were less interested in a center-right party than a strongly conservative one. There were center-right options in the 2016 primaries — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and John Kasich — and they all got trounced by Mr Trump. The strongest competitor to Mr Trump was Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the most conservative candidate in the race.  Whatever centrism is contained in the term center-right, it lost “bigly” in the 2016 Republican primaries.

Mrs Rubin is simply an example of the thinking of the Washington elites, but she’s hardly alone. We can throw in #NeverTrump Republicans like Bill Kristol² and Max Boot into the same mixing bowl, neo-conservatives who are more liberal when it comes to domestic and social issues. They, too, believe that they should shape the opinions of the voters, and are astounded when the voters do not simply go along with it.
¹ – In her Twitter biography, she describes herself as “Conservative opinion writer at @WashingtonPost, MSNBC contributor.” Conor Friedersdorf has an article in The Atlantic documenting the story of how the Post came to hire Mrs Rubin as a supposedly conservative voice.  Charitable to her it very much is not, as Mr Friedersdorf documents how much of a Mitt Romney campaign hack Mrs Rubin played her commentary.
² – We have previously noted how Mr Kristol destroyed The Weekly Standard, the conservative opinion journal he started, by going all out in opposition to President Trump, despite the fact than many of his subscribers supported the President. When you don’t give your customers what they want, you lose your customers.
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