If you haven’t been following it, for about a week now a Wall Street Journal editor named Bret Stephens and talker Sean Hannity have had a low level war going on. It has been characterized by Stephens trolling a very trollable Hannity.
First the set up, back in June, Stephens was on Hugh Hewitt’s show and gave a rather scathing critique of Trump that I think most of us agree with:
BS: Listen, I think that for the United States, Hillary Clinton, as awful as I find her, is a survivable event. I’m not so sure about Donald Trump.
BS: And let me tell you why. Let me add one more point to that, Hugh. The United States survives so long as at least one of its major parties is politically and intellectually healthy. I don’t think the Republican Party, or I should say the Republican Party as the vehicle for modern American conservative ideas, survives with Donald Trump. I think a Donald Trump presidency sets up an Elizabeth Warren ascendancy. And it not Elizabeth Warren, someone of her ilk. And I think that’s dreadful. I think a Donald Trump presidency raises a new kind of version of conservatism which more closely resembles a kind of Father Coughlin, America first populism and nativism and isolationism, than the confident, modern, cosmopolitan, thoughtful, engaged conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan.
I think this is a very unremarkable statement. Yes, darkness will descend over the land if Hillary Clinton is elected BUT 2020 is right around the corner and Hillary will be a weak and wounded candidate. On the other hand, if Trump is elected the GOP will spend the next four years defending his chronic dumbassery and then be sucked into a presidential campaign where “I’m not Trump” is more than sufficient as a campaign platform. If you want to see how this plays out look at 2006 when we only had to defend Iraq, Katrina, and Harriet Miers. That was child’s play beside what Trump will cause.
Now Stephens has responded in the Wall Street Journal (what was that warning about picking fights with a guy who buys ink by the barrel?). It is a good article that bears reading.
It was probably inevitable that Donald Trump and his media munchkins would alight on the stab-in-the-back theory to explain his probable defeat in November. The surprise is that they are doing so with the election still three months out.
“If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz,” Fox News host Sean Hannity told his radio audience last week. “I have watched these Republicans be more harsh toward Donald Trump than they’ve ever been in standing up to Barack Obama and his radical agenda.”
“Establishment Republican types,” he insisted, had in effect “created Donald Trump.”
Mr. Hannity has never made a secret of his feelings for Mr. Trump, which is the love that dares to speak its name. But his comments were also a revelation, and not just that it has dawned on him that the Republican nominee is likely to lose and lose big. Like members of a cult who discover too late that their self-proclaimed messiah is mortal after all, rationalizations are required.
Mr. Hannity’s excuses are even more disgraceful, combining oily self-absolution with venomous obloquy for the very conservatives who have spent the year warning that a Trump candidacy is an epic GOP disaster that all-but guarantees Hillary Clinton’s election. The habit of shifting blame and refusing to take responsibility is supposed to be the curse of the underclass and its political hucksters, but Mr. Hannity is giving Al Sharpton a run for his money.
But Mr. Hannity’s tantrum obscures the uglier side of what he is trying to do, which is to paint targets on the GOP’s genuine Reaganites—pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-NATO, pro-entitlement reform—and replace them with the Party of Trump—anti-all of the above—no matter what happens to the candidate come November.
Who might help lead this Unglorious Revolution of the crass, clueless and shoulder-chipped? Those who can make themselves rich by shouting and hearing echoes of themselves even as the GOP loses one presidential election after another.
This is the reason I’ve consistently argued that the only hope for a conservative restoration is a blowout Hillary Clinton victory, held in check by a Republican majority in Congress. If Mr. Trump loses the election narrowly, the stab-in-the-back thesis will have a patina of credibility that he might have won had it not been for the opposition of people like me. But a McGovern-style defeat makes that argument impossible to sustain except among the most cretinous. We can count on Mr. Hannity for that.
Casting Hannity as an Al Sharpton figure is a bit much — as far as I know, Hannity hasn’t started riots that resulted in people dying, slandered a prosecutor, and he does own his own suits — but it is mostly on target. Hannity, after all, is the guy who said this:
“I don’t think there’s anything about Trump’s agenda that isn’t conservative except maybe with the issue of trade.”
This reminds one of the Judean Liberation Front in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Except in reverse.
I’ve made no secret of where I stand on Hannity (here | here | here | here). IN MY PERSONAL VIEW, Hannity hitched himself to the Trump jalopy for the purpose of ratings and tossed any ideology he may have over the side. He and other fellow travelers in the allegedly conservative media decided to cast their lot with Trump because of the perception that Trump had a fanatic following who would become part of their audience. It is sad to say this but there is no way that anyone who professes to have any conservative bona fides could have supported Trump during the primary season when his platform was something out of the Argentina of Juan Peron which boils their motivations down to exactly one.
Now Hannity, and others like him, are going to be stuck to this particular tarbaby at least until November. And Hannity is going to find that after the voters repudiate Trump in November that he is going to be held to account for his role because it is the people who enabled a totally unqualified and moderately deranged Donald Trump to become the GOP candidate who will be responsible for his loss, not his critics.