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NeverTrumper Bret Stephens demonstrates that all the policy achievements in the world won’t matter


By —— Bio and Archives--January 3, 2018

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NeverTrumper Bret Stephens demonstrates that all the policy achievements in the world won't matter to a bitter-ender
In fairness to Bret Stephens, he was a NeverTrumper when he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. They’re not huge Donald Trump fans there, but they give him credit when he successfully implements a good policy, and they don’t pretend that none of it is worth anything because Trump is Trump. Stephens was an outlier at the Journal in the sense that he was a doctrinaire anti-Trump guy, one of those “conservatives” who preferred Hillary because he thought Trump was unfit for office regardless of what he might do on the policy front.

Last year Stephens jumped from the Journal to the New York Times, and when the Times takes on a token conservative, he is usually either assimilated (David Brooks) or fired quickly (Bill Kristol). Ross Douthat has been the rare survivor who actually takes the conservative side more often than not, but even he has to tamp it down quite a bit to be digestable to the Times’s delicate readership.

Since going to the times, Stephens has defended the Steele dossier and has trashed the Second Amendment, so I’ll let you decide how much of a conservative he really is. But he still claims to be one, and he claims to agree with much of Trump’s policy achievements. Yet he’s so invested in his NeverTrump identity, none of this can persuade him we’re better off than we would have been with you-know-who:

Conservatives used to believe in their truth. Want to “solve” poverty? All the welfare dollars in the world won’t help if two-parent families aren’t intact. Want to foster democracy abroad? It’s going to be rough going if too many voters reject the foundational concept of minority rights.

And want to preserve your own republican institutions? Then pay attention to the character of your leaders, the culture of governance and the political health of the public. It matters a lot more than lowering the top marginal income tax rate by a couple of percentage points.

This is the fatal mistake of conservatives who’ve decided the best way to deal with Trump’s personality — the lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness — is to pretend it doesn’t matter. “Character Doesn’t Count” has become a de facto G.O.P. motto. “Virtue Doesn’t Matter” might be another.

But character does count, and virtue does matter, and Trump’s shortcomings prove it daily.

Maybe you think the Russia investigation is much ado about nothing. Yet Trump brought it on himself every step of the way, from firing James Comey after the former F.B.I. director wouldn’t swear fealty, to (potentially) admitting to obstruction of justice with that tweet about Mike Flynn’s firing. Or maybe you regret the failure to repeal Obamacare. But that had something to do with the grotesque insults Trump lobbed at John McCain, the man whose “nay” vote sank repeal.

Look at every other administration embarrassment (Scaramucci) or failure (the wall, and Mexico paying for it) or disgrace (the Charlottesville equivocation). Responsibility invariably lies with the president’s intemperance and dishonesty. That puts Republican control of Congress in play. It also risks permanently alienating a millennial generation for which the G.O.P. will forever be the party of the child-molesting sore loser and the president who endorsed him.

There are two huge problems with Stephens’s proposition here. The first is his claim that conservatives pretend Trump’s flaws don’t matter. Of course they matter. They are a source of constant discussion, and most of us think Trump could have achieved even more than he already has if he didn’t pick unnecessary fights and focused more on policy. I don’t have to agree with every personality flaw Stephens ascribes to the president, but he obviously has some and of course they matter.  I said so a month before they election, and I still think so.

But where most conservatives differ from Stephens is that, unlike him, we don’t think Trump’s positive achievements are unimportant because he has personality flaws. We acknowledge that both are important. Stephens pretends the achievements are meaningless and the flaws are everything.

The second problem for Stephens is that he thinks political news matters more than what’s happening in people’s own lives. Maybe it does for a pundit like him, but normal people pay attention to the economy and their employment prospects more than they focus on an Alabama Senate race that will soon be long past. The New York Times may never let Roy Moore fade into obscurity, but for most people he will anyway. If the tax cut gives us a booming economy, that will be Trump’s legacy, not whatever he said about John McCain or the fact that Anthony Scaramucci worked for him for a week. That is a big deal to people like Stephens. It is not a big deal to just about anyone else.

Finally, if Stephens still wishes Hillary was president, wouldn’t it make sense for him to devote at least some of his column to what would be better if she was? Yet he offers not a word along these lines. I guess that’s not so hard to understand. What could he say? That the president’s impact on culture would be even worse, and that we would have none of the policy achievements to offset the cultural harm?

This is enduring problem for conservatives who claim they voted for Hillary because of Trump’s character flaws. If you think character in a president is of utmost importance, and because of that you voted for Hillary Clinton . . . well, I think you see the problem here.


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Dan Calabrese -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by HermanCain.com, which can be found at HermanCain.com

A new edition of Dan’s book “Powers and Principalities” is now available in hard copy and e-book editions. Follow all of Dan’s work, including his series of Christian spiritual warfare novels, by liking his page on Facebook.


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