What Anti-Trump GOP Consultants Don’t Get
George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, and Rick Wilson are all self-proclaimed Republicans. They also really, really do not like President Trump and they have an article out in the New York Times to tell you about it. They also have a new initiative, the Lincoln Project, that has the purpose of “defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line.”
The four co-authors, particularly Conway and Wilson, have become quite famous for their anti-Trumpism. They have gotten the opportunity to write the same op-ed over and over again, appear on TV in numbers that is not at all proportionate to their size of the actual voting population, sell books, and now launch yet another vanity project that will have about as much success as Evan McMullin’s 2016 or Bill Weld’s 2020 campaign, but that will still be treated by the media as a serious endeavor.
Given this, it reasonable to see them as nothing more than a bunch of grifters out to make a buck and this is just their latest get-rich-quick scheme. Weaver is a particularly egregious example. In May, the former John Kasich adviser registered as a foreign agent on behalf of a state-owned Russian subsidiary who would lobby against any sanctions Congress might impose on it. He eventually backed out of the job after people pointed out that doing so would make him the biggest hypocrite in the Trump era, which would really be quite the accomplishment when you think about it.
They do not do themselves any favors in this respect either, “We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.” Yes, that’s why Democrats jumped up and down applauding President Obama every thing he said “if Congress doesn’t act, I will” and why the presidential candidates make similar promises to abuse executive authority or why Obama sued nuns for not wanting to provide birth control. That’s why Democrats have threatened to pack the Supreme Court, get rid of the electoral college, have run on gun confiscation, want you to “bake the cake,” and are now impeaching the president on charges so vague that no future president is safe from a House controlled by the opposite party.
But, let’s be generous and give them the benefit of the doubt, which is not something they give their fellow Republicans. They are betting that Trump will probably lose and by a wide margin. When that happens, they will be in prime position to rebuild the party, because they were right all along. We tried to warn you and you didn’t listen.
The problem they have is that most conservatives and Republicans view them as attempting to sabotage the party and you can not expect to be hired to rebuild my house after you did everything you could to help burn it down in the first place.
Trump was not particularly popular in the 2016 primary; he finished with less than 50% of the popular vote, but most Republicans have adapted. The four co-authors and their ideological compatriots have not. They justify this by saying that they, unlike everybody else, have refused to drink the Kool-Aid. But, learning and adapting is not the same thing as conforming. Nobody is demanding you go to a Trump rally with a MAGA hat.
What this particular brand of NeverTrump-ism which isn’t so much “Never Trump” as it is “Always Democrat” has refused to accept, either because they are blind or because they do not care, is that Trump’s nomination was a rejection of them. It was a rejection of their worldview, which was more moderate than conservative. A former Kasich adviser questioning anyone’s conservative credentials is something that appears in The Onion not the New York Times.
Again, adapting is not the same as conforming. You can be a Republican or a conservative and still be fairly critical of Trump. But, when your own party rejects you so overwhelmingly, any sensible person would wonder if maybe the other side had a point or at the very least, would consider how they market their ideas.
In 2016 the Republican Party was forced to have many conversations with itself that it really did not want to have. It was forced to realize that it never had an honest conversation with itself about the national security and domestic ramifications of the Iraq War. It was forced to have discussions about the economics of immigration and the free trade consensus was challenged.
Yet, instead of talking with Trump voters on these issues, they continue to talk at them and over them, often with a high sense of moral superiority. While they might feel good about themselves, this approach hurts themselves more than anyone else.
For example, some Trumpian critiques of the foreign policy establishment and of George W. Bush’s foreign policy are more valid than others, but the Republican establishment’s unwillingness to have an honest conversation about the Iraq War or post-Cold War order has seen the rise of an extremely dangerous reactionary element within the GOP. This reactionary element manifests itself on Trump’s worse days, such as the infamous Helsinki press conference, and in commentators such as Tucker Carlson.
The truth that no conservative wants to admit is that from a conservative perspective Trump has been just sort of okay. He has not been nearly as great as MAGA Inc. think he’s been, but he has not nearly as awful as the co-authors think either. He’s signed a good, but not great tax bill; had a great record on judicial appointments; done some good things on foreign affairs; and presided over a good economy. On the other hand, he’s been awful on the debt and entitlements; slapping tariffs on allies is dumb; and while he has done some good things on foreign policy, he has also done some not so good things (the phone call was not, in fact, “perfect”). Then, of course, there is his personal behavior that includes, among other things, rage tweeting.
While Trump gets a C at best, he is helped by the Democrats’ hard drive to the left. The public option is now the “moderate” position in that party on health care. Next to Elizabeth Warren he looks like Ronald Reagan or Calvin Coolidge. These Republicans don’t care and yet still wonder why nobody in the Republican Party will listen to them.
But Trump’s nomination was also a rejection of their campaign strategies. For years the Republican consultant class thought the way to win elections was to run the most boring moderate, such as John McCain (Schmidt’s old boss) or Mitt Romney because they would not alienate independents by shaking the boat and the way to guarantee a loss was to run a nut like Donald Trump. As it turns out the electable technocratic and serious candidates lost and the unelectable buffoon of a candidate won. Again, they have shown no desire to learn from this.
For believers in Ronald Reagan’s so-called three-legged stool, the Trump era can be a complicated time. He’s not a fiscal hawk; he’s somewhere in-between a hawk and a dove on foreign affairs; and he is a mixed bag on social matters, mostly because his personal life, history, and the way he conducts himself make him seem insincere.
The challenge is trying to advance these goals with a Republican president that does not share many of these ideological roots, all while a hysterical media hyperbolically and hypocritically condemns everything he does at the same time the Democratic Party moves harder to left.