Lies, Damned Lies, and NeverTrump: A Defense of Dennis Prager [OP-ED]

Dennis Prager set the conservative blogosphere ablaze last week with a column asking why there are conservatives “who still snipe (or worse) at President Trump,” despite the fact that for the next three and a half years, he’s our only means of getting national conservative policies across the finish line.

Prager’s primary explanation? “While they strongly differ with the Left, they do not regard the left–right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation.” Exactly right, and a crucial point that NeverTrumpers never seriously addressed.

Prager’s conclusion:

Trump, with all his flaws, is our general. If this general is going to win, he needs the best fighters. But too many of them, some of the best minds of the conservative movement, are AWOL.

I beg them: Please report for duty.

Sure enough, a string of pundits jumped at the opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve done no introspection whatsoever since the election. For space we’ll only talk about two of them at TFPP, but you can read my response to several others here.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg was the first to fire back, but he didn’t actually grapple with Prager’s arguments; he first nitpicked the “general” and “civil war” language and mocked the idea that some conservatives distanced themselves from Trump “to attend elite dinner parties” (which, incredibly, some seem to think was about literal dinner parties, rather than obvious shorthand for respectability in elite circles).

But Prager’s observation is manifestly true. For a golden example, remember P.J. O’Rourke’s call, endorsed at National Review by Charles Murray, to vote for Clinton because she, unlike Trump, was “wrong within normal parameters”?

Excuse me, but who the hell defined “normal parameters” that exclude Trump’s flaws, but permit Clinton’s lying, lawbreaking, statism, and unabashed support for slaughtering preborn babies?

Ultimately, Goldberg is upset that Prager “insinuat[ed] that conservative thinkers and writers are vain elitists who are betraying their cause by not becoming spinners.” But Prager said no such thing. He’s talking not about legitimate critiques, but about those who continue to cast Trump as the Right’s enemy and are hell-bent on tearing him down no matter what.

Second, it’s it’s telling that Prager’s critics immediately assume he was talking about them. Did you guys recognize yourselves in the diagnosis, or have the extremes of NeverTrump escaped your memories?

To take just post-election examples: Bill Kristol’s persistent Trump hate, Jennifer Rubin doing a 180 on the Paris Accords solely to attack Trump, George Will suggesting Trump’s just as unbalanced as Kim Jong-un, and Bret Stephens declaring Trump “mentally ill.” Indeed, NR’s own Dan McLaughlin recently called out Charlie Sykes’ “suggestion that we have some sort of obligation to do nothing else but criticize Trump,” so NR certainly isn’t unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

Dennis Prager – A Response to My Conservative Critics About Trump
Legal Insurrection – What do conservative Never-Trumpers really want?
Michael Walsh – PJ Media Hot Mic

The last (so far) NR attack came from David Harsanyi. Desperate to establish equivalence between tribe mentality on the Left and the Right, he accuses Prager of “demand[ing] to ignore every scandal and fumble for the greater good.” Again, this is a lie. Re-read the column. Look for this demand. It’s not there.

(I asked Harsanyi on Twitter to show where Prager expressed this position, repeatedly. He couldn’t, but still dug in his heels. NeverTrump ethics, ladies and gentlemen!)

As for the talk of “reporting for duty” to help “our general win,” Prager’s detractors call to mind the Left’s hyperventilating over Rush Limbaugh’s infamous “I hope Obama fails” wish. In both cases, the reasonable interpretation is winning/failing to accomplish what the president was elected for, not presidential fortunes for their own sake. Just as hoping Obama failed meant hoping he failed to impose more leftism on America, helping Trump win means helping him achieve conservative results. Of course that includes constructive criticism when Trump errs, but it means our criticism should be geared toward pushing him in the right direction, and leave behind the pettiness and hysteria.

As NeverTrump revealed last year and reminded us last week, the upper echelons of conservative punditry have a very real groupthink problem, more benign than the leftist variety dominating college campuses, but just as corrosive to critical thinking, self-awareness, intellectual honesty, and moral seriousness.

Note: an expanded version of this column originally appeared at the author’s personal website, Conservative Standards.