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Dear Never Trumpers: The Cruise Is Over
How a generation of "conservative" intellectuals finally turned into Democrats
A lot has happened since my well known essay "The Collapse of the Never Trumpers" appeared in 2018 — and none of it has been good for that tribe of pundits or their garden gnome leader, Bill Kristol. In fact, most of them have seen their careers collapse so spectacularly that only Michael Avenatti could really understand. George Will has semi-retired to a life of boring students to death as a commencement speaker at small colleges. Jonah Goldberg and Steven Hayes used to appear on Fox News regularly but now they pretend to fax a newsletter every morning to their remaining friends and family and David French.
What happened? My prediction of their end seemed to initiate their end. It was like watching a series of abandoned buildings get detonated in sequence. I had a front row seat, of course, and I wore a hard hat and watched it all come down. There's a lot of dust and debris left on the cable shows even now. We're looking at you, S. E. Cupp.
What you have to remember about so many of the "conservative" failures who went bankrupt in the Trump Era is that many of them had failed long before. Like big banks, they were hollowed out over the years. Many of these people had pushed for the Iraq War, hated the Tea Party, hated Sarah Palin (or what Sarah Palin stood for), and were more than a little attracted to the astonishingly empty political career of Barack Obama. Some of them had fallen for the crease of Obama’s pants. (We’re looking at you, David Brooks.) Does that sound conservative to you? That happened well before Donald Trump took the escalator down to the podium at Trump Tower in 2015.
The list of dumb stunts and terrible tricks that the Never Trumpers tried during the Trump Administration is larger than Brian Stelter’s waistline and more barren than Max Boot’s scalp. It’s hard to catalog all the disasters. First, the "anonymous resistance" New York Times Op-Ed stunt backfired horribly with the public in 2018, while the Never Trumpers applauded. Then the smear campaign conducted by Democrats against Judge Kavanaugh grew so vile that it radicalized the moderate wing of the Republicans, and drove them into Trump's arms for safety. During those confirmation hearings, prominent Trump haters like Rich Lowry and Erick Erickson even wrote public apologies. (There's nothing quite like hopping on the victory bus after you realize that you can't slash the tires.) The Never Trumpers must have suffered an existential crisis during the BLM riots in 2020 when they realized that Donald Trump was the only bulwark left against a mob ready to overthrow the rule of law.
Not all of them grasped the irony of course. Bill Kristol, in particular, disgraced himself permanently with his quip about preferring the unelected "deep state" to the duly elected Trump administration. He had also mocked the American working classes from the podium of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and called for them to be replaced by foreigners. Now my father had been a coal miner his whole life. Was there some cosmic justice in the daughter of a coal miner breaking the story that Kristol's magazine The Weekly Standard had been wiped out of existence by its billionaire owner? That's revenge served so cold that it might as well be dry ice.
I could not resist reminding the Never Trumpers that what had happened to the Weekly Standard was what the Weekly Standard had wanted for the American working classes. This made them all quite upset. (David Brooks and John Podhoretz had semi-public breakdowns that were unmanly, even by their standards.) They did not believe that they should be affected negatively by their own policy beliefs. It never occurred to them while fetishizing the free market from their sinecures that the pink slips might one day arrive for them too. Where did the conservative movement find all these unlovable losers?
Before we let them all walk away into oblivion to do podcasts for The Bulwark in their pajamas, we should take the time to conduct a post-mortem autopsy on this faction of failures. Why? Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty, but also the price of keeping a gang of morons from claiming to be the intellectual leaders of the GOP ever again.
Some of those talentless frauds were vicious too. Do you remember when the Republican strategist Amanda Carpenter called for "blackballing" Trump supporters? Do you recall when the Washington Post’s monomaniacal Jennifer Rubin wanted them "purged." (Both of those ladies probably deserve to wear "Nasty Women" t-shirts to the end of their days.) Almost all of the Never Trumpers conspired in various ways to get Hillary Clinton elected in 2016 and Joe Biden elected in 2020. That's a lot of treachery for the sake of seeing Bill Kristol on a fundraising cruise in his Speedo. So let's plunge the scalpel into a few of these zombie cadavers, shall we?
Commenting on my 2018 essay, one jokester wrote: "I'm holding a contest this month: first prize is a year's subscription to the National Review. Second prize is a two-year subscription." The last prize of that contest would be dinner with the “Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute,” Jonah Goldberg himself. No one would call him a Happy Warrior. In a pompous tirade in the National Review in 2018, Goldberg referred to my “wicked, dishonest, and dimwitted op-ed” as “equally deficient in fact and seriousness.” My “gloating, smarmy, gleeful thesis” that the Never Trumpers were finished was absurd, according to him. In fact, Goldberg had insisted that all of them were doing great, thank you very much:
In short, Robinson doesn’t know what she’s talking about. My suspicion is that because she and her network are trying to become state TV in the Trump era, she’s pandering to her audience by telling them what they want to hear. There’s a lot of that going around these days. She might also be confused, thinking that the audience she is pandering to is the only one that matters. While it’s true that the people who take this woman seriously do not like many of her targets, by this standard, Alex Jones can claim our careers are tanking too.
The National Review’s subscriber base actually declined by more than 50% during the Trump Years. If you’re in the magazine business, and you saw that number you’d know: you just hit an iceberg, and you’re sinking. It turned out that Goldberg wasn't just in denial: he was blowing kisses from a balcony suite on the Titanic. This has become something of a habit for the Pride of Goucher Women’s College. Two months ago, Goldberg “resigned” from his guest contract with Fox News because (according to him) Tucker Carlson is the crazy one who “spreads misinformation.” Let’s just say that Goldberg’s daily interest in posting photographs of his dogs has coincided curiously with his popularity becoming, shall we say, more selective.
The National Review, like Goldberg, now seems to be only technically alive too. It stayed afloat for decades by appealing to upper class East Coast Episcopalians. Bushies. Wanna-Be-Buckleys. You know: snobs. So when the Covington Catholic boys were framed by a bunch of leftist activists, it was to be expected that Lowry and his people would defend the kids. Instead, their deputy managing editor, Nicholas Frankovich, wrote an outrageous smear called "The Covington Students Might as Well Have Just Spit on the Cross." This was like dropping the Mother of All Bombs on the magazine's donor class. Goldberg and French were finally pushed out of the magazine but much too late. With feckless boys like Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in charge, my bet is that the SS Buckley ultimately sinks. I think I speak for most people when I say to that crowd: it’s better if you all go down with the ship.
And let’s not forget the rump party of neocons who finally crossed over to the Democratic Party in 2020. Celebrated war hawks like Max Boot, celebrated campaign strategists like Steve Schmidt, celebrated husbands like Joe Scarborough — all of them took to that conservative newspaper of record, the Washington Post, to explain the irreparable loss the GOP would suffer at their defection. Was that true? Did those celebrated political minds convince legions of their fellow voters to travel with them over to the green rooms of CNN and MSNBC, and into the arms of Joe Biden in the 2020 election? Not a chance. Simply put, I can't find a living soul who cares about them in the slightest — other than Mika.
The myopic pettiness, the intramural snobbery, the resentful entitlement, the bitchy condescension: why did our supposedly "elite" group of conservative intellectuals sound so much like a West Hollywood salon of hairdressers? Why didn’t they care at all about conservative politicians winning elections and governing? How could they flip over to the Democrat Party so easily? How could they claim that Donald Trump was an unserious choice for President, and then vote for Montel Williams’s ex-girlfriend to be second in command of the free world?
I have a theory. These people all conflated their own personal success with the success of the GOP over the years. So they wildly overestimated their own influence with Republican voters. What happened was that Donald Trump came along in 2016 and created a political revolution, with no help from them. This was an unendurable assault on their self-importance. Simply put: these pundits wanted their sphere of influence back. It didn’t matter to them if they had to betray their political principles, and their allies, in order to do it either. That was a kind of intellectual treason, and they know it.
Some of these people were counting on being named Undersecretary for Ballet at the Kennedy Center — or Diplomatic Attache to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Chain — in the Rubio Administration and so they’re upset. Some of these people, like Michael Gerson, enjoy practicing armchair psychiatry by scolding conservative Christians for supporting Trump and thus being “racists.” (Bless his heart, but Gerson’s own limp-wristed and heretical Episcopalianism is in such rapid decline that its members might as well be skiing.) Some of these people, like David French and Evan McMullin, are keyboard warriors who have been lost so long that they are beginning to resemble that Japanese soldier from World War II who hid in the bushes of Guam until 1972.
The good news is: the war is finally over. We won, and they lost. There’s no need to lob more verbal grenades into their cave. (As Winston Churchill once said: "Why make the rubble bounce?") The Biden Regime has been such a disaster for America in one short year that it has made the Trump Administration look like Camelot. The American people want Trump back in the White House today, but will settle for 2024. As for the Never Trumpers, they insisted that Trump was incompetent and unstable, and that Biden was competent and unifying—and so they have discredited themselves for all time.
You can almost feel the cruise-ship conservative intellectuals drowning in a sea of failed predictions. It doesn’t matter if they sink or swim now—they’re in the middle of the North Atlantic and it’s too many miles to land in either direction.
The cruise is over.