Via the Daily Rushbo, I was not aware until this very moment that we had a duty of loyalty, backed by sworn allegiance, to a political organization. And not just any political organization but an organization that grassroots conservatives who idolize Rush have routinely described over the past five years — accurately — as corrupt, timid, weakly led, and very probably not worth saving. How quickly populism moves from “the GOP sucks” and “let it burn” to “treason” once the strongman has been installed at the top.
To be fair, I think “treasonous” is merely an inartful word choice to capture a point Rush is trying to make about principle. He walks it back immediately, saying, “People are free to do whatever they want to do. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be permitted to do it.” He doesn’t mean “treason.” He means that Whitman is betraying the right-wing values she claims to hold by supporting a politician like Clinton who’ll work to undermine those values. A fair criticism.
But then things take a turn. Rush:
She’s announced that she is going to actively involve herself in helping to undermine the values, political values she has claimed to have all of her life. She’s been a Republican. That has stood for something. Well, it used to.
But for many of the years in the past, it stood for something. What it usually stood for, what people understood it to be was a belief in small government, limited role of government, entrepreneurism, individual liberty, freedom to be who you are and what you want to be to the best of your ability. All within the realm of compassion, advancement of everybody in America. It is rooted in the concept of American greatness and American exceptionalism.
This was the Republican Party. And okay, so you have a nominee you don’t like. So you just chuck all that, everything you’ve been for all your life?
“If you listen carefully,” said David Frum of this passage, “you hear Rush Limbaugh arguing with himself.” Indeed. His point here is the same point #NeverTrump conservatives have spent the past 15 months making to Trump-supporting Republicans. The party supposedly stands for limited government, liberty, and American exceptionalism. Then Trump, the big-government authoritarian who thinks the term “American exceptionalism” is “very insulting to the world,” comes along and starts grousing about political correctness.
So you just chuck all that, everything you’ve been for all your life?
As a friend said to me on Twitter, Whitman could have pulled the second paragraph from the excerpt above and put it out as her own statement explaining why she can’t in good conscience back Trump. That’s what Frum means by Rush arguing with himself. Still, Limbaugh’s right that opposing Trump as a threat to classical liberalism in no way leads logically to supporting Clinton, who’s a threat in her own way. What would possess Whitman to do that? I think this exchange between Hugh Hewitt and Charles Cooke gets to it:
HH: [Trump’s] list of 11 [Supreme Court justices], and his list of 11 are all originalists, and they’re all, whether Judge Pryor or Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court or the other nine, they’re all very good, reliable originalists. My colleague, Dennis Prager, likes to say there are two doors. One is marked man-eating tiger, and one is marked man-eating tiger or beautiful woman. Which door do you pick?
CCWC: (laughing) That’s a fascinating question. I suppose the “or beautiful woman” door.
HH: Yes, of course, always.
CCWC: But I would reject the premise in that I’m not convinced those are our two options.
HH: The third option being?
CCWC: The third option being another man-eating tiger. I don’t think Donald Trump has given us a great deal of reason to believe that he means anything that he says.
You can do what Cooke does (and I do) by rejecting the choice altogether. No one’s making you pick a door. Let the rest of America, in its wisdom, decide between two statists. But if you’re intent on choosing, recognize that Hewitt is gaming this a bit by equating Trump’s downside with Hillary’s downside: Hillary will be a tiger whereas Trump might be one or he might be something much more pleasant. Only a madman would choose certain misery over a coin flip between misery and pleasure. (Given Trump’s full-spectrum big-government tendencies, it’s hard to see which likely policies Hugh thinks would be tantamount to a “beautiful woman.” The more likely upside to a Trump administration is a man-wounding tiger. But I digress.)
Whitman can speak for herself but #NeverTrumpers who are leaning Hillary seem to see the choice differently. Hillary’s door might be marked “man-eating tiger” but Trump’s door is marked “beautiful woman or nuclear war.” Which door do you want in those circumstances, where he has an upside that she doesn’t but his downside isn’t the same but potentially worse? You know what you’re getting behind door number one and you know it’s dangerous, but the GOP has some experience fending off man-eating tigers. With door number two, you might be getting something pretty sweet — conservative justices plus shadow President Mike Pence effectively running the country while Trump does media appearances — or you might be getting an unhinged fascist who’s already boasted, in public, about the military obeying if he chooses to issue illegal orders and who allegedly can’t understand why we have nuclear weapons if we’re unwilling to use them. One is a highly predictable bad outcome, one is a gamble between a decent outcome and an existential threat to America’s constitutional order. How lucky do you feel? You want to take your chances with the tiger or a coin flip between reasonable-ish Republican government versus grim, chaotic imponderables? Different people can differ in good faith on that, I think, just as they can differ on whether they should vote at all.
One more thing. Say what you will about Whitman’s logic but I don’t think Limbaugh’s shot at her near the end here about being driven by cronyism is fair. Maybe there’s an element of venality to her motives; I haven’t followed her career closely enough to be able to judge how mercenary she is. I do know, though, that Whitman confronted Paul Ryan in early June at Mitt Romney’s retreat about his support for Trump because, Whitman supposedly said, he’s a strongman demagogue in the mold of Hitler and Mussolini. She made a similar point in her statement yesterday about backing Hillary: “Donald Trump’s demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character.” Strange as it may seem, I think even a billionaire might be capable of sincerely valuing certain principles, like “fascism is bad,” more highly than lining her own pockets. I wonder how much business she’ll end up losing from Republican allies, in fact, by committing “treason” against her party.