While any of us are free to disagree with his opinions from time to time, I’ve long held George Will near the top of my list of working writers of the past half century. The man is a wordsmith from the old school with a command of the language which is too rarely seen in our profession. He displays all of those skills again this week in a column which has drawn considerable attention, while arguing a point which continues to be espoused by the #NeverTrump movement but seems increasingly hopeless and self-defeating. The title pretty much says it all… If Trump is nominated, the GOP must keep him out of the White House. (Washington Post)
Mr. Will begins his diatribe with the now familiar argument that either the nomination or the eventual election of Donald Trump will somehow destroy the Republican Party, movement conservatism, or both. As I’ve written here before, that claim assigns a Herculean degree of power to a single human being. If Trump is nominated and ends up losing the general election we’ll have precisely the same outcome we enjoyed in the previous two cycles. If he prevails, aside from certain elements of foreign policy and dodgy executive actions, he’ll be constrained by the same Republican members of Congress who have largely handcuffed Barack Obama with the additional backing of significant Democratic minorities which will openly loathe him even more than they would any other office holder with an R after their name.
The author does make a point about how too large of a blowout victory for Hillary Clinton could cost us a large number of seats (and possibly the majorities) in both chambers of Congress. That’s an unfortunately true statement, but it also assumes that we somehow know how this topsy turvy season will play out. I’m not ready to place much of a wager on reading the chicken entrails at this point.
Will’s second point, while again eloquently phrased, is the hopeless attempt to undermine the concept of primary elections entirely. (Emphasis added)
Republican voters, particularly in Indiana and California, can, by supporting Cruz, make the Republican convention a deliberative body rather than one that merely ratifies decisions made elsewhere, some of them six months earlier. A convention’s sovereign duty is to choose a plausible nominee who has a reasonable chance to win, not to passively affirm the will of a mere plurality of voters recorded episodically in a protracted process.
Referring to the gang of delegates who, in the event of a contested convention, will most likely make the cafeteria scene from Animal House look like High Tea with the Queen as a “deliberative body” at least provides some humor to an otherwise dismal subject. How many more #NeverTrump advocates will, out of nothing more than blatant desperation, be forced to argue that the registered members of a party should be barred from selecting their nominee? As to the “plurality” argument, George W. Bush won the White House with a minority of the popular vote, say nothing of a plurality, and I don’t recall Will arguing very strongly against the merits of the system at that time. Our byzantine, state by state primary system is broken to be sure, but the idea of having people vote to select a nominee is at the bottom of the list of flaws you need to be looking at.
Will’s final argument, however, is where we come to the most bloated fly in the ointment. The original plan of defeating Trump in the primary was fully within the bounds of normal political play. True, I’ve personally chosen to try to help Ted Cruz win rather than attempting to destroy one of his opponents at every turn and view Trump losing as the be all and end all. This is because Trump has long seemed to be at least plausibly, if not probably the eventual winner and I’d prefer our nominee to go into the general election with as few battle scars from the primary as possible. But George Will pulls the mask away entirely and states in this paragraph that the party as a whole should be working to defeat the GOP nominee in November.
Were he to be nominated, conservatives would have two tasks. One would be to help him lose 50 states — condign punishment for his comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation’s civic life. Second, conservatives can try to save from the anti-Trump undertow as many senators, representatives, governors and state legislators as possible.
This is a disingenuous argument on two fronts. First, Will himself notes only three paragraphs earlier that less than six percent of voters traditionally split tickets. Yet he turns around in his conclusion and states that this should be the strategy which Republican voters adopt. But much more to the point, he dismisses the idea of a Hillary Clinton presidency as a mere four years of comparatively mild discomfort which will somehow be wiped away when Ben Sasse miraculously wins the White House in 2020. This argument is delivered, apparently with a straight face, after an earlier paragraph in the same column where he points out how a Clinton victory will ensure Merrick Garland a seat on the Supreme Court and the uncomfortable fact that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer will be 83, 80 and 78, respectively.
And none of this touches on the fact that each and every Republican and conservative reading his advice will have to walk into a voting booth on November 8th, close the curtains, stand alone in the darkness and… vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As for me, I prefer to win, or at least go down swinging. Surrendering the battle for the White House uncontested is the business of cowards and I want no part of it.