The 4th post on the Journal of American Greatness originally published in February, 2016.
Jonathan V. Last is one of the few conservative pundits worth reading. Before you think “That’s like saying Sporty was the best Spice Girl,” please realize I didn’t mean it as an insult, though of course it’s only natural to interpret it that way. But Last really is quite good.
[T]he sophisticated view of Trump and Trumpism has gone something like this: Donald Trump may be a huckster, but he has done a service to the Republican party by bringing new, nontraditional voters into the tent. He has shown his fellow candidates that they can flatly reject the demands of political correctness and need not drop into turtle-guard whenever the New York Times takes a shot at them. And while Trump the man is not presidential material, Trumpism — that is, the collection of populist and nationalist concerns that have become wrapped up in the man’s campaign — is potentially very helpful. Over the last 16 years, the Republican party has been largely ineffectual, both in power and in opposition. It has been hostage to a donor class that is almost completely at odds with Republican voters.
Trumpism, in other words, looked like a political movement that could — and possibly even should — be incorporated into the GOP.
There is some truth to much of this.
Did you really need both qualifiers, Mr. Last?
In any event, I would say the same of Last’s account of the case for Trumpism: there is some truth to much of it, but he leaves out a great deal. It’s not incidental to state forthrightly what Trump’s “populist and nationalist concerns” actually are—secure borders, economic nationalism, and interests-based foreign policy—because they form the core of Trump’s appeal. It would be clarifying to know what Last thinks of all those individually and in toto.
Last goes on to chastise Trump for embracing the far-left “Bush lied” meme. Fair enough, Trump has it coming. He then goes still further to excoriate those who support Trump anyway.
[I]f one can’t be against illegal immigration and the donor class, yet also think that conspiracy theorists ought not be suffered in high office — then [the price of Trumpism] is too high.
Is Last against illegal immigration and the donor class? I’d like to think so, since I admire his writings and think he’s smart, but he doesn’t say either way. And of course those two positions alone do not exhaust Trumpism. What does he think about the rest?
As to the substance of Last’s complaint, he didn’t ask us what we thought of what Trump said about Bush. But we’ll answer anyway.
It was a dumb thing to say. Trump probably doesn’t really believe it, which would be bad enough, and if he does believe it, that would be worse. A more sensible way to have registered his opposition would have been to have said “Even if they believed it, how can anyone doubt at this point that the war was a mistake? No WMD were found, so the threat was at best greatly exaggerated. Democracy did not take root, so the secondary rationale was also a failure. And we ended up losing thousands of American lives to destabilize a country and a region, without making our own country any more secure. Part of statesmanship is learning from mistakes. It’s obvious many others in both parties have learned nothing from the foreign policy disasters of the last 15 years, but I have, and things will be different in my administration.”
However, if Last’s point is to goad us into repudiating Trumpism, no thanks. We’d still prefer a candidate who says something dumb about the beginnings of a bad war that’s mercifully over to one who says sensible things about that old war, but hair-raising things about all the new wars he intends to start once he’s elected president. And that’s before we get to immigration, trade, and all the other ways that Trump—and Trumpism—are superior to their rivals.
Last ends with an uncharacteristically dumb statement of his own:
Trumpism has been revealed not as a path forward for a party desperately in need of reform, but a zombie virus that is making fools of the people who embrace it.
No. Trumpism—to repeat, secure borders, economic nationalism, and interests-based foreign policy—is precisely the path forward for a partydesperately in need of reform. Or, if it successfully resists the treatment, it will be the basis for a new party, after Trump and Trumpism mercifully euthanize the old.