Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Left is being disingenuous in its claim that conservative opposition to Trump rings hollow

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has written a book called Conscience of a Conservative, and an article for Politico that is an excerpt therefrom.

On the surface - but no deeper, as I am about to make clear - I am in concurrence with his premise: that a lamentably big swath of conservatives convinced themselves that a rudderless, vulgar buffoon like Donald Trump could be their standard-bearer in the volatile climate of the middle of this decade.

People of various stripes are going to react to the book title in various ways. There's an argument to be made that it's an exercise in self-delusion. Yes, in some years during his service as a House member and now Senator when his voting record is solidly conservative, but his FreedomWorks ratings for 2013, 2014, and 2014 dipped from a general run of 100 percent ratings, peppered by occasional dips into the high 90s, to 85, 77 and 79 percent, respectively. There was his vote for Loretta Lynch. There was his support for normalizing relations with Cuba.

An argument he makes in the course of his book and article is a classic case study in Reasonable Gentleman Syndrome:

There was a time when the leadership of the Congress from both parties felt an institutional loyalty that would frequently create bonds across party lines in defense of congressional prerogatives in a unified front against the White House, regardless of the president’s party. We do not have to go very far back to identify these exemplars—the Bob Doles and Howard Bakers and Richard Lugars of the Senate. Vigorous partisans, yes, but even more important, principled constitutional conservatives whose primary interest was in governing and making America truly great.
Dole, Baker and Lugar? Oh, please. Who is he expecting to buy that?

Well, given his RGS affliction, perhaps his "friends across the aisle."

If so, he is on a fool's errand.

Jim Geraghty at NRO shows that the position Flake has eked out for himself was insufficient for the New York Times to confer its imprimatur:

The New York Times reviews a new book from Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona that rips Trump, and offers an incoherent criticism along the way: 

But Flake has also cast most of his votes in favor of Trump’s policies. Just last week, he voted for the bill to repeal Obamacare without replacing it, and then he voted for the hastily assembled “skinny repeal.” On that point, he seems to be at odds with his book, in which he specifically cautions Republicans against engineering a sloppy repeal of Obamacare behind closed doors. “Legislation executed without hearings and written by only one side is always a bad idea, regardless of who does it,” he writes. The primary intellectual failing of “Conscience of a Conservative” is that it doesn’t untangle the dysfunction in Washington from the dysfunction of his own party. Republicans haven’t just embraced Trump’s nativism and politics of resentment because it’s politically expedient. Many Republicans have peddled anti-immigrant sentiment for years, and a return to Goldwater’s principles probably wouldn’t remedy that; the rejection of free trade agreements also has complex roots.

But Flake doesn’t like Obamacare and the current rickety pileup of broken promises that make up our health insurance system. Why does it undermine his criticism of Trump to vote to get rid of the status quo? And don’t think we didn’t notice that casual use of “anti-immigrant sentiment” to label opposition to illegal immigration, Times editors.
Noah Rothman at Commentary exposes the flimsiness of similar arguments made in other left-leaning outlets:

After months of pushing Republican lawmakers to speak out against Trump’s excesses—as though this president did not already have an antagonistic relationship with the party he acquired in a hostile takeover—you might think Democrats would be satisfied by Flake’s broadside against him. The Arizona senator suggested that conservatives had abandoned their ideals and that years of shallow posturing in opposition to Barack Obama had rendered their voters uncompromising and unrealistic. He said that Trump’s nomination represented a “Faustian bargain” and suggested that his presidency may still represent an extinction-level event for his ideology and his fellow party-members. To this display of vulnerability and introspection, the liberal political class has replied: not good enough.
“Until it is matched by any real action, the Jeff Flake op-ed is just a bunch of Ben Sasse tweets strung together,” wrote Hillary Clinton’s former spokesman Brian Fallon. “Has Jeff Flake done anything to use his powers as a United States Senator to check Trump in any way?” Vox.com’s Matt Yglesias asked earnestly. “Talk is cheap right now,” remarked Mother Jones’s national affairs editor Mark Follman.
These and other liberals give the impression that nothing short of caucusing with Democrats would represent satisfactory opposition to Trump. If the objective Democrats is to secure Republican allies in their effort to safeguard the country from a reckless president, they’re going about it in a counterproductive way. But that’s not the goal. Their design is to tether Trump to the Republican Party and to capitalize on a backlash against the administration next fall, not to allow Republicans to distinguish themselves from the president. Despite all their braying to the contrary, any effort by Republicans to check Trump weakens the Democratic pitch.
Liberal influencers have written off Trump-skeptical Republicans in Congress by citing their voting record in the Senate. According to FiveThirtyEight’s “Trump Score,” for example, Flake “voted with Trump” 95 percent of the time. This is an utterly worthless metric. The majority of votes taken in the Senate so far in 2017 have been nominations, procedural motions, and resolutions of little public-policy consequence. Those votes reveal almost nothing about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Congress. What of conservative legislation, like efforts to relieve the financial stress on the nation’s major entitlement programs? Are Trump-skeptical conservatives to oppose those merely to jam a thumb in the president’s eye, even though he’s opposed to entitlement reform himself? Should conservatives abandon conservative priorities in pursuit of roving Democratic goal posts?
Tallying roll call votes is an awful way to take the temperature of the political environment. Put on FiveThirtyEight’s blinders and you’d miss the fact that Republicans in Congress are beginning to castigate Trump on the record—augmenting the daily torrent of quotes attacking Trump from unnamed Republican lawmakers and their aides.
You’d definitely miss the fact that Republicans in the legislature are putting a temporary hold on efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, despite the president’s public efforts to hector the “fools” and “total quitters” in Congress into sending him something to address health care.
You’d miss the fact that Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley have fired warning shots at the president in the effort to keep him from taking a run at Robert Mueller’s independent probe of the Trump campaign. You’d overlook the fact that Republicans like Joni Ernst and Orrin Hatch have criticized the president for seeking to ban transgender men and women from the services. You wouldn’t see that Congress has failed to fund “the wall,” made no effort to pass an infrastructure bill, and has balked at fast tracking the renegotiation of America’s trade relationships—and all to the sound of grumbling Republican voters.
Most important, the Trump Score utterly fails to ascribe value to votes cast. Not all bills are of equal significance, and last week’s vote is especially profound. By an astounding margin, Congress passed a measure that will reclaim power from the presidency in an area in which the White House enjoys the broadest latitude: the conduct of American foreign affairs.
By votes of 419-3 in the House and 98-2 in the Senate, the legislature sent a bill to Trump that imposes sanctions on North Korea, Iran, and Russia, but also robs the president of the ability to administer those sanctions with the leeway enjoyed by his predecessors. If he wants those sanctions eased, he will have to demonstrate to Congress how Russia is meeting certain conditions—a provision the administration unsuccessfully lobbied Congress to strip from the final bill. This is arguably the strictest imposition of terms on the president’s ability to pursue national security objectives since Congress passed the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment over the objections of the Nixon White House.
There will be consequences for this, of course, and not all of them of the desirable kind envisioned in libertarian fantasy novels. Hostile regimes will take advantage of an enfeebled presidency that cannot advance their domestic interests. Congress is reclaiming authority for itself that it is too dysfunctional to administer. Republicans know this. Still, they act.
It’s no wonder that Democratic partisans wouldn’t want the public to pay too much attention to this remarkable set of events. Beyond checking the unpopular Trump presidency, Democrats are united on neither message nor platform. Their cheap bluster is unequal to the moment. 
I myself run into this in comment threadson this blog: the expectation that I'm on the cusp of some kind of conversion experience. When it doesn't happen, I'm a poisonous force indistinguishable in kind from Trumpists.

It's not hard to see how this comes about. Since leftists willingly refuse to even attempt to understand the three pillars of conservatism on their own terms, it all looks like some kind of "greed" and "bigotry" to them. Which is interesting, because not even Trumpism, let alone conservatism, is problematic due to "greed" or "bigotry." (Not that there is anything problematic about conservatism! The premise of this blog is that it's a solution, not a problem.)

But those former conservatives who, for reasons that look to me a lot like a lack of confidence in Cruz and Rubio, cast their lot with Trump and championed him in print and on broadcast media, are responsible for the ease with which the NYT, Five Thirty-Eight, Mother Jones et al can sow confusion and conflate actual conservatism with the hot mess we're saddled with in the White House.

And then you have a Senator-author whose case for conservatism is glaringly polluted with RGS, thereby making it easy for the Left to claw his entrails out.

You see, Dennis Prager, and, indeed Kurt Schlichter, whom I hate to cite as anything other than an example of a formerly principled and clear-thinking conservative having turned into nothing short of a moral monster, are not wrong that we are in a civil war in post-America. The Left intends to stomp freedom, dignity, material advancement and worship of God into the dust.

But the question is whether Donald Trump is an effective weapon in that war.

He is not.

But neither is Jeff Flake.

It's really not such a fine line we have to walk. It's actually a rather broad path.

The three pillars of conservatism are well-known:

1.) Free-market economics, which begins with the premise that a good or service is worth what buyer and seller agree that it is worth - period. No other party has any business being involved in that agreement - certainly not government.

2.) An understanding that Western civilization has been a unique blessing to humankind. (Judeo-Christian morality, Greco-Roman model of representative democracy, the great scientific and artistic achievements.)

3.) A foreign policy based on what history tells us about human nature. This plays itself out as our allies knowing we have their backs, our adversaries respecting us, and our enemies fearing us.

 All that is necessary to do to pry loose this worldview from Trumpism in the public perception is to be unwaveringly driven by it when opining if one is a pundit, or voting, if one is a legislator. And, yes, speaking up about Trump's unfitness falls into that, since he has no clue what those three pillars are all about.

That's how you expose the hollowness of the Left argument that you have to abandon those three pillars to be a legitimate Trump opponent.

But consistency and clarity are key.

You can't go squishy.


  1. So let's address Big Pillar #2. What and where is the east if west is so the best? Why is there even an east? Because there is a west that's best? Is there a language spoken in the west that is best? Can you give me one great example of art, one of music and one of poetry that is best over all the rest, best in the west? Is there a war that's best? We are all either stardust, golden, or dust to dust, dust in the wind? Is all vanity or is it love? And is it even best to be best? Unlike all the rest? This is a test, only a test.

  2. The United States is viewed as a major national threat—taking a place alongside the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), global climate change and cyber attacks—by majority of citizens from seven countries, including some longstanding American military allies, according to a 38-country Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday.

    Though 18 of the countries pegged ISIS as the biggest threat, strong majorities in countries including South Korea (70 percent), Japan (62 percent) and Turkey (72 percent) see U.S. power and influence as significant threats to their respective nations. Sixty-two percent of people in Mexico, the U.S.’s immediate neighbor to the south and often a punching bag for President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, register the U.S. as a threat, and it is seen that way by percent in Spain, 55 percent in Indonesia and 57 percent in Chile.


  3. Re: Comment 1: There is not an "east" the way there is a West. The West refers to a body of ideas, principles and approaches to art and science that have been getting distilled over a 4,000-year history, culminating in the United States of America.

    Example of a piece of music that is best: Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.

    Example of a piece of art: the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

    Literature: Hamlet by Shakespeare.

    Treatise on how to organize government: The Federalist Papers.

  4. Re: Comment Number 2: The fact that "global climate change" is listed as something that also scares the people in those countries raises my eyebrows right away. Was the question framed in a way that included it? If so, it's immediately invalidated.

  5. Global climate change is very real. It is whether it is man-made that is debatable. You have your head up your western butt if you deny the reality. Oh, I forgot, you refuse to debate this issue.

  6. There's no debating. There is no reason to worry about the global climate.

  7. If you look at the internals of that Pew poll, you see that the numbers tell some interesting stories considering the political climates in various countries. Also breakdowns by age groups within their countries.
    But a more immediate question is what you are driving at by citing it? Is your point that the US is way out of line to use its various kinds of power to insure a stable world?

  8. And a more immediate question is what all this has to do with Jeff Flake's book and the various views out there, from hard-left to populist, on what conservatism is?

  9. It's not to say that how US power is perceived by various demographics around the world isn't an interesting topic. It actually is. But I'm not seeing how it fits into this topic.

  10. I spose you're right, just cause the rest of the world doesn't always get how wonderful we are doesn't mean that we are not wonderful. And I don't know what to do with you with your climate change denial, because I have often and recently cited several areas of concern which you refuse to address so I will just let you be on that issue because what you think don't mean squat cause you are simply wrong. "If you're not part of the future, then get out of the way" as a much more successful rocker you often berate once sang.

  11. When you start throwing that unique blessing crap around like it should be something we wear on our sleeves, well, I just had to let you know that the rest of the craven world does not always share our exalted opinion of ourselves. Not to worry though, we know we're the greatest. And we want to be great again too. Best of both worlds, nay all worlds, known and unknown, here today and yet to come. We are the Greatest!

  12. It's not a matter of wearing it on our sleeve. It's a matter of examining why it is so, how it gets extended to the rest of the world, and what is involved in preserving it.

  13. And they'll know we're exceptional by example and by the peace, love and understanding in our society in addition to our material well-being. We're just happy campers and of course everyone else wants to be with us and for us because, gosh darn it, we're so nice.

  14. I mean nice in the sense that a bald eagle is nice in executing its will. Ben Franklin wanted us to be turkeys.

  15. OK, allow me to back up to the greatness, nay nonpareil, the best, the west, the finest crème de la crème peak of perfection elitjewel in the crown, ne plus ultra paragon nonesuch never equaled before during and ad infinitum, the west. I am listening to some sitar music right now. Don't know much about music, but my soul knows when it's stirred, what makes it inferior to the Brandenburg Concerti? Its simplicity, its brevity, it's singleness, what? I heard it was an ear opener to western ears which were increased, not decreased by its inferiority. In America we pretty much crossed the bridge with the Transcedentalists, and if not a supreme western quality, humility and self-effacement is such in the east. West is no better than the east. East with west is best. In fact, I think as far as adaptability to the future on this planet, deep Eastern traditions and philosophies may carry more survival (and thrival)whollop.

  16. Anyhow, Beethoven was most proud of his Missa Solemnis. His Mass in B Minor is pretty wicked too.

  17. Trump wants to fire his commander in Afghanistan because he is not winning America's longest war. And he is bitching that we don't get some of those natural resources there like the Chinese do. At the same time bemoaning that we did not get more oil out of Iraq. Sure neat ektending our exceptionalism throughout the globe and exhibiting what is involved in preserving it. Ain't that America?

  18. And he thinks it is simple that China should put Korea in its place. Do you think China trusts the West for one millisecond? Trump has already popped off to Graham about the carnage will not be here; it will be over there. Expect a lot of body bags. I mean a lot.

  19. Ahh, but your ilk is in to apocalyptic geopolitics.

  20. I have no idea why you're conflating Donald Trump with Western civilization.

  21. Didn't he make that great speech your ilk all gushed over? It's your 3rd Pillar, baybee!

  22. It was reported that Secy Matis left the meeting visibly shaken.

  23. That speech was indeed a good one. It was also an outlier, an anomaly. You would have to ignore the sum total of what LITD has said about Trump to claim that "my ilk" had some kind of conversion experience on the basis of that speech.