The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Why conservatives are always defending the indefensible

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Like the girl who always falls for the guy who’s bad for her, conservatives keep trusting the wrong people and making the same mistakes. One such mistake goes like this: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

A few recent examples…

When Donald Trump got into a fight with BuzzFeed (some) conservatives reflexively defended him. They presumably did this because BuzzFeed is viewed as a liberal-leaning outlet — and because Trump is nominally a Republican. But is he worth defending? Trump’s conservative bona fides are highly questionable to begin with, and his impact on the GOP’s prospects are almost certainly negative (as evidenced by his birther crusade). But at least he has the right enemies…

Conservatives have long embraced Ted Nugent. Like Trump, Nugent is beloved partly because conservatives are so desperate for celebrities that they are (ironically) enamored of them (remember the time the Ultimate Warrior came to CPAC?!?). Nugent, of course, has always been a loose cannon, but his recent comments about Obama being a “subhuman mongrel” have finally earned him the rebuke of some prominent conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Nugent, of course, didn’t become controversial or uncouth over night, but conservatives have — until recently — embraced him (he was recently campaigning with the Texas Republican candidate vying to replace Perry as governor). Even now, some are obliquely defending him because he has all the right enemies. They do this because liberal celebrities are held to lesser standards. They do this because the coverage of his comments has felt disproportionate. They do this because conservatives love lost causes.

It’s not just celebrities. Political candidates who pick the right enemies are too often supported, regardless of their failings. Most recently, we have seen this in the effort to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell, of course, is no conservative hero, but conservatives were too quick to latch onto a flawed replacement.

Matt Bevin’s campaign has been plagued with mistakes and odd revelations (did he really go to MIT?), the most recent of which is that he signed a letter in support of TARP. Bevin’s in a different category from Trump and Nugent, but conservatives are supporting him for many of the same reasons, including the fact that he has the right enemy. For a lot of conservatives, it’s better the devil you don’t know than the devil you do.

It’s time to break the cycle. Having the right enemies is hardly a qualification for robust support. That’s because you and I will (fairly or not) be associated with the people we support. When we endorse the wrong person, their actions reflect on us.

So here’s my modest proposal: When conservatives vet someone (assuming they do), they should consider some additional criteria, including: “Is this personal really a conservative?” — “Is this person just using us?,” and (just as importantly) — “Do they have the character and integrity worthy of our support?”

So why do we keep falling for these bad guys? We’re flattered by the attention. We want them to think we’re cool. And maybe, just maybe, we think we can fix them…