What is it about deciding an “approach” to Donald Trump that center-right voices find so complicated? Well into the president’s second year, we’re still inundated with dueling essays and pompous arguments on the subject, with no sign that anyone has learned anything from any of it.
Part of the problem is that so much of the genre seems written not to sincerely reason out an answer, but to rationalize an author’s election stance or vent some grudge, and so, it does more to obfuscate than edify. As a result, Trump takes undue heat on some charges and too little on his real failings — distracting us from the true causes and culprits of today’s crises.
But when we strip away such petty motivations, the task is actually exceedingly simple — if we’re really looking for a conservative answer, that is.
I trust we needn’t linger on either the knee-jerk fanboys blaming Trump’s failures on others and insisting every mistake is a secretly-brilliant chess move, or the unreconstructed NeverTrumpers resorting to cartoonish demagoguery and overt Democrat advocacy. Both are dishonest, counterproductive and virtually impossible to reason with.
Between those obvious extremes, many pundits who want to appear fair-minded have summarized their approach as “calling balls and strikes,” promising to credit the president when he’s right and criticize him when he’s wrong. No more, no less, all based strictly on principled conservatism.
Superficially, that sounds perfectly adequate. But it has two key flaws — one in the execution, another at the conceptual level.
First, many self-styled umpires aren’t nearly as objective as they claim. When diatribes against Trump’s corrupting influence come from writers who’ve never condemned (or actually downplayed) the dishonesty of more mainstream Republicans; when the authors of seemingly-endless lectures on “whataboutism” reflexively change the subject to Trump at the slightest opportunity; when supposed conservatives embrace insipid leftist hyperbole; when criticism morphs into dishonesty; when they demonize reasonable Trump supporters; and when they ignore and defend the same behavior from colleagues that they despise in Trump, the “I don’t call myself NeverTrump anymore” posturing rings a tad hollow.
Second, the “balls-and-strikes” formulation ignores an umpire’s key job qualification: indifference to which team wins. That’s fine if you’re a hard-news reporter or work some other (supposedly) neutral job, but woefully inadequate for any professional right-winger ostensibly here to advance conservatism. Like it or not, the President of the United States is kind of important to doing that, and will still be important in 2020.
Cheerleaders, haters and umpires all fall short to varying degrees, but there is an approach that unites the healthiest qualities of supporters and critics: Teammate. It still entails praising the good and criticizing the bad, but with one key distinction: both are oriented toward keeping Trump on (or steering him back toward) the right policy path, rather than casting him as some perpetual antagonist.
In practice, that means admitting there’d be no question whether to re-elect any other Republican incumbent with a record this conservative. Distinguishing between substantive objections and craven pandering. Sidelining bruised egos, personal animosity, and tribal groupthink to keep focused on the country’s welfare. Recognizing that Trump is neither the only nor the biggest problem in today’s GOP — and that even with his often–loathsome behavior, he’s Mother Theresa compared to the corrupt, statist, anti–democratic, pro-abortion Left.
This is what Dennis Prager and John Ericsson were getting at in their infamous columns that NeverTrumpers so casually straw-manned and misrepresented. Neither called for downplaying Trump’s negatives (Ericsson expressly endorsed “work[ing] to oppose him” when warranted); they called for helping him deliver conservative results and defeat leftist threats. For all the hyper-literal sniping at Prager’s “our general” analogy, the “umpires” forgot that generals aren’t followed for their own sakes, but in pursuit of a larger purpose.
In other words, being a Teammate isn’t about joining Team Trump; it’s about recognizing that you and Trump are, for now, both on Team Conservative, and working together for conservative goals without undermining the team from within.
To whatever extent this is “compromise,” it’s no more than establishmentarians have always asked of us when we recoiled at their candidates, for the same greater good. I don’t think that’s too much to expect of anyone who really wants to restore the Constitution, save the preborn, defend liberty, and advance prosperity. Do you?
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.