Fred Barnes identifies a handful of conservative intellectuals who support Donald Trump to one degree or another. In some cases, the reasons presented for supporting Trump are unpersuasive and/or illogical.
Roger Simon says:
Like others, I want things to change. . .and Donald seems like the man with the courage and will to do it. He’s unafraid. He’s upbeat. He’s funny. He despises political correctness (as anybody with a brain does). . . .I can think of no greater antidote to Obama than a Trump presidency.
Antidote or not, Simon’s pitch sounds suspiciously like Obama’s “hope and change” vacuity. In assessing Trump’s candidacy, we should ask what, specifically, the “it” he will “do” is. An answer does not appear in Barnes’ report about what the Trump intellectuals are saying.
Being unafraid, upbeat, and funny are desirable traits in an entertainer. They are not undesirable in a president. But they are no substitute for wisdom and sound policy.
Neither is political incorrectness. To view it as a virtue in itself exalts form over substance and can lead one to judge pronouncements and behavior uncritically.
Trump has mocked a disabled reporter, insulted women based on physical characteristics, called Mexicans who come to the U.S. rapists by and large, and urged a ban on Muslim entry into the U.S. Statements like these fall into the category of politically incorrect — indeed, they are a big part of Trump’s politically incorrect mystique. But they hardly recommend him for the presidency.
Simon told Barnes, “I could change my mind [about Trump] on a dime. . .if other information comes to light or if Donald starts to act loony or, more precisely, excessively loony.” It’s understandable that Roger wants an exit ramp. The fact that he needs one and the “excessively loony” standard he invokes for taking it are telling.
Charles Kesler’s defense for Trump is also telling:
Kesler puts Trump in the context of earlier presidents. “Do obscenities fall from his lips more readily than they did from Lyndon Johnson’s or Richard Nixon’s?” he writes. “Are the circumstances of his three marriages more shameful than the circumstances of John F. Kennedy’s pathologically unfaithful one — or [for] that matter Bill Clinton’s humiliatingly unfaithful one? Have any of his egotistical excesses rivaled Andrew Jackson’s killing a man in a duel over a racing bet and an insult to Jackson’s wife?
In other words, Trump combines the worst traits of a batch of seriously flawed presidents.
It gets worse:
And there’s a parallel, Kesler believes, between Trump and Woodrow Wilson’s insistence that “the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent he chooses to exercise it,” Kesler writes. This is “not far from Trump’s praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive.”
What conservative wouldn’t support a horrible guy whose view of presidential power reminds us of Woodrow Wilson’s?
Kesler is on firmer ground when he says “conservatives care too much about the party and the country to wash our hands of this election; a third party bid would be quixotic.” This statement suggests the only serious conservative argument for supporting Trump — he may be appreciably better than the only real alternative, Hillary Clinton. This is the theme of several conservative intellectuals Barnes cites, including Wilfred McClay and Victor Davis Hanson.
Trump cannot be made over to look conservative, respectable, or non-dangerous. However, it may not require a makeover for him to appear more conservative, more respectable, and less dangerous than his awful opponent.
STEVE adds: Barnes doesn’t reflect the context of Kesler’s remarks properly (I’ve heard directly from Charles about this). In fact the comparison of Trump to Wilson is precisely a reason to be concerned about Trump, although Hillary’s full-blown Wilsonianism could tip Kesler’s vote to Trump on “lesser of evil” grounds.
Barnes also interviewed me for this piece but didn’t use anything I told him, including my line that Trump was perhaps like Nancy Pelosi’s take on Obamacare: “We may need to elect Trump to find out what’s in him.”