Peter Wehner contends that “Republicans own” the events that occurred at the Capitol yesterday. He writes:
[The insurrection, as Wehner breathlessly calls it] is also the responsibility of countless of [Trump’s] aides and supporters, those in right-wing media and Trump’s evangelical backers, “intellectuals” and pseudo-historians, Republicans in Congress and outside it, all of those who have stood with Trump at every moment in his corrupt and corrupting presidency.
I don’t take Wehner’s attack personally because I didn’t stand with Trump at every moment of his presidency. I criticized both his character and some of what he did — his attempt to leverage military aid to Ukraine into political advantage against Joe Biden, for example.
Still, Wehner’s argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Supporting a president because you believe, on balance, that he is preferable to anyone the opposing party is going to present as an alternative does not make you responsible for violence if, at the end of the presidency, he incites it.
Nor are you obliged, in order to escape responsibility for the worst things a president does, to criticize that president’s other missteps. I chose to criticize Trump when he did things I didn’t like, but that was a personal choice, not a moral obligation.
It’s legitimate, if you want a president to succeed and be reelected, to refrain from criticizing that president. This has always been the practice of many politicians and journalists. Many will do it during the Biden/Harris years.
What about saying a president is right, or that he didn’t do something improper, when you actually believe he is wrong or did act improperly? Here, I believe a writer lets down his readers and himself. He becomes a hack and shill.
But is such a writer or politician then responsible for presidential misdeeds other than those he has defended or similar ones? I don’t think so. Why should he be?
Elected Republicans decided to make a deal with the devil. Part of the bargain—the part they liked—was access to power and influence, this tax cut and that appointment, their silent belief that Trump would further their career ambitions. But the other part of the bargain—the part they aren’t so eager to admit to now—is what we saw yesterday, as the Capitol was engulfed in mob violence. But this, or something like this, is where the Trump presidency was always going to end.
The last sentence is false. Trump might have been reelected and left after his second term without creating a disturbance. Nor was it inevitable that, if he lost the election, Trump would incite an attack on the Capitol or the like. Nor does Wehner show that the riot at the Capitol outweighs all of Trump’s accomplishments from a conservative perspective.
In any case, Wehner’s argument proves too much. In the passage quoted above, he gives short shrift to Trump’s accomplishments but does mention two of them — tax cuts and Supreme Court appointments.
By not making the alleged “deal with the devil,” will Wehner be responsible for higher taxes and leftist Supreme Court appointments when they come to pass in a Biden/Harris administration? Will he be responsible for every abhorrent decision a Biden-appointed judge issues? Will he be responsible for all other mischief from that administration, much of which is foreseeable?
Not in my view. He will only be responsible for the appointments and actions he supports.
Wehner was entitled to exalt character over policy in his writings about Trump. By the same token, Trump supporters were entitled to place their emphasis on policy.
I’m sure the past four years have been frustrating for Wehner. I can understand why he wants to seize on yesterday’s riot and take a victory lap. However, I find the lap undeserved and a little bit distasteful.