Bret Stephens: ‘I Was Wrong About Trump Voters’

 

Thursday, there was a remarkable sight on the New York Times Opinion Page. Eight different columnists remark on how they were wrong about different issues. Paul Krugman admits that he was wrong about inflation. Thomas Friedman admits that he was wrong about the extent of Chinese censorship. Gail Collins admits that she was wrong about Mitt Romney. And Brett Stephens admits that he was wrong about Trump voters. It is a great column and can be found here. While the New York Times columns are behind a paywall, I think that you can read ten columns a month for free. This should be one of them.

Bret Stephens was a great columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Reportedly he left the Journal after concluding that they were being too easy on Trump, and he joined the New York Times. I ended my subscription to the Wall Street Journal about the same time, for about the same reason. So, Stephens and I have a long history of antipathy towards Trump. However, he admits that he has been wrong about Trump voters, and I generally think that I have been too. Stephen’s column begins, “The worst line I ever wrote as a pundit — yes, I know, it’s a crowded field — was the first line I ever wrote about the man who would become the 45th president: ‘If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.’”

I agree. What a way to make and influence people. Stephens continues,

This opening salvo, from August 2015, was the first in what would become dozens of columns denouncing Trump as a unique threat to American life, democratic ideals and the world itself. I regret almost nothing of what I said about the man and his close minions. But the broad swipe at his voters caricatured them and blinkered me.

It also probably did more to help than hinder Trump’s candidacy. Telling voters they are moral ignoramuses is a bad way of getting them to change their minds.

I agree with Stephens. This is so well stated. Stephens then states,

… Though I had spent the years of Barack Obama’s presidency denouncing his policies, my objections were more abstract than personal. I belonged to a social class that my friend Peggy Noonan called ‘the protected.’ My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges.

Trump’s appeal, according to Noonan, was largely to people she called ‘the unprotected.’ Their neighborhoods weren’t so safe and pleasant. Their schools weren’t so excellent. Their livelihoods weren’t so secure. Their experience of America was often one of cultural and economic decline, sometimes felt in the most personal of ways.

Ouch. I am part of the ‘protected class.’ I live in my beautiful mountain and university town with a population of only 100,000 with all of the amenities of a city five times as large. I live in a nice neighborhood with nonexistent crime, surrounded by a golf course. I have Medicare for health insurance. I am my own boss and run my office as I see fit. My judges know and like me. Life is pretty good for me.

Stephens continues,

It was an experience compounded by the insult of being treated as losers and racists —clinging, in Obama’s notorious 2008 phrase, to ‘guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.’

I remember having lunch with a major Democrat figure who told me that he was convinced that opposition to Obama was primarily racist. Grrrr.

Then Stephens says,

Trump voters had a powerful case to make that they had been thrice betrayed by the nation’s elites. First, after 9/11, when they had borne much of the brunt of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to see Washington fumble and then abandon the efforts. Second, after the financial crisis of 2008, when so many were being laid off, even as the financial class was being bailed out. Third, in the post-crisis recovery, in which years of ultralow interest rates were a bonanza for those with investable assets and brutal for those without.

Oh, and then came the great American cultural revolution of the 2010s, in which traditional practices and beliefs — regarding same-sex marriage, sex-segregated bathrooms, personal pronouns, meritocratic ideals, race-blind rules, reverence for patriotic symbols, the rules of romance, the presumption of innocence and the distinction between equality of opportunity and outcome — became, more and more, not just passé, but taboo.

It’s one thing for social mores to evolve over time, aided by respect for differences of opinion. It’s another for them to be abruptly imposed by one side on another, with little democratic input but a great deal of moral bullying.

I share this anger about the above things. But again, I am protected. For better or worse, lawyers are pretty protected. The best book about the evils of the transgenderism, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, was written by a lawyer with strong First Amendment protections. If a Psychologist or Counselor were to have written this book, they would be facing an ethics charge by their licensing board. But the State Bar would laugh at such an ethics charge.

Stephens then states,

For every in-your-face MAGA warrior there were plenty of ambivalent Trump supporters, doubtful of his ability and dismayed by his manner, who were willing to take their chances on him because he had the nerve to defy deeply flawed conventional pieties.

I have faced my share of MAGA warriors. But far more Trump voters are ambivalent, doubtful, and dismayed by Trump than I give them credit.

Then Stephens hits home with this paragraph:

Nor were they impressed by Trump critics who had their own penchant for hypocrisy and outright slander. To this day, precious few anti-Trumpers have been honest with themselves about the elaborate hoax — there’s just no other word for it — that was the Steele dossier and all the bogus allegations, credulously parroted in the mainstream media, that flowed from it.

Ouch. Oh, all the hours I wasted watching MSNBC’s evening shows! All of the energy that I wasted hoping that Trump would be caught! I was not until I read Bill Barr’s book One Damn Thing After Another that I realized that I had been wrong and wrote about it here.

The book is very well done. And it changed my mind. After the Mueller Report came out, I posted both the Introduction and Executive Summary on Collusion and Obstruction. (See here.) Barr does a deep dive into the Mueller Report and how Mueller both over-read and under-read his remit. My mind had been marinated in the MSNBC and my own TDS. But now reading Barr’s account led me to the conclusion that the Mueller investigation was a search for not all that much, and was a general waste of time and money. I was stunned. But I changed my mind.

To the credit of my fellow Ricochetti, there was almost no “I told you so.” Incredible.

Stephens ends his piece,

… I would also approach these [Trump] voters in a much different spirit than I did the last time. ‘A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall,’ noted Abraham Lincoln early in his political career. ‘If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.’ Words to live by, particularly for those of us in the business of persuasion.

Words to live by when posting and commenting at Ricochet.

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  1. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    @garyrobbins I appreciate this article and your commentary. As I have mentioned numerous times in the past six years I was a reluctant Trump supporter, and that only after he garnered the nomination. I supported Ted Cruz as long as he was in the race. A major reason I supported Trump initially was to defeat Hillary Clinton. I was surprised when that happened.

    Then I got a lot more surprises along with Donald Trump. The organized and traitorous resistance from within the Obama Administration, followed by even more traitorous behavior by appointees and bureaucrats sworn to uphold the Constitution solidified my status as a Trump supporter.

    So here I am today, pleased with many things President Trump accomplished as POTUS and more supportive of him than ever.

    • #1
  2. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    • #2
  3. Samuel Block Support
    Samuel Block
    @SamuelBlock

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Can we at least get room temperature and fuzzy? 

    • #3
  4. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Maybe Stephens is wrong again.

    • #4
  5. Gary Robbins Member
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    What Stephens says more completely is “It’s one thing to take a gamble on a candidate who promises a break with business as usual. It’s another to do that with an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Stephens continues with strong issues with Trump, however, he is easing up on Trump voters.  

    What I hear from Stephens is that he is much more understanding and accepting of people voting for Trump back in 2016 and 2020, but Stephens would not want them to vote for Trump in 2024.  

    The answer for me is “let’s get Trump’s better policies without Trump himself.”  But that is outside the scope of this column.  (I am good with DeSantis and a number of other governors.)

    • #5
  6. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Oh Gary.

    • #6
  7. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    What Stephens says more completely is “It’s one thing to take a gamble on a candidate who promises a break with business as usual. It’s another to do that with an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Stephens continues with strong issues with Trump, however, he is easing up on Trump voters.

    What I hear from Stephens is that he is much more understanding and accepting of people voting for Trump back in 2016 and 2020, but Stephens would not want them to vote for Trump in 2024.

    True, and I thought it a good idea to point that out with respect to whether the column is worthy of praise—that and the rather ridiculous idea that Trump tried to “break the Republic itself.”  I assume that the latter idea is necessary to maintain one’s membership in the NYT columnist club.

     

    • #7
  8. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    What Stephens says more completely is “It’s one thing to take a gamble on a candidate who promises a break with business as usual. It’s another to do that with an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Stephens continues with strong issues with Trump, however, he is easing up on Trump voters.

    What I hear from Stephens is that he is much more understanding and accepting of people voting for Trump back in 2016 and 2020, but Stephens would not want them to vote for Trump in 2024.

    True, and I thought it a good idea to point that out with respect to whether the column is worthy of praise—that and the rather ridiculous idea that Trump tried to “break the Republic itself.” I assume that the latter idea is necessary to maintain one’s membership in the NYT columnist club.

     

    They are trying their best to stop looking stupid for all they have said about Trump all these years while also trying to make sure to do their best to prevent any resurgence. If they must keep using falsehoods to do this, so be it.

    • #8
  9. Gary Robbins Member
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Oh Gary.

    By the way, you were perhaps the most gracious person when I stated,

    “But now reading Barr’s account led me to the conclusion that the Mueller investigation was a search for not all that much, and was a general waste of time and money.”

    You said “I’ll take it.”  Thank you.

    I just can’t say the words “Russian Ho-ho-ho-ex” quite yet.  I still have my issues about the 2020 election and January 6th.

    But for today, I have a greater appreciation for Trump voters, and realizing that I have a protected life.

    And I realized that others who I have disagreed with may not have such protected lives.

    • #9
  10. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    But for today, I have a greater appreciation for Trump voters, and realizing that I have a protected life.  

    I probably should accept this as my status today but that is not the way I started my life. Maybe that is why I have no trouble seeing the issues and adapting.

    • #10
  11. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    Well, I’d rather remain the appalling voter as  was his first impression. And I don’t think highly of this writer either. Admitting you were wrong on something so obvious and intuitive after making such strong  claims and dramatic actions, and admitting, in effect, to being entirely duped by whatever information sources he chose to believe, does not engender new trust.

    The slate isn’t clean. There is kind of a vague apology.  But not really. Trump voters don’t read the New York Times.

    Hey, I wonder if I’ll get my friendship back from my NYT-reading reasonable moderate Democrat friends, who spurned me when I wouldn’t agree with the statement “Trump is Hitler”.

    Not sure if I want that friendship back anyway. But it’s sad we went through decade’s together.

    • #11
  12. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I was never  much about “I told you so.”  For me these “apologies” have always been “too little, too late.”

    • #12
  13. Columbo Member
    Columbo
    @Columbo

    AND … @garyrobbins admits that he was wrong about everything since 2016!! When President Trump stole his brain (or what was left of it).

    • #13
  14. Franco Member
    Franco
    @Franco

    I almost want to read the article but it will be like eating an unpleasant meal.

    But from the OP it seems that the NYT can run an issue whereby their columnists admit unconscionable mistakes, and then I guess, carry on?

    Was there a remedy? Like different sources or something?

    Krugman, being wrong about the economy?

    That’s not news.

    Him admitting it might qualify as news. But he’s only admitting to one mistake (inflation – which was obvious to anyone) 

    It seems a convenient info-dump trying to reset the narrative.

    And there’s always a time when something outlasts it’s usefulness.

    Well, I don’t really care what he thinks of me but I find him appalling still.

    • #14
  15. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Franco (View Comment):

    I almost want to read the article but it will be like eating an unpleasant meal.

    But from the OP it seems that the NYT can run an issue whereby their columnists admit unconscionable mistakes, and then I guess, carry on?

    Was there a remedy? Like different sources or something?

    Krugman, being wrong about the economy?

    That’s not news.

    Him admitting it might qualify as news. But he’s only admitting to one mistake (inflation – which was obvious to anyone)

    It seems a convenient info-dump trying to reset the narrative.

    And there’s always a time when something outlasts it’s usefulness.

    Well, I don’t really care what he thinks of me but I find him appalling still.

    This could be another case where they want to be able to claim “old news,” “adjudicated,” etc, in the future.

    • #15
  16. W Bob Member
    W Bob
    @WBob

    I remember Stephens’ “You’re  appalling” line.  I never read him again.

    I appreciate his apology, but normal, everyday people don’t blame those who vote for candidates they dislike, often intensely, the way Stephens did. I think Biden is appalling, but I know people who voted for him and it never occurred to me to think they’re appalling. If I can make that distinction, what’s Stephens’ excuse?

    The tendency to view rank-and-file voters on the opposing side as evil is inherently and exclusively leftist. His “appalling” comment was a slip that briefly exposed his left-leaning, globalist, elitist inclination.

    • #16
  17. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    W Bob (View Comment):

    I remember Stephens’ “You’re appalling” line. I never read him again.

    I appreciate his apology, but normal, everyday people don’t blame those who vote for candidates they dislike, often intensely, the way Stephens did. I think Biden is appalling, but I know people who voted for him and it never occurred to me to think they’re appalling. What’s Stephens’ excuse?

    The tendency to view rank-and-file voters on the opposing side as evil is inherently and exclusively leftist. His “appalling” comment was a slip that briefly exposed his left-leaning, globalist, elitist inclination.

    Hmm, okay, Biden voters may not be “appalling” (or not all of them, anyway) but how about “unforgivably stupid?”

    • #17
  18. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    kedavis (View Comment):

    W Bob (View Comment):

    I remember Stephens’ “You’re appalling” line. I never read him again.

    I appreciate his apology, but normal, everyday people don’t blame those who vote for candidates they dislike, often intensely, the way Stephens did. I think Biden is appalling, but I know people who voted for him and it never occurred to me to think they’re appalling. What’s Stephens’ excuse?

    The tendency to view rank-and-file voters on the opposing side as evil is inherently and exclusively leftist. His “appalling” comment was a slip that briefly exposed his left-leaning, globalist, elitist inclination.

    Hmm, okay, Biden voters may not be “appalling” (or not all of them, anyway) but how about “unforgivably stupid?”

    Just ask them “What’s your excuse?”

    • #18
  19. BDB Coolidge
    BDB
    @BDB

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Can we at least get room temperature and fuzzy?

    Working on it as we speak.  

    • #19
  20. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.’ Words to live by, particularly for those of us in the business of persuasion.”

    Very telling quote. What view was this fool — and the rest of them at the NYTimies — trying to persuade me to adopt. What is the “cause” they push?

    • #20
  21. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

    “They don’t hate Trump, they hate his voters.”   is more true today than ever.

    • #21
  22. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    “They don’t hate Trump, they hate his voters.” is more true today than ever.

    • #22
  23. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    Stephens continues with strong issues with Trump, however, he is easing up on Trump voters.  

    To quote Rhett Butler:  “Thank you for the crumbs from your table Mrs. Dives.”   

    Of course rather than an obscure (but apt) quote from the book, I could go with the much more famous:  “Frankly Mr. Stephens, I don’t give a d—.”

    • #23
  24. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    A very high % of political communication these days consists mainly of insulting the people on the other side. This approach is especially prevalent on the Left, but is by no means unknown on the Right.

    Which seems pretty strange from a marketing point of view.  But…

    Here’s something that

    Stalin’s master propagandist, Willi Munzenberg, said to Arthur Koestler back when Koestler was still a Communist:

    Don’t argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them. Make them shudder with horror. That, Arturo, is propaganda!

    And the objective of the kind of propaganda is, largely, to intimidate people on the other side into shutting up.  Also to intimidate people on one’s own side who might possibly consider switching sides.

    See my post Memes, Political Persuasion, and Political intimidation and the linked Quillette article.

     

     

    • #24
  25. Mark Alexander Coolidge
    Mark Alexander
    @MarkAlexander

    David Foster (View Comment):

    A very high % of political communication these days consists mainly of insulting the people on the other side. This approach is especially prevalent on the Left, but is by no means unknown on the Right.

    Which seems pretty strange from a marketing point of view. But…

    Here’s something that

    Stalin’s master propagandist, Willi Munzenberg, said to Arthur Koestler back when Koestler was still a Communist:

    Don’t argue with them, Make them stink in the nose of the world. Make people curse and abominate them. Make them shudder with horror. That, Arturo, is propaganda!

    And the objective of the kind of propaganda is, largely, to intimidate people on the other side into shutting up. Also to intimidate people on one’s own side who might possibly consider switching sides.

    See my post Memes, Political Persuasion, and Political intimidation and the linked Quillette article.

     

     

    I appreciate anyone who mentions Willie. Stephen Koch’s book Double Lives should be required reading.

     

     

    • #25
  26. navyjag Coolidge
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Agree with Bob T. Did not vote for the guy in 2016. But jumped up and down when he beat Hillary.  But what is the minimum a “normal” conservative would want from the President of this great land? Lower taxes? Check. Economic growth? Check. Energy independence? Check? Honest Supreme Court justices? 3 for 3.  Not great on spending. But helped the military and said FU to the Chinese who would rather do business with Hunter and Slow Joe. Looks like about 5 of 6 to me on the critical stuff. Maybe higher when you factor in the Middle East.  Slow Joe in the basement. Where he belongs. 

    • #26
  27. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    The only letter I ever wrote to a columnist was to Stephans regarding some anti-Trump and anti-Trump supporters column of his that the WSJ published.  I don’t recall the column or my criticisms, but I ended it with, “Get a grip, man”.

    Maybe, after all these long years of hoaxes, Resistance, impeachments, Pelosi’s SOTU shredding, et cetera, Bret got a grip.

    • #27
  28. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Samuel Block (View Comment):

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Before we get all warm and fuzzy, Stephens also claims in the same column that supporting Trump in ‘24 is siding with “an ex-president with a record of trying to break the Republic itself.”

    Can we at least get room temperature and fuzzy?

    Room temperature, retracted spikes, no fuzzy. The spikes are on guarded standby.

    First post of Gary’s I actually read completely in ages. I’m a bit annoyed with his continued insistence on checking his brain at the door and letting his approved slate of authority figures do all the thinking for him. It’s like he doesn’t listen to any of the Ricochetti who have been saying exactly these things for years.

    • #28
  29. DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax)
    @DonG

     

    I heard an audio clip with Dick Morris.  He was saying that in 2023 there will be a SCOTUS decision (Moore v. Harper) that will prevent Governors from vetoing federal election rules written by legislatures and this will result in AZ, PA, MI, WI having new rules where cheating is very hard.   This is advanced thinking for Trump and GOP.

    • #29
  30. Gary Robbins Member
    Gary Robbins
    @GaryRobbins

    DonG (CAGW is a Hoax) (View Comment):

    “They don’t hate Trump, they hate his voters.” is more true today than ever.

    I don’t hate Trump’s voters.  Trump himself, it is very hard to forgive, and impossible to forget.

    • #30
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