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Last year, Donald Trump’s candidacy presented conservatives a high-stakes proposition. Those who eventually became ReluctantTrump decided that the opportunities the candidate offered outweighed the risks, while those who became NeverTrump determined that the risks exceeded the potential gains. Despite common perception and the (genuine) rancor, the schism was often a close thing. At various stages of the campaign, it wasn’t hard to find nominally pro-Trump conservatives wondering if there was a way to talk a flailing and failing Trump into handing his candidacy over to Mike Pence. Likewise, many nominally anti-Trump conservatives wavered when considering whether they really wanted to sit-out a battle to keep Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office. Often, the line separating Trump and NeverTrump passed right through the conservative heart.
Four months into Trump’s presidency, this intra-Right fight continues and, in some quarters, has deepened, with people on both sides hurtling insults and accusations of bias at each other. There are several causes for this, but the primary one is the lamentable desire we all feel to vindicate the high-stakes choices we made last fall and most people’s inability to recognize the same in themselves. That, more than anything, is what made Dennis Prager’s recent column imploring former NeverTrumpers to get over themselves so lamentable and frustrating.
After investing so much energy in opposing Trump’s election, and after predicting his nomination would lead to electoral disaster, it’s hard for them to admit they were wrong. To see him fulfill many of his conservative election promises, again in defiance of predictions, is a bitter pill. But if they hang on to their Never Trumpism and the president falls on his face, they can say they were right all along. That means that only if he fails can their reputations be redeemed. And they, of course, know that.
Prager is correct that, for those who opposed Trump during the election, there is a temptation to see their dire predictions proven right; I’ve felt it myself and know I haven’t always succeeded in fighting it off. Not only can this lead such people to evaluate Trump unfairly it can, more importantly, do serious harm to the nation by undermining a duly-elected administration of our own party for the sake of a cheap I-told-you-so. This temptation should be resisted at every opportunity.
What Prager fails to acknowledge, however, is that he is subject to an equal bias toward validating his own decision last fall; that is, just as a former NeverTrumper like me has an incentive to (unjustly) claim Trump a failure in order to vindicate his decision last fall, so does a former ReluctantTrumper like Prager have reason to (unjustly) paper-over the president’s mistakes and grade him on an overly-generous curve; as a regular reader of Prager’s columns, it’s hard not to see something off about the way he piles superlatives upon the president.
Donald Trump is the President of the United States, which means all of our fates are — to some extent — tied to his success in office. We should all wish him well, praise him when he deserves it, cajole him when necessary, and withhold final judgement until doing so becomes necessary. For the president’s critics, that means allowing for the possibility that Trump may yet succeed, despite their predictions and biases; for his fans, it means acknowledging that he may yet fail, despite theirs.