Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Politics of Personal Vindication

 

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.

Prager writes:

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.

There are 238 comments.

  1. PHenry Member

    C1: Yeah, but you guys want him to fail!
    C2: Yeah, but you guys will never admit when he does fail!

    How about we all work together to make sure he DOESN’T fail?

    Who was the last Republican president where we had a large number of Republicans angry that other Republicans were not criticizing the president enough?

    • #1
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:32 AM PST
    • 14 likes
  2. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    PHenry (View Comment):
    How about we all work together to make sure he DOESN’T fail?

    As I said in the last paragraph, we absolutely should.

    Part of the reason why we’re having trouble doing so is that there’s genuine disagreement as to when he’s failing or succeeding. There are several reasons for that disagreement — ideological, temperamental, etc. — but it’s amplified by people claiming that the other guys are biased while being blind to their own incentives to be prejudiced.

    • #2
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:37 AM PST
    • 18 likes
  3. Luke Thatcher

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    its amplified by people claiming that the other guys are biased while being blind to their own incentives to be prejudiced.

    It is hard… so hard… for me (a deeply biased personality) to actually, truly avoid this. It just is.

    who has an easy time with this?

    • #3
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:41 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    Right on. The attitude and position you have in this post is exactly right.

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen: 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.

    Absolutely agree!

    • #4
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:42 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  5. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Luke (View Comment):

    who has an easy time with this?

    No one.

    Which is why it’s infuriating to see someone so decent and as wise as Prager be blind to the fact that he even has a problem.

    • #5
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:46 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Luke (View Comment):
    It is hard… so hard… for me (a deeply biased personality) to actually, truly avoid this. It just is.

    who has an easy time with this?

    No one has an easy time, Luke. (Only for Tom would I comment on an OP about Trump/Never Trump.) But if a person feels he or she is a human being of integrity, courage, and discipline, that person will follow through!

    • #6
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:56 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  7. Profile Photo Member

    There is significant support (or non-hate) for Trump among former National Review writers and those that have been there a long time. It’s the people the current management has brought in in the last ten years to “modernize” conservatism who are the most hostile to him.

    • #7
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:58 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. ctlaw Coolidge

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen: In essence, those who eventually became ReluctantTrump decided that the opportunities the candidate offered outweighed the risks and those who became NeverTrump determined that the risks exceeded the potential gains.

    Is the latter really the case? If it had been, they would have been making serious arguments in favor of Hillary and openly supporting her. Instead, it seemed that many just wanted to feel good about themselves. Supporting Trump was not the way to do so. Thus their cognitive dissonance went wild to find ways to do so.

    • #8
    • June 1, 2017, at 11:59 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  9. PHenry Member

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    Which is why it’s infuriating to see someone so decent and as wise as Prager be blind to the fact that he even has a problem

    So what do you think Prager should be criticizing that he is not? I think the point you are missing is that nobody is saying Trump is a textbook success at conservative principles. They are just saying that so far, policy wise, he hasn’t really made any big enough mistakes to warrant the hair on fire responses from the right. It’s not like Trump supporters are blindly supporting policy that is anti conservative, is it? Any examples?

    When he veto’s the first Republican bill that should be signed, I’ll join right in on the criticism. But in the meantime, you won’t hear me whine about tweets, Russian ‘collusion’, ice cream servings, or whatever the latest irrelevant outrage is.

    • #9
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:02 PM PST
    • 13 likes
  10. Manny Member

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen:Prager writes:

    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.

    I didn’t think that was Prager’s strongest argument. That certainly applies to some, say George Will, and Mona Charen. But I thought the strongest argument he had for the persistence of the NeverTrumpers were we disagreed on the scope of the ramifications to Trump failing:

    While they strongly differ with the left, they do not regard the left-right battle as an existential battle for preserving our nation. On the other hand, I, and other conservative Trump supporters, do.

    That is why, after vigorously opposing Trump’s candidacy during the Republican primaries, I vigorously supported him once he won the nomination. I believed then, as I do now, that America was doomed if a Democrat had been elected president. With the Supreme Court and hundreds of additional federal judgeships in the balance; with the Democrats’ relentless push toward European-style socialism — completely undoing the unique American value of limited government; the misuse of the government to suppress conservative speech; the continuing degradation of our universities and high schools; the weakening of the American military; and so much more, America, as envisioned by the Founders, would have been lost, perhaps irreversibly. The “fundamental transformation” that candidate Barack Obama promised in 2008 would have been completed by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

    That was in line with my experience on Trump. Before he won the nomination, I was a NoTrump. After he won the nomination I knew that a Hillary victory would have been disastrous for the country. It could not be accepted. So I became a ReluctantTrump. Now that Trump is in office and I see his agenda, I would say I am a TrumpEnthusiast. If only he would curb the dysfunctional part of his personality. The remaining NeverTrumpers just don’t seem to see the ramifications of the right losing.

    • #10
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:05 PM PST
    • 16 likes
  11. Manny Member

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    Which is why it’s infuriating to see someone so decent and as wise as Prager be blind to the fact that he even has a problem

    So what do you think Prager should be criticizing that he is not? I think the point you are missing is that nobody is saying Trump is a textbook success at conservative principles. They are just saying that so far, policy wise, he hasn’t really made any big enough mistakes to warrant the hair on fire responses from the right. It’s not like Trump supporters are blindly supporting policy that is anti conservative, is it? Any examples?

    When he veto’s the first Republican bill that should be signed, I’ll join right in on the criticism. But in the meantime, you won’t hear me whine about tweets, Russian ‘collusion’, ice cream servings, or whatever the latest irrelevant outrage is.

    I agree; in most cases, Trump has been to the right of the republicans in congress. You can’t be against Trump on purely policy, by and large.

    • #11
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:07 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  12. Robert McReynolds Inactive

    Okay here are my complaints about Trump:

    1. Bombing Syria without Congressional authority and with no clear and present danger to the United States, U.S. citizens, or commercial interests.
    2. Telling me via the VP that it is “conservative” to have more spending on defense than the Dems get in their domestic, social programs despite increases in both causing more debt.
    3. Attempting to use federal power to coerce local law enforcement to enforce federal statutes. Separation of powers anyone?

    Without using the words “tweet,” “twitter,” or “social media” what are your complaints?

    • #12
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:08 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen: In essence, those who eventually became ReluctantTrump decided that the opportunities the candidate offered outweighed the risks and those who became NeverTrump determined that the risks exceeded the potential gains.

    Is the latter really the case? If it had been, they would have been making serious arguments in favor of Hillary and openly supporting her. Instead, it seemed that many just wanted to feel good about themselves. Supporting Trump was not the way to do so. Thus their cognitive dissonance went wild to find ways to do so.

    First, ct, you don’t know if it’s true or not. Second, you don’t know that they would have made serious arguments for Hillary and supported her. I was not a Never Trump, but I didn’t vote for either one. I didn’t do it to feel good about myself; I did it because of my personal principles. I don’t expect anyone to accept or approve of my choice, but I think your logic that people would have flipped for Hillary is flawed.

    A big part of the overall problem is that people assume they must know what other people think or what they would have done. Unless they have told you, you don’t know.

    • #13
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:09 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  14. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    Is the latter really the case? If it had been, they would have been making serious arguments in favor of Hillary and openly supporting her.

    So if you don’t support Trump because he does not have the temperament, for the job, and lack preparation for the job so even if he tries to do well he probably won’t succeed. How could you then make a positive case for Hillary? What was there to like about her? Even Democrats had a really hard time making any positive case for Hillary beyond, “She is totally not Trump!”

    I know everyone doesn’t think this way, and that is fine, but for me as a Nevertrumper before the election and someone that hopes he exceeds my expectations now that he is President. I can’t bring myself to vote for someone I know is unworthy of the office. Which means that I could not vote for Hillary or Trump. Both were unworthy. Hating Hillary was not enough for me to vote for someone I believed should not be President. I could support neither candidate because to support someone I have to believe that they will do more harm then good. I thought neither Hillary or Trump met that standard.

    Politics is never binary because there can never be only two choices. Now that Trump is President however I truly honestly hope he accomplishes some good things. Imploring him to be competent and disciplined and praising him when he is competent and disciplined is the best I can do for him right now. Some Trump supporters seem to think that I need to treat his incompetence as competence for the sake of “fighting” or “winning” or whatever. I can’t do that.

    • #14
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:13 PM PST
    • 15 likes
  15. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    [I]t seemed that many just wanted to feel good about themselves.

    If that’s your honest impression all this time later, I hardly know what to say.

    • #15
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:14 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  16. PHenry Member

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    his incompetence

    Got any examples of proof of incompetence? Charges of incompetence imply a complete lack of ability to perform successfully. Has he had no successes yet that imply some level of competence?

    • #16
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:23 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    Which is why it’s infuriating to see someone so decent and as wise as Prager be blind to the fact that he even has a problem

    So what do you think Prager should be criticizing that he is not? I think the point you are missing is that nobody is saying Trump is a textbook success at conservative principles. They are just saying that so far, policy wise, he hasn’t really made any big enough mistakes to warrant the hair on fire responses from the right. It’s not like Trump supporters are blindly supporting policy that is anti conservative, is it? Any examples?

    When he veto’s the first Republican bill that should be signed, I’ll join right in on the criticism. But in the meantime, you won’t hear me whine about tweets, Russian ‘collusion’, ice cream servings, or whatever the latest irrelevant outrage is.

    I’m pretty sure you won’t hear Tom whining about those things, either.

    • #17
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:24 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  18. Lois Lane Coolidge

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    If that’s your honest impression all this time later, I hardly know what to say.

    There’s nothing to say. It speaks to the general problem you’ve articulated in your essay.

    Personally, I’ve just hoped for the best in general and turned my talk more to religion than politics at cocktail parties…. (That’s a non-contentious topic, right?)

    • #18
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:25 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  19. Spin Coolidge

    Due to unfortunate events, @jamielockett is unable to like this post. I am liking it for him…

    • #19
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. PHenry Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I’m pretty sure you won’t hear Tom whining about those things, either.

    I agree, sorry if it sounded like I was accusing him of whining.

    • #20
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:31 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. Spin Coolidge

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Okay here are my complaints about Trump:

    1. Bombing Syria without Congressional authority and with no clear and present danger to the United States, U.S. citizens, or commercial interests.
    2. Telling me via the VP that it is “conservative” to have more spending on defense than the Dems get in their domestic, social programs despite increases in both causing more debt.
    3. Attempting to use federal power to coerce local law enforcement to enforce federal statutes. Separation of powers anyone?

    Without using the words “tweet,” “twitter,” or “social media” what are your complaints?

    same same

    I’ll tweet that, now…

    • #21
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:32 PM PST
    • Like
  22. Profile Photo Member

    – “President Trump is expected to ditch the climate deal.”

    – “Sen. John McCain delivered his strongest comments on climate change in years during an appearance Tuesday in Australia, urging Trump to stick with the Paris agreement.”

    One of these guys The Weekly Standard and National Review say they cannot support because he’s not a conservative. The other guy has been championed and protected by those same publications for years and years.

    • #22
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:33 PM PST
    • 17 likes
  23. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    PHenry (View Comment):
    So what do you think Prager should be criticizing that he is not?

    Off the top of my head, the most substantive I think Prager would agree with if he were reflective on this is Trump’s culpability for the AHCA mess. As I’ve written previously, the bulk of the blame belongs to Ryan and the House Leadership, but Trump’s endorsement was premature and unsuccessful. Trump and his team blew that one because they got greedy and hadn’t done their foot/homework and it’s a real loss to him and the country.

    I’d also add Trump’s unforced errors regarding the Russia probe. Note, I am not accusing Trump of collusion, but of making a damn fool of himself in the aftermath.

    Also, while far too much is made of Trump’s twitter habits, there really have been inexcusable things there. Most specifically:

    and

    These are not things a President of the United States should ever say.

    • #23
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:35 PM PST
    • 10 likes
  24. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Okay here are my complaints about Trump:

    1. Bombing Syria without Congressional authority and with no clear and present danger to the United States, U.S. citizens, or commercial interests.
    2. Telling me via the VP that it is “conservative” to have more spending on defense than the Dems get in their domestic, social programs despite increases in both causing more debt.
    3. Attempting to use federal power to coerce local law enforcement to enforce federal statutes. Separation of powers anyone?

    I’m actually with Robert on these, but I wouldn’t expect Prager to be.

    • #24
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:38 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  25. Dorrk Member

    The best way to approach any debate is to assume that your opponent’s motives are sincere and tackle them in good faith. Assuming that your opponent is only holding their position to curry favor/enrich themselves/signal virtue means that you have lost the debate before it even started because you’re not arguing the ideas.

    Anyone who gets annoyed when they hear the knee-jerk response that AGW skeptics are in the pocket of Big Oil should be careful not to make the same mistake themselves.

    I love Prager and Goldberg and it’s deeply disappointing to see both of them speculate about each other’s motivations as a lazy way out of confronting the substance of their arguments.

    • #25
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:42 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  26. Luke Thatcher

    Dorrk (View Comment):

    I love Prager and Goldberg and it’s deeply disappointing to see both of them speculate about each other’s motivations as a lazy way out of confronting the substance of their arguments.

    indeed.

    • #26
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:43 PM PST
    • Like
  27. Could Be Anyone Member

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Okay here are my complaints about Trump:

    1. Bombing Syria without Congressional authority and with no clear and present danger to the United States, U.S. citizens, or commercial interests.
    2. Telling me via the VP that it is “conservative” to have more spending on defense than the Dems get in their domestic, social programs despite increases in both causing more debt.
    3. Attempting to use federal power to coerce local law enforcement to enforce federal statutes. Separation of powers anyone?

    Without using the words “tweet,” “twitter,” or “social media” what are your complaints?

    Bit presumptuous to assume others’ criticism of trump is based on twitter or social media don’t you agree? As I have stated on another thread

    1 ) Trump appointing Wilbur Ross to Secretary of Commerce is an issue because of his strong economic interventionist streak.

    2 ) Trump “appointing” Steve Bannon as his Senior Adviser is an issue because of his strong economic interventionist streak.

    3 ) Trump signing his pointless Religious Protection Executive Order which does not over turn the Johnson Amendment and thus serves as Moral Hazard for Churches and other non profits to be targeted by political interests opposite of them after a future election for either side.

    • #27
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:44 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  28. PHenry Member

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):
    These are not things a President of the United States should ever say.

    Then so far the complaints are about things he said (Tweeted, to be exact!) that were not conservative, not so much any actual policy movement. ( blaming him for not opposing Republicans in congress enough on AHCA is just too much to wrap my head around! Where is the outrage at Ryan and McCain? They hold the cards… )

    Its up to the Republican majority in both houses to move policy legislation forward. Until they do that, and Trump opposes them, there really isn’t anything but ‘what he said or how he said it’ to complain about.

    And I really just don’t care about that. That, it seems, is the difference. He can say whatever he wants as long as he appoints conservative SCOTUS, enforces the law, and signs the bills Republicans send him, as far as I’m concerned.

    But there is a large part of the Republican base that just can’t stand the embarrassment of his in artful speech habits, isn’t that it?

    • #28
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:48 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  29. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    Robert McReynolds (View Comment):
    Without using the words “tweet,” “twitter,” or “social media” what are your complaints?

    My first complaint is about Trump “winning”. For me winning is about Trump not making the Republican brand toxic, even if we lose seats over all a successful President does not make his party toxic. The second part is you either have to make our political opponents weaker or make them play with the rules we give them. Much like Clinton was forced by Reagan’s legacy to balance the budget and sign welfare reform and give up on his big government agenda.

    As of today Trump has shown an ability to really insult his enemies and disrespect the media in a way that really gets under their skin. This brings enormous satisfaction to many Republicans and Conservatives. But it is not enough. Trump needs to play against the narrative the media lays out for them. Successful Republican Presidents do this all the time. They either make the hostile media narrative work for them, or they demonstrate the narrative to be false by their actions and policies. Trump can’t play against the narrative. His disorganized leadership style and his desire to have his administration speak with many conflicting voices instead of one unified message at the very least conveys a sense of incompetence and chaos the media is then able to magnify.

    Trump’s ability to hit back on twitter and the like at the level of insult does not help him in this regard. People can believe both that Trump’s administration is chaotic and that Trump gives an awesome Twitter smackdown to his enemies. Allowing this narrative to grow and develop along with the other hostile narratives about Trump limits Trump’s political options and influence and lessens his leverage against vulnerable Democrats. In the same way he has shown no ability to get ahead of the Russian narrative at all. He is constantly playing catch up and defense on this. He needs to give a major speech out lining our goals with Russia and how we are dealing with them. In that speech he needs to confront the liberal and conservative view on Russia and offer his own interpretation of our relationship. He needs to give his own frame of reference for how he sees Russia and then sell that to the American people. He does that right and the Russian narrative in the media loses steam and he can move beyond it. He does it wrong and it will hurt him. However now he just lets it run and it looks like his transition team made enough amateur hour moves with Russia to keep feeding the Russian narrative for while. If he never counters this narrative his options with Russia are going to be severely restricted because no one will trust him on Russia any more.

    In the campaign Trump correctly guessed that he did not have to defend anything or make a positive case for anything. He could be all offense and attack and allege against Clinton and the Democrats and it worked! He won! However when you are the administration you can’t do that you have to make positive cases for things, defends other things and be careful in who and how you are attacking someone. Trump has not changed out of campaign mode for the last five months and it is hurting him.

    • #29
    • June 1, 2017, at 12:58 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  30. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    My first complaint is about Trump “winning”.

    It is late where I am and I will have to continue this later. But I will come back to this soon.

    • #30
    • June 1, 2017, at 1:00 PM PST
    • Like