Jonah Goldberg says it best when describing the existential danger facing American conservatism in the Age of Trump.
On Trump’s unearned reputation as a happy warrior against political correctness:
This is just flatly not true. I also don’t believe it is true that Trump is appealing to minorities based upon their status as citizens, it’s not in his rhetoric, it’s not what he says; nor do I think he gives a rat’s patoot about the Constitution, which he thinks has twelve articles. He is just making it up as he goes along, riding a populist wave.
[..] This idea that Donald Trump is against political correctness is just a fiction. He’s against being held accountable to people to political correctness for himself but he is delighted to use the exact same bullying tropes of political correctness against other people. He’s done it against me when he tried to get me fired from National Review, saying I was insulting to women and that I have to apologise or resign or be fired because I was so insulting to women. What did I do that was so insulting to women? I said that Donald Trump is staying up late into the night like a teenage girl, tweeting. Which was A, accurate, and B, accurate.
During the primaries when Jeb Bush had a completely understandable and forgivable gaffe about women’s health issues, for weeks Donald Trump was talking about how horrible Jeb Bush was on women’s issues, playing these politically correct cards. He’s a nearest weapon to hand arguer in all things because he does have no philosophy, he has no intellectual grounding whatsoever, and I understand saying “well, we don’t need any more intellectuals, what did intellectuals get us, look at Woodrow Wilson, look at Barack Obama”, I get all that.
But Donald Trump is not a practitioner or a believer in American exceptionalism. He’s rejected the term outright, explicitly, more than once, nor does he represent what we mean by American exceptionalism. His core values, as he says over and over again, are strength and winning. Getting him to talk about the Constitution is like getting my daughter to eat brussel sprouts. I mean, she’ll do it, but it’s not a pretty picture and she tries to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Interestingly, Jonah Goldberg seems to broadly agree with my assessment of the first presidential debate, awarding Hillary Clinton the win, but not by a massive degree:
I thought Trump lost the debate, but not overwhelmingly. He was clearly the winner of the first 30 minutes or so, and if he’d stayed that guy for the full 90 it would have been a hugely consequential rout. But then, Hillary implemented “Bait Trump Protocol Alpha-1,” when she brought up how he got his start with a $14 million loan from his father. (She got the details wrong, but it doesn’t matter. When you’re baiting fish or Trumpzilla, the lure doesn’t have to be real, it just has to be shiny. In fact, getting the bait just slightly wrong makes it even more irresistible, because we all have a natural instinct to correct falsehoods aimed at us, and Trump more than most.)
So Trump bit the shiny thing, and for the rest of the night, plodding, dull Hillary Clinton led Trump around the stage like a matador with a red cape. And, four days later, Trump is still charging around like an enraged bull. At first I thought Clinton’s use of Alicia Machado was odd. There are so many Trump victims out there, why use one with such a weird past? But that’s what was so brilliant about it. If Machado were a nun, it’d be harder for Trump to attack. But Trump thinks he can win this one on the merits and so he won’t let go of it. He didn’t learn the lesson of his feud with the Khan family: The only way to win such fights is to not engage in them at all. The debate wasn’t a disaster but how he handled the post-debate spin was, and continues to be.
If Trump could stay on message, if he could be a disciplined candidate, I think he’d be ten points ahead by now. But realistically, this is no different from saying if he could control anything metal with his mind, he would be Magneto.
In the immediate aftermath of the debate (at 4AM UK Time, with no opportunity for reflection or benchmarking against the reaction of others) I wrote:
Clinton did become more effective during the final 30 minutes, which her campaign will be very relieved about. And did she manage to rile Donald Trump? Yes – but no more than the country is used to seeing after his tussles with Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz.
[..] My gut says that this was a victory for Hillary Clinton on points, but a score draw in terms of public reception. Time will soon tell.
All but the most extreme Trump partisans have indeed admitted a Clinton victory on points, substance and tone. And once again, Donald Trump is crowdsourcing advice for how he should tackle the upcoming second debate at Washington University in St. Louis – advice which he will surely reject again, whether it comes from his army of supporters or his despairing, demoralised campaign team.
American conservatives who have chosen to collaborate with Donald Trump have hitched their wagon to the wrong train – in victory or defeat, he will lead them nowhere good.
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