The release of the Mueller report and the ever-increasing Democratic field for the 2020 presidential race have flushed the Never Trumpers and neocons out of the woodwork once again. This brings to mind an immediate question: What have these people learned since their political world went up in smoke three years ago?
No Absence of Malice
For a pair of prominent 2016 Never Trumpers, an intense loathing of the president seems on boil barely beneath the surface. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) tweeted out his perfunctory scolding of Trump after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, writing in a manner so predictable that the term “workaday” best applies. In short, wagging his finger at Trump seems to be Romney’s main job as a Republican senator.
I have now read the redacted Mueller report and offer my personal reaction: pic.twitter.com/ACnExskqXJ
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) April 19, 2019
Romney rather futilely portrays himself as the self-appointed “conscience” of a party filled with grassroots members who do not remotely consider him to be the leader of anything. He first road-tested this act in 2016, “disqualifying” Trump for not repudiating ex-KKK grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement fast enough for his liking. Trump won the election. Romney continued to claim the moral high ground against Trump on racial issues in 2017 and 2018 and failed again to make any real impact. Is it any surprise, then, that he would be “sickened” by the Mueller report? What is a tad confusing is how he can’t see that his moral posturing has been totally ineffective. Whether you like him or not, Romney is not moving the needle at all with his sermonizing approach.
And then there is prominent pundit Ben Shapiro, who doesn’t seem to fit the label of a strict Never Trumper or neoconservative; he has long been both. However, he has a knack for not getting tied down by any position he may have held previously. This allows him to appeal to many Trump supporters while barely concealing, if at all, his antipathy toward the president he vowed he would “never vote for” in 2016.
Shapiro’s take on the Mueller report was every bit as harsh toward Trump as Romney’s pronouncement:
My one-line takeaway: Trump and his campaign engaged in deeply embarrassing and immoral but non-criminal behavior. In attempting to avoid that embarrassment, Trump engaged in more deeply embarrassing and immoral but ultimately non-criminal behavior.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 18, 2019
Shapiro went even further in a column at his Daily Wire website. “Trump Is a Bully Who Has No Problem Prevaricating for Political Gain, and Encouraging Others to Do So,” he wrote in bold text as a subhead item. “[T]he report is humiliating for President Trump,” Shapiro asserted, accusing the president of “immoral, wretched, terrible behavior.”
Shapiro further exhibited the depths of his utter disdain for Trump with the kind of petty and tin-eared comment that is the hallmark of those suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome. After news broke that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burning, Shapiro tweeted a joke of the president, asking, “[w]hy doesn’t the football team put it out?”
Shapiro regularly receives blowback from Trump backers after such incidents, yet the criticism never seems to stick and has not hindered the growth of his celebrity as a conservative voice. With Trump poised to capture the GOP nomination without a fight, it will be interesting to see if Shapiro can keep bashing an incumbent Republican president without tumbling into political oblivion like so many Never Trumpers before him.
Ending the Charade
One of those fallen stars is former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). A classic RINO, Flake enjoyed fawning media attention for several years just for being a Republican who could always be counted on to slam his fellow party members. He parlayed that extremely marketable trait into an analyst position at CBS News with expected results. Flake now says there are several Democratic candidates he would be willing to support for president in 2020. “Joe Biden comes to mind,” Flake replied when asked for specifics. He added his admiration for Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Flake mentioned that the three Democrats he is fond of know how to “work well with the other side,” which is apparently an important factor for him. But there is no indication that Flake values “working well” with the Trump administration. For RINOs, reaching across the aisle works only when conservative principles are being compromised. Is this a sign that the former GOP senator will lead the cheers for whatever Democrat emerges from the pack to challenge Trump in 2020? Those familiar with Flake’s career would expect nothing less.
Something Completely Different
Last but not least, there is neoconservative godfather Norman Podhoretz’s intriguing interview with the Claremont Review of Books. Podhoretz, whose son John is one of the most vehement anti-Trump voices among the neocon crowd, has declared his “paleo-neoconservative” love for the Trump movement. This is certainly a new kind of neoconservatism indeed. Podhoretz declared that Trump has made him see the light on key America First issues, such as tariffs and immigration:
“I said to myself for the first time, ‘Was thou shalt not have tariffs inscribed on the tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai? Maybe Trump has something on this issue, in this particular’ — and then I discovered to my total amazement that there are a hundred tariffs (I think that’s right) against America from all over the world. So the idea that we’re living in a free trade paradise was itself wrong, and in any case, there was no reason to latch on to it as a sacred dogma.
“And that was true of immigration.”
These words, coming from one of the founders of the globalist brand of politics that dominated the Republican Party for some 30 years before Trump arrived on the scene, are more telling than all the chiding and railing against the president that the Romneys, Shapiros, and Flakes out there can muster. Norman Podhoretz is admitting what these Never Trumpers and neocons refuse to accept: that Donald Trump is having a substantial impact on the political firmament both within the Republican Party and among the nation at large.
For all its bloviating about “humiliations” and “embarrassments,” the stale old Republican establishment is in steep decline, not Trump. If these spokesmen of an outdated style of politics truly want to be influential once again, they can start by trying to understand the realities of today’s new political playing field. But to do that means giving Trump his due. And that is the one thing these folks just can’t bring themselves to do.