When members of Manhattan’s media elite come to Mark Halperin’s home for dinner, Halperin likes to ask his guests whether they have spent more time in Paris or Staten Island. More often than not, his guests select the destination that does not offer regular ferry service from Battery Park.
Halperin’s dinner quiz provides a glimpse into what conservatives have long mocked as the cloistered existence of liberal elites who report on a nation they don’t understand. Republican critics have long complained that these media elites are schooled, spend their summers and live most of their lives in urbane enclaves that provide little insight into how the rest of America lives.
But in 2016, conservative commentators are sounding as cocooned from their own political party as any liberal writing social commentary for the New Yorker or providing political analysis for ABC News. Even after the passing of Antonin Scalia and the Paris and San Bernadino, Calif., attacks, many right-leaning pundits are spending their days scolding readers and declaring that no true conservative or God-fearing Christian could support Donald Trump. This simmering rage has now risen to such a level that many conservative opinion shapers are spending their waking hours coping with a festering Zapruder-like obsession over video frames of the Corey Lewandowski-Michelle Fields confrontation while obsessing over the GOP front-runner’s latest embarrassing gaffe.
Even as the Manhattan billionaire is enduring his most dreadful period of the campaign, attacks against Trump have reached new heights, with commentators focusing their withering criticism on supporters, ignoring the fact that many of those same voters helped make Ronald Reagan president, Newt Gingrich speaker of the House and Marco Rubio a U.S. senator.
But now these voters, formerly called common-sense conservatives, are considered drug-addled losers who are too stupid to determine what is in their best interest. The left-wing’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” is now the GOP establishment’s “What the Hell’s Up With Upstate New York?”
The March 28th edition of National Review ran a column that described Trump as a “Father-Fuhrer” for poor white men raised without a strong male figure. “It is easy to imagine a generation of young men being raised without fathers and looking out the window like a kid waiting for Daddy to come home,” National Review’s Kevin Williamson wrote, “waiting for the Father-Fuhrer figure they have spent their lives imagining.”
Williamson concluded that white working class men victimized by globalization were not actually victims at all, but rather losers whose own poor choices have led them down a path of “welfare dependency, drug and alcohol addiction, and family anarchy.”
It is not quite as rosy a lens as what conservative writers once used to focus on these same Reagan Democrats. “The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles,” wrote Williamson.
“Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”
Imagine the reaction from William F. Buckley if such an article were written about the same voters who helped propel candidates like Reagan, Gingrich and Bush 43 to power.
Williamson, of whom I am an admirer, is not alone in launching such blistering broadsides against GOP voters. My friend Erick Erickson provided an equally rough assessment of white working-class Trump followers in an April 1 tweet.
A lot of Trump voters have failed at life and blame others for their own poor decisions. They’re using Trump as a vehicle for revenge.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) April 1, 2016
Not to be outdone, in the latest issue of National Review, James Kirchick wrote that what was most significant about Trump’s rise was that “he has mainstreamed white racial grievance to a point unprecedented in post-Civil Rights Era America. That it has taken this most improbable of figures — a thrice-married, multimillionaire New York real-estate magnate and celebrity television star with an Orthodox Jewish daughter — to achieve what no hooded Klansman or backwoods neo-Nazi could ever have hoped of doing makes his feat all the more astonishing.”
Actually, what is most astonishing is the rising level of rage among Trump’s political enemies from inside the Republican establishment. Many of my conservative friends are sounding as arrogant and unmoored as left-wing pundits let loose on MSNBC during the Bush years.
Suggesting that faithful Christians and life-long conservatives like my brother cannot support Trump while believing in Jesus is offensive enough. But denigrating millions of working-class Americans let down by a quarter century of Bush-Clinton rule as drug addicts or white supremacists is even more destructive to the conservative cause.
Like many Republican critics of Trump, my first, second and third choices did not survive the early stages of Trumpism. I still believe Jeb Bush would have been the best president to sit in the Oval Office since Ronald Reagan. And if John Kasich is still campaigning when Connecticut Republicans go to the polls, he will get my vote. But I’ve stormed the barricades enough over the past 20 years to know that there is always another fight beyond the one that promises to bring about a magnificent victory or bloody political end.
The Democratic landslide of 1964 was followed by Reagan’s rise in 1966. The shock of Clinton’s win in 1992 was followed quickly by the first Republican majority in 40 years. And Barack Obama’s sweeping victories in 2008 and 2012 were countered in short order by devastating legislative defeats for Democratic candidates.
The conservative movement, the Republican Party and our constitutional republic will survive Donald Trump’s candidacy. Maybe it’s best to hold off on the political purges for now and believe, like Reagan, that our best days just may lie ahead.