Commentary Magazine


In Reply to Rush

Rush Limbaugh took exception to my comments on Donald Trump earlier this week. Having read on the air what I wrote, Rush said, “So that’s the inside-the-Beltway view. Somebody from outside the Beltway has dared enter the scene and they don’t like it. They really don’t like it.” Trump is a threat to what Rush refers to as the “Ruling Class.” If you read the full transcript, you’ll find that Rush objects to those of us who consider Trump, at least in the realm of politics, to be “unserious.”

On this matter I have a few thoughts, the first of which is that Rush’s populist, outside-the-beltway figure isn’t from, say, Des Moines, Iowa, or Dixon, Illinois. He comes to us from Manhattan, which may be more out of touch and elitist in its views than perhaps any place in America, with perhaps the exception of Hollywood.

In any event, geography actually has nothing to do with what I said about Trump. If he lived in Georgetown my critique would have been identical to what it is. And if I lived in Richland, Washington; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Colorado Springs, Colorado; or Palm Beach, Florida, my words and sentiments would be same as they are. As it happens, most of the people I’m inclined to support for president are outside the Beltway figures (governors). And the figures inside the Beltway I most admire—including Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio—are people whom Rush himself has also praised.

No, my objections to Trump aren’t that he is an outsider intruding on my Inside-the-Beltway/Ruling Class turf. My objection is that he’s not serious. Now, Rush thinks it’s wrong for me (and others, like Charles Krauthammer) to make this claim. But is it really? After all, on a number of major issues, Trump has (until very recently) been as liberal, or perhaps even more liberal than, Barack Obama. He had advocated a single-payer health care system (which even ObamaCare doesn’t give us); he has called for massive tax increases; he has favored abortion rights; he has revealed himself to be hyper-protectionist. He has called George W. Bush “evil.” And Trump has donated more money to Democrats than Republicans in recent years and was a registered Democrat from 2001 to 2008, when the Democratic Party was dominated by liberals.

It’s not simply that these policies are, from a conservative perspective, misguided; it’s that Trump, having held them, now wants to win the nomination of the only major conservative party in America. And of course Trump’s advocacy for seizing Iraqi and Libyan oil wells is insane. So is Trump’s insistence that he could alter the policies of other countries by picking up the phone and treating their leaders like he treats people on The Apprentice.

Based on his record, Trump is worse than your run-of-the-mill RINO (Republican In Name Only); he’s been quite liberal in many of his views. And his explanation for his flip flops— the times are different now than they were when he championed liberal views—just is not credible. For one thing, Trump held many of his liberal views in recent years; and for another, exactly when is the right time to advocate massive tax increases, abortion on demand, protectionism, and a single-payer health care system?

Among the reasons I have been critical of Trump is to try to protect conservatism, the political/philosophical cause that Rush and I have in different ways devoted our adult lives to. Trump deserves to be treated respectfully because—well, why exactly? Because he obsessed for most of April on an utterly false claim, which is that Obama isn’t an American citizen? Because he forced the president to reveal a long-form birth certificate that merely confirms what his Certificate of Live Birth already did? By getting a reaction from the president he’s now supposed to be handed some kind of pass when it comes to substance, to his past policies, and to his head-snapping shifts? The criticisms of him must be both glancing and fleeting? And those of us who call him out on his record are doing so because we’re afraid Trump is intruding on our turf? Please.

As for the argument that Trump’s style is what makes him attractive, it’s worth pointing out that he is, in many ways, the antithesis of the great conservative icon, Ronald Reagan. Trump is vulgar, shallow, and dyspeptic where Reagan was dignified, philosophically well-grounded, and gracious in his tone and demeanor. Unlike Trump, Reagan was not given to rants or buffoonery or conspiracy theories. Reagan is the type of figure, in fact, who (like his close friend William F. Buckley, Jr.) would be inclined to detach conservatism and the GOP from those peddling paranoid theories.

In sum, then: it is my conservatism, not my zip code, that has led me to criticize Trump. And if I am wrong about Trump, I’m more than willing to hear that case. But as it now stands, I don’t see where my assessment is wrong.

Let me close on a personal word. Rush is a friend of some 20 years. I last saw him at his wedding to Kathryn Rogers, a lovely lady. And Rush has never been anything but personally kind to me (including those times when he has publicly disagreed with what I wrote). In terms of his influence and skill as a broadcaster, I’ve compared Rush to Johnny Carson. Both essentially defined a particular medium (Carson did it with late-night television while Rush did it with conservative talk radio). Rush is a hugely influential figure within conservatism and will be as long as he sits behind the golden EIB microphone. But on this question, I believe he is wide of the mark. And knowing Rush and how he relishes engaging in substantive debates, I rather doubt my saying so will bother him one bit.

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