We love Jonah Goldberg, but here's the problem with his defense of #NeverTrump

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Monday May 02nd, 2016

Flogging the straw man.

I cannot offer enough praise of Jonah Goldberg as a writer, nor can I recommend his weekly G-File report highly enough. Like most at National Review these days, Goldberg is strident in his opposition to Donald Trump, and he makes some of the most compelling arguments against Trump on a consistent basis.

Where Goldberg and I disagree, of course, is not on our candidate of choice (as far as I can tell we're both for Ted Cruz), but on the question of what to do if Trump does indeed win the nomination. I've said, and I'll say again, if Trump is the last man standing with a chance to keep Hillary out of the White House, I'll do anything moral and legal to support him. Keeping Hillary out of the White House is that important, and dealing with Trump's flaws would be a small price to pay compared with the horror of four years with that terrible woman in the White House.

I don't even see how that's hard.

But not everyone agrees, and Jonah Goldberg is among those who do not. He is among the ranks of those who have vowed never to vote for Trump under any circumstances, even in the general election as the last chance to stop Hillary. You might remember that last week I made the case that the #NeverTrump people need to own their decision and stop pretending it's not on them if Hillary gets elected. On Friday, Goldberg took on that argument - but he did so by flogging a strawman that misses the real point:

But let’s go back to the claim that Trump will win in the general election by flipping blue states in a populist tsunami. If that analysis is even remotely plausible, why should #NeverTrumpers matter? Indeed, if you take Trumpian rhetoric from his talk-radio and other cheerleaders seriously, the anti-Trump forces are a negligible bunch of eggheads, pinheads, and finger-sniffing shut-ins completely disconnected from the authentic and volcanically powerful volksgemeinschaft. If Trump has any chance of flipping New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, we shouldn’t matter at all. And yet, according to the increasingly shrill and whining bleats from his supporters, we will be to blame if he doesn’t win. Well which is it? Is this a revolutionary populist movement that will sweep aside ink knights like me or not?

I think several things are going on here. I think some pro-Trump forces actually realize that their guy will lose no matter what. Rather than face the fact that blame for Trump’s likely inevitable loss will rest entirely with Trump and his followers, they want to preserve the claim that Trump was “stabbed in the back.” Tactically, this isn’t dumb. The consolation prize for the Trump movement is to complete the hostile takeover of the GOP the way conservatives did after Goldwater’s loss in 1964. Psychologically, it also makes sense. No one ever wants to look squarely into the abyss of their own failure. But empirically, this argument is inane. If or when Trump loses it will be because of Trump’s own myriad and manifest shortcomings. Blaming us for honestly pointing out that those shortcomings are as short as the digits of Trump’s puppy-fur gloves may be cathartic, but it won’t be honest or accurate.

There may be Trump supporters who are making the arguments Goldberg rebuts here. I haven't seen them but I'll concede I don't see everything that's said or written, so I suppose it's possible. But since he mentioned Herman in the piece, I'm going to assume that at least on some level, Goldberg regards us here as among the sources of those making the case he's coming against. So let me address it, at least from my perspective:

I am certainly not arguing that Trump would be some sort of super-candidate who is likely to take blue states away from Hillary. Far from it. Precisely because Trump's negatives are so high, and he is such an easy target for Hillary's cheerleaders in the media, I believe it is absolutely essential that everyone who normally votes Republican bites the bullet and backs Trump. It will be hard enough for him to win independents given the dynamics of the race going in. If otherwise committed Republican voters bolt, he's not going to have a chance.

Now, you can argue (and many will) that what I've just done is make the case for Trump's weakness as a candidate, and in that case, I'll be told, you can't blame the #NeverTrumpers for that. Maybe that's true. But what I am saying is this: Trump's flaws are not so serious as to render a Trump presidency beyond the pale when the only alternative to it is the far, far worse presidency Hillary would give us. I would rather see Cruz defeat Hillary (and to go all the way back to the beginning of the cycle, I would have really preferred Scott Walker), but an end to the GOP nomination process that leaves us with Donald Trump does not obviate the need to stop Hillary.

It still needs to happen, however much you may not like the guy we're left with at that point.

I completely believe Jonah Goldberg when he says he doesn't want Hillary to be president. I read him enough to have no doubt about that. But you can't cite arguments about Trump's strength as a candidate to justify your own decision to sit on the sidelines, when you don't really believe those arguments. Goldberg knows Trump would struggle in the general, and he has to also know that when you start that far behind, a #NeverTrump movement by people who normally vote Republican is pretty much the death knell to your campaign.

Or to put it in an even less complicated way, Trump will need every vote he can get if he is the nominee. I want Hillary defeated badly enough that I'll give him mine, however many problems I may have with him. If you won't, that's your choice, but don't pretend you're not helping Hillary win. By definition, you are.

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