The Other McCain

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Syria, Afghanistan, and the #NeverTrump Problem of Jonah Goldberg

Posted on | December 22, 2018 | 1 Comment

Glenn Reynolds has an excellent round-up of reaction to President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and reduce the force in Afghanistan by half, which was apparently the reason that General James “Mad Dog” Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense.

Ace headlines it, “Trump Has Succeeded Where George W. Bush Failed: He Has Turned the Anti-War Left Into Passionate Neocon Warhawks and Intervention-Adventurers,” and cites Dave Reaboi’s observation: “The left has no foreign enemies and wages no foreign wars. They only have domestic enemies and domestic wars. When they’re pretending they care about a foreign war, that only means they are contriving justification for waging the real war on their domestic enemies.”

Because the Left hates Trump no matter what Trump actually does, all of their oft-stated opposition to U.S. military interventions abroad were suddenly forgotten as soon as Trump declared he was pulling out. By the same token, the Left generally applauded Obama’s foreign interventions, just as they had insisted that everything Bill Clinton did in the field of foreign policy was a masterstroke of statesmanship. In other words, American leftists have no true principles; they are mere partisan cheerleaders for the Democrats and are therefore implacable enemies of any Republican who might obtain power. This is what the #NeverTrump crowd can’t seem to get through their heads; they seem to imagine that if one of their pet candidates had won the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, somehow this candidate — Rubio, or perhaps Jeb Bush — would have ridden a wave of bipartisan popularity to the White House. But knowing what we know about the Left, there is no reason to believe this. No doubt any candidate the Republicans might have nominated would have been smeared and demonized by the media and, in the end, defeated by Hillary Clinton. I would argue that Trump was the only Republican candidate who could have beaten Hillary. The GOP primary voters prevented the Republican establishment from having its way and, thus, prevented a repeat of the predictable losses that Republicans had suffered in 2012 (Romney), 2008 (McCain) and 1996 (Dole).

As I argued in September 2015, Trump was a game-changer because he was unpredictable in a way that reminded me of Fran Tarkenton:

Tarkenton’s legendary ability as a scrambling quarterback was every football coach’s worst nightmare. Never mind what play Tarkenton called in the huddle, or what scheme the defense deployed against him. Once he started scrambling, the playbook ceased to matter. He’d run all over the backfield, eluding the defensive linemen who tried to tackle him, until he found a receiver open downfield. Tarkenton’s improvisational style was unique and unpredictable, and he led the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowls by defying the norms of what an NFL quarterback should be.
What Tarkenton did to NFL defenses, Donald Trump is doing to the Republican Party. The bombastic billionaire routinely says things that, for any other candidate, would be campaign-destroying gaffes. With his larger-than-life celebrity persona, however, Trump keeps winning. His poll numbers seem immune to the factors that affect ordinary politicians, because Trump is neither ordinary nor a politician.

Nobody expected Trump to win Pennsylvania and Michigan, states no Republican presidential candidate had won since 1988, and yet he did it. Whatever else you say about that feat, you cannot deny that Trump proved the “experts” wrong — and they will never forgive him for that.

This brings me to the sad case of Jonah Goldberg who, having made his camp with the #NeverTrump crowd long ago, keeps doubling down. You might think that the collapse of the Weekly Standard (“So Much ‘Ahoy,’” Dec. 14) would have chastened Trump’s Republican enemies, but they refuse to learn from such examples. It is not merely that they despise Trump personally, but rather that they are elitists who harbor a haughty disdain toward the grubby sort of people who voted for Trump. The #NeverTrump Republicans concur in Hillary Clinton’s judgment that Trump’s supporters are “deplorables,” and never miss an opportunity to heap insults on these 62.9 million GOP voters.

Perhaps feeling the heat of populist resentment, Jonah Goldberg today published an interesting column that includes a lengthy examination of the term “neoconservative,” in which he takes some unnecessary jabs at various of his chosen enemies, e.g.:

And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle.

Why the need to beat that particular dead horse? Aside from any consideration of anti-Semitism, we have a demonstrable problem in our society, namely that the children of the policy-making (and policy-influencing) elite almost never serve in the military.  I’m pretty sure Jonah Goldberg does not wish to accuse Army veteran Kurt Schlichter of secretly being an anti-Semites, and yet Schlichter is as serious as anyone of the distortions created by the class divide between those who serve in the military and the influential elite who shape U.S. policy.

If Buchanan unfairly portrayed the Iraq hawks as agents of the “Israel lobby,” and if it was rude of him to note that Jews are (as the campus diversity-mongers might say) underrepresented in our military, this unfair rudeness is to be lamented. Yet there was, and is, a real problem at the root of such accusations, and it is wrong to imply, as Goldberg does, that every criticism of neoconservatism is a veiled expression of paranoid anti-Semitic bigotry. What about Paul Gottfried, a Jew who is among the most formidable spokesmen of the paleoconservative “alt-right”? If Gottfried is willing to defend Pat Buchanan, and to make many of the same arguments that Buchanan does, doesn’t that tend to invalidate the assertion that critics of neoconservatism are all secretly Jew-haters? And isn’t the real heart of the problem an issue addressed by none other than Norman Podhoretz in his 2009 book, Why Are Jews Liberals?

Look at the 2018 exit polls: 79% of Jewish voters are Democrats, a higher percentage than Hispanics (69%) and one factor which may kindle suspicion toward Jewish conservatives is the perception that they seek to remain on good terms with their liberal kinsmen, and thus to hold the more populist type of conservatives at arm’s length. It’s not just on foreign policy that this is apparent. At risk of over-generalizing, isn’t it true that most prominent Jewish conservatives are more aligned with the open-borders lobby than with the “build the wall” crowd? Aren’t Jewish conservatives more liberal on social issues like abortion and homosexuality? If so, wouldn’t these distinctions tend to exacerbate whatever actual anti-Semitism there is in the populist Right’s critique of neoconservatives? This is not a problem that I, as a righteous gentile and friend of Israel, can solve. I appreciate the valuable contributions of Jews to the conservative cause, but the Trump era has brought widespread attention to the deep divisions within the GOP’s “big tent” coalition, and it cannot be true that everything wrong with the Republican Party is the fault of pro-Trump populists. And then there’s this from Goldberg:

Which brings me to Chris Buskirk’s ridiculous manifesto of conservative liberation in response to the demise of The Weekly Standard. The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber. . . .
I’m not a fan of tu quoque arguments, but the idea that American Greatness has standing to position itself as an organ dedicated to larger principles and ideas is hilarious, given that the website’s only purpose is to attach itself like a remora to Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t even call himself a conservative, even for convenience, anymore. . . .

Wait, is that it? I mean, was Goldberg’s long diatribe in defense of neoconservatism really just a warm-up for venting his butthurt over those gloating about the Weekly Standard‘s demise? Can’t he see that National Review might suffer the same fate if it doesn’t relent in its #NeverTrump absolutism? Does it really make sense for him to double-down this way?

Eh, I could go on, but why bother? After 1,400 words I’m more dismayed than ever. Is it “hate speech” to wish everyone a Merry Christmas?

The Five Most Important Words in the English Language are:


Thanks in advance.






One Response to “Syria, Afghanistan, and the #NeverTrump Problem of Jonah Goldberg”

  1. Jonah Goldberg’s Sisters | Libertarian Party of Alabama Unofficial
    January 1st, 2019 @ 2:02 am

    […] American Spectator-columnist Robert Stacy McCain issued a blistering response to Jonah Goldberg’s latest efforts at refurbishing his “Never-Trump conservative” […]