Last week, America lost one of its great columnists, Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer was a former speechwriter for Democratic VP candidate Walter Mondale, then realized he was no longer a Democrat when Ronald Reagan became president. Krauthammer was a political conservative, but he wasn’t a slave to ideology. He remained intellectually-curious and -honest, even that meant he was wrong on a rare occasion (he argued for a $1/gallon gas tax nearly a decade ago).
Long-time Washington Post columnist George Will—a colleague of Krauthammer’s at the paper—similarly has a reputation for intellectual honesty. Like Krauthammer, Will exists in a cosseted, Beltway-Washington, D.C., and hasn’t quite come to terms with the presidency of Donald Trump.
As such, it was with dismay—but not surprise—that I read Will’s derisive op-ed in the Post, “Vote against the GOP this November.” Never has self-destructive defeatism sounded so literate.
Will’s specious argument boils down to these details: President Trump is a borderline dictator; Republicans in Congress are afraid to criticize him for fear they will lose their seats; Americans should vote out enough Republicans that the Democrats take control, but there will still “be enough Republicans to gum up the Senate’s machinery.”
Will points out that Congress has sacrificed its own important Article II powers in order to take the easier path of non-accountability, instead preferring to leave the hard decisions to the President and his power of executive orders. While this point is valid, it’s not unique to the Trump administration, which, by all accounts, has used executive orders narrowly, and within the framework of existing legislation. To read Will, this problem is due to Trump’s temperament and personality.
While the President may not enjoy criticism, he’s a big boy—not the coddled man-child that was President Barack Obama—and, besides, it’s Congress’s responsibility to pass and propose legislation. If the President doesn’t like something, he can veto it.
Where Will’s advice truly goes off the rails is his claim that Democrats should be permitted to take control of the Senate, even if it brings in a “basket of deplorables,” because then a do-nothing Congress… would still do nothing! He argues that enough Republicans would still be around that they would keep “the institution as peripheral as it has been under their control,” and would “asphyxiat[e] mischief from a Democratic House.”
What a load of malarkey. As a conservative, which would you rather see: a feckless Congress controlled by Republicans, or Democrats? Even if you knew the Congress would be ineffective half of the time, the answer is obvious: you’d opt for the former. At least with ineffectual Republicans in control, you’d avoid groundless impeachment votes.
Indeed, look at the record of the current Congress: the Senate confirmed conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; the Republican-controlled Congress passed the massive tax cut bill (which Will imperiously dismisses—when one enjoys Georgetown cocktail parties and fancy D.C. brunches for a living, money isn’t an issue); the Congress enacted the Right to Try Act, which will make it easier and cheaper for patients to try still-experimental drugs for deadly illnesses.
Logically, Will’s advice makes zero sense. If the idea is to send a message to Republicans to be more independent from the President’s agenda—why would they want to be?—the price is too high. Why make a point on principle if it costs you the future victories of still-higher principles?
I believe Will is sincere in his desire to see constitutional checks and balances restored, but President Trump represents part of the cure to that problem, not the disease. Congress has the responsibility to step up.
That said, I also believe Will is blinded by a sincere hatred of—or, at the very least, a passionate distaste for—President Trump. The man left the Republican Party, and urged Republicans to ensure Trump’s defeat, back in 2016—such are the depths of his disregard. Now that Trump is president—and restoring the nation’s economy and national sovereignty—Will’s irrelevance as a national commentator is even further highlighted, and it seems his anti-Trump impulses grow even further.
Will thinks the ideal President should be balancing a tea cup on one knee while listening attentively to a farmer in Iowa (sadly, I can’t find this quotation online at the moment, but I remember reading it back in 2016). For better or worse, the era of the Mitt Romney Republican presidential candidate has passed. We are in the midst of a full-blown, no-holds-barred culture war in which conservatives have played the decorum card for too long. Trump is a brawler, and while he may be imprecise or distractible, he has the guts to tango with the enemy—and win.
Will’s self-destruction as a conservative pundit is sad to witness, but perhaps it’s overdue.