Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: President Donald Trump is unraveling. Oh, you’ve heard it eleventy billion times from the same half dozen “NeverTrump” pundits? Yeah, so has everyone. It’s the same column from the same people published with alarming frequency.
It’s not the pundits’ fault, necessarily. They are who they are, and clearly Trump has broken the part of their brains that used to be able to synthesize new information and develop interesting and compelling arguments. It is, however, the media outlets’ fault for publishing the same dreck over and over.
Media outlets treat conservative Americans as second-class citizens whose arguments don’t need to be listened to or engaged with. Instead, they take the vanishingly small number of column inches or pundit panel seats they have and give the “conservative” slots to people who repeatedly disparage conservative elected officials, their voters, and their policies.
In some cases, the supposed “conservatives” have long ago renounced their conservatism. The Washington Post’s Max Boot, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, and Twitter’s Bill Kristol receive a great deal of mockery for their boring obsession with Orange Man Bad, an obsession that has led them to renounce every one of the policy positions they once held.
Even as their positions change in response to whatever Trump has said, NeverTrump is known for writing the same column over and over again. It’s usually headlined something like “Why Trump And His Voters Are So Awful That They Forced Me To Leave the GOP But Also Remember To Please Continue Calling Me A Republican To Preserve The TV/Column Gigs That Depend On Me Claiming I’m On The Right Even Though I Am Now Aligned With Democrats, Write Columns About How I Vote For Them, And Generally Work To Help Them Gain More Political Power.”
Within the small crew of people who hold the media’s many “NeverTrump” positions, the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Pete Wehner doesn’t get enough credit for writing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again. When he’s not monomaniacally obsessed with Trump or pushing debunked conspiracy theories related to the Trump administration, Wehner is capable of good and thoughtful sentiments. But the recent years have mostly seen the former at the expense of the latter. Month after month, year after year. And mostly for the same two publications that are using him to attack Americans for electing Trump.
Every few weeks or months, The New York Times and The Atlantic drag out ol’ Pete to melodramatically lament that Orange Man Is So Very Very Bad and to claim that Trump is unraveling. One of these columns would have sufficed. By the 87th, one begins to wonder if maybe a new approach should be tried.
This week’s Atlantic column is headlined, I kid you not, “The President Is Unraveling.” It posits that “we are witnessing the steady, uninterrupted intellectual and psychological decomposition of an American president.”
It’s very similar to everything Wehner’s written about Trump, including his March 25 column asserting that Trump is “intellectually or temperamentally” unsuited for the moment. Wehner harrumphs that Trump is “erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy.” There was March 13th’s column claiming that Trump was unraveling so much that “The Trump Presidency Is Over.”
Lest you think these columns are the result of Wehner’s considered evaluation of how Trump has handled the global coronavirus pandemic, be assured that this had no effect on his columns. Back in September he wrote a column headlined “Trump Is Not Well.” A June 18, 2019 column that praised Jake Tapper (of Russia collusion hoax fame) as an “exemplary journalist” and truth teller, lamented that Trump should not be mean toward his critics.
In that same column, Wehner said the world had to be protected against Trump’s “assault and degradation” and his “pernicious and dangerous” rhetoric in the “dismal, demoralizing” era of his presidency. “Trump is not only unable to lay out a coherent argument; at times he’s unable to string together sentences that parse,” worried Wehner, nicely. In March of 2019, Wehner argued “His condition is getting worse, not better.”
It’s the same story over at The New York Times, where Wehner has written even more attacks on Trump and what he represents. Typically the only way for a conservative to be published at the Times is to attack the Republican Party or some subset of its coalition. Over the years, many “conservative” pundits eagerly accepted this tradeoff of trashing their allies in order to claim a Times byline.
Wehner’s first column was a critique of the Tea Party’s desire that Republican elected representatives fight harder against leftist politicians. His first anti-Trump column was headlined, “President Donald Trump? Just Say No,” and ran July 8, 2015. January 2016 gave us “Why I Will Never Vote For Donald Trump.” On and on it went. He lamented the “indelible stain” of Trump by June 2016.
“Is There Life After Trump?” he wondered on the eve of Trump’s victory. That was followed by “One way not to be like Trump,” a month later. The next month’s entry was a real shocker: “Why I Cannot Fall In Line Behind Trump.” By April of 2017 he was telling us that his sources indicated that Trump’s “dysfunction knows no bounds.”
When Trump fired James Comey, a key perpetrator of the Russia collusion hoax, Wehner lost it. He called the firing of the corrupt and conniving bureaucrat an “abuse of power” and doubted Trump’s claim that Comey had told him three times he was not under investigation. While it was a lie to say the FBI wasn’t investigating Trump, Comey did admit under oath to doing exactly as Trump claimed, thrice. “In fairy tales this is known as ‘the power of three,'” the very wrong Wehner wrote.
“Behold Our ‘Child King’” was an article riddled with errors that began “Republican lawmakers have seen the Trump disaster coming for a while now.” It argued for a “comprehensive, consistent case by Republican leaders at the state and national levels that signals their opposition to the moral ugliness and intellectual incoherence of Mr. Trump.” On, and on it went.
By March 2018, Wehner wrote “Trump’s White House Is A Black Hole.” An article disparaging Republicans for not falling for the Russia collusion hoax in their questioning of Michael Cohen “says more about the degradation of my former party than anything they said.”
It is said that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. In media, NeverTrumpism is writing the same column over and over and expecting the Orange Bad Man to disappear.
Wehner’s function, though, isn’t to provide any sort of helpful analysis. It’s to provide liberal journalists who wish to look less biased than they are a nominal Republican as a cudgel to attack their enemies. Consider these tweets from CNN’s John Harwood here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
During the 2016 campaign, editors and bookers at media outlets claimed they couldn’t find any good writers or TV pundits to discuss the appeal of Trump. That was always a lie. But the repeated publishing of the exact same anti-Trump arguments over and over again from the same few people shows the lie to have been even more ridiculous than it already was.
Publishing identical NeverTrump columns about Trump “unraveling” month after month and year after year is yet another way to treat conservative Americans as second-class citizens. And failing to air and engage with the substantive arguments of tens of millions of people is also a form of election interference, albeit one engaged in by a wide variety of our media.