Trump may lack experience but his detractors lack common sense

Common sense, to be sure, isn’t enough. Trump can’t swap spit with Vladimir Putin and let the witches’ kettle of the Middle East boil along by itself without dire consequences. As Bret Stephens complained Aug. 8 in the Wall Street Journal, some of Trump’s loudest supporters make a motley virtue of their ignorance. “There was a time when the conservative movement was led by the likes of Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol and Bob Bartley, men of ideas who invested the Republican Party with intellectual seriousness,” Stephens wrote. I knew the late Irving Kristol, who trained and promoted most of the cadre who ran the first Reagan Administration, and Robert Bartley, the late editor of the Wall Street Journal — brilliant men from whom I learned a great deal, some of which I had to unlearn afterwards.

But the Republican Establishment today is guided not by the likes of Irving Kristol, but by his epigonoi. His son Bill Kristol has never published a single essay of intellectual significance, and the same is true of Commentary Magazine editor John Podhoretz, son of the estimable Norman Podhoretz. To be a “neo-conservative” in the 1970s in the mold of Irving Kristol and former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz meant to repudiate the leftist views of one’s youth and make the leap to the Reagan camp. The original neo-conservatives knew how wrong they had been in their youth, and re-learned their politics after forty. Unlike their forbears, today’s neo-cons never have had a self-critical moment. Today’s guardians of the sacred flame of the sacred conservative flame are to the manure born.

The choice, sadly, lies between an unlearned interloper with common sense and an Establishment whose policy response is predictable as the emergence of a gumball from a supermarket machine after a quarter is cranked in. They are mediocre ideologues incapable of learning from past failures, clinging to their careers because they are unsuited for honest work. Trump may not know much but he is capable of learning. That can’t be said for his detractors.

“It isn’t just that the emperor has no clothes,” I wrote in a review of Angelo Codevilla’s brilliant 2014 book To Make and Keep Peace. “The empire has no tailors.” Three administrations of Bush father and son have produced a monotone Establishment of functional foreign policy morons. One can’t find many prominent national security officials to oppose the signators of the anti-Trump letter because a whole generation of functionaries has been bred from the same stable. America will have to learn foreign policy from scratch. For my money, I’ll take the rough-edged outsider over the recidivist failures.