Donald Trump has signed the RNC pledge, and that’s a good thing.
Even if the document he held up at a brilliantly staged and presidentially evocative press conference is worth no more than one of those Universal Life Church ordainments stoner shamans used to wave around in the sixties, he’s ostensibly in as a full-fledged and loyal Republican.
And why the hell not? Autumn will soon be changing the colors of the foliage, lowering the curtain on the Summer of Trump, and likely presaging the next poll-topping iteration of Trumpmania.
But it wasn’t the pledge that struck me as the sea-change moment. It was when the latest issue of The Weekly Standard hit my mailbox. No conservative publication or consortium of analysts and writers has more consistently derided Trump from the outset. Now, as of September 7, it’s as if they’ve called a Trump strategy meeting, and a change of tune is in the air.
It’s not just the cover illustration, which depicts Trump’s hair as the prow of an advancing warship and harbinger of change. It is not only the lead editorial by William Kristol, another editorial about immigration, or the two Trump-friendly feature stories. The Trump name threads through articles about Scott Walker’s woes, the Hispanic vote, and a report from Ryan Streeter about Trump, Bernie Sanders, and America’s besieged middle-class.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that the latest issue of The Weekly Standard can accurately be called “The Trump Issue.”
Neoconservatives have not gone gaga for the Donald. But a tone of reappraisal is more than evident. The included Trump material provides incisive reasons, logical theorems, and actual justifications for the rise of the corporate and media mogul.
The important contextual breakthrough is the assist provided to informed voters who liked Trump’s message from the outset, but were timid about jumping in whole-hog. They worried that he would implode, or show himself to be simply engaged in a circus of political opportunism aimed at brand recognition. There was real concern that being perceived as a Trump-maniac would make one look like a dope when the big guy melted down.
It didn’t help when the Trump narrative was undermined by his admission to holding Democratic positions in the past. The news was disquieting, but only the most conspiracy-theoretic believed Trump was consciously running a game to elect Hillary Clinton. Trump fans, and many across the political spectrum who are thinking about joining their ranks, seem to have ultimately chosen to believe Trump when he says that he evolved.
They were able to buy Trump’s explanation about the exigencies of politics as usual, and forgive him his pragmatic dalliances.
Going in to The Standard’s Trump-themed issue, Trump fence-sitters had some media allies to help integrate what they liked hearing and seeing. The biggest names in conservative talk, Limbaugh, Levin, Sean Hannity and Mark Steyn, have all been railing against a weak GOP establishment for years. Not one of them came out of the box with wholesale derision of what The Standard calls the “Trump Phenomenon.”
Talk show hosts are motivated by the ratings game, and Trump generates ratings across the board. But it’s hard to imagine such conservative heavyweights going all in—at least from the standpoint of recognizing an authentic grassroots groundswell—for a candidate they thought would prove to be 2015’s big political joke.
Is The Standard’s softening stance on Trump indicative of an eye towards the subscriber base, and retail sales? Personally, I would not cancel my subscription simply because a magazine I respected was steadfastly against a candidate I liked, but perhaps others, many others, would. Conversely, if I were not a subscriber but interested in Trump I would probably pick up a magazine with the kind of cover they featured on September 7.
And yet it would be too easy, and after years as a loyal reader unfair, to ascribe a bottom-line motive to The Standard’s nuanced position on Trump’s candidacy. Here’s the closing sentence of Julius Krein’s excellent “A Traitor to His Class,” from the September 7 issue:
“We have reached a stage of decadence where we fear everything except frivolity. This is precisely the precondition for Trump’s popularity, and his unapologetic mockery of more conventional forms of political theater makes him in some ways the most serious candidate in the race.”
The RNC pledge notwithstanding, what is happening has nothing to do with party loyalty.
It is about the damaging and divisive presidency of Barack Obama, and the national pride that has been lost over the years of his regime.
It is the outcome of two midterm elections in which citizens on the right worked hard to achieve GOP control of Congress, and got absolutely nothing for their efforts.
It is about the spectre of a Hillary Clinton presidency (although the Summer of Trump has also been the summer of the hellish devolution of that prospect).
That’s just scratching the surface of what it may all be about.
In the dark days of 2009, when the quasi-American precepts of the Obama agenda were becoming clear, The Standard ran an editorial that I’ve searched for but have been unable to find.
The piece stuck in my mind for one prophetic sentence, the gist of which was that when the correction for the Democrat’s hard-left vision occurs, it will be severe.
Trump is that correction. While The Weekly Standard is not yet ready to coronate him as their autumn, winter, spring, and summer of 2016 cover boy, they have apparently moved from mockery and warranted skepticism to a position of analytical respect.