Home/Rod Dreher/MAGA Blues And Bitter Klingers

MAGA Blues And Bitter Klingers

Jamie Farr (right) as the cross-dressing Corporal Max Klinger in "M*A*S*H"

The networks have just called the election for Joe Biden. Sic transit gloria MAGA.Even Rupert Murdoch knows this is reality, sending down word to the New York Post staff to take a tougher line on Trump. (N.B., In Murdoch world, the Post reflects Rupert’s true take on the world.)

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal revealed some important information:

Some advisers have privately said they see little path forward, politically or legally, that would prevent Mr. Trump from becoming the first president to lose reelection since 1992.

Among the president’s advisers, finger-pointing over the campaign’s legal strategy has intensified in recent days, White House and campaign aides said. Aides have expressed acute frustration over what many see as a slapdash legal effort, complaining that—even though Mr. Trump spent months telegraphing his intent to fight the election outcome in the courts—there wasn’t enough planning ahead of Election Day and has been little follow-through on decisions made this week. For days after the election, advisers said they didn’t know who was in charge of the strategy.

You got that? Trump has known for months that this thing might conclude with a hellacious legal fight, but hasn’t bothered to put together a legal team to fight it. The WSJ also reported that Trump has named longtime conservative political operative David Bossie to head his legal team. Bossie isn’t a lawyer. This is not a serious effort. MAGA is done.

I can’t see the up side of fighting for Trump at this point, not only because this Biden win seems decisive, but also because Trump hasn’t taken the fight to defend his presidency seriously. The Journal story is pretty incredible … but about what you would expect from a president whose mouth writes checks the rest of him can’t cash. Seriously, how is it that you spend months telling your supporters that you are going to fight this in court if you have to, but then half-ass the legal prep? When the GOP went down to Florida in 2000 to wage legal war in the Bush-Gore contest, they sent the lawyer equivalent of Seal Team Six. Now? The fact that Trump doesn’t take this seriously telegraphs to conservatives how seriously we should take him from now on.

Yesterday the WSJ editorialized that Republicans are correct to put an eagle eye on voting, especially in Philadelphia, but said that Trump is going to have to prove his allegations in court. So far, it doesn’t seem that Trump’s claims are very strong. My sense is that most Americans are going to want this thing settled, and don’t have the stomach for a long, drawn-out argument. Civil society is pretty fragile right now, and the Trump-voting conservative Baptist theologian Albert Mohler is correct to say that the president’s making unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud is dangerous. 

Unfortunately, control of the US Senate was not decided on Election Day for the Republicans, as many of us thought. This is absolutely critical. Biden is going to be in the White House, and he’s going to have a Democratic House of Representatives. The only thing that can obstruct his plans is a Republican Senate. As things stand now, both parties will have 48 seats in the next Senate, but both North Carolina and Alaska, where the Senate races haven’t been called yet, will probably go to the GOP. All conservative focus, energy, and money has to go towards the two Georgia runoffs on January 5. If the Democrats win both those races, they will have de facto control of the Senate, because Vice President Kamala Harris can be the tie-breaking vote. Assuming that NC and AK go to the GOP, the Republicans will only have to win one of the two Georgia races to keep the Senate.

The GOP does not need the distraction of a drawn-out fight to save Trump’s doomed presidency. MAGA was yesterday. Daniel McCarthy, former TAC editor and one of the most articulate pro-Trump intellectuals, makes important and necessary points in this TAC piece. Excerpt:

With the economic effects of COVID, establishment liberalism is headed quickly for a crisis—if not in two years, almost certainly in four. Biden would be a one-term president because of his age, if nothing else. But Biden will in fact have to contend with everything else. Four years from now, the Democrats will be looking for another nominee. And if Kamala Harris was lackluster in the 2020 primaries, she won’t be any stronger when she’s tied to a failed administration in 2024.

In fact, the greatest danger that Trumpism faces is that liberalism’s collapse will be so swift that a fraudulent populist—some establishment Republican simply emoting—will be able to take advantage of it. But during this time in opposition, if Biden becomes president, Trump Republicans will be able to hone their program as well as their pitch. Many of the best people in the Trump administration had little previous experience in government. Only now do they know what is required to implement a Trump-like agenda over the objections of the permanent bureaucracy and disloyal Republican hacks. They have the time to direct their studies to address the obstacles they encountered while in power—the better to remove those obstacles expeditiously next time.

The 2020 election showed that even in the midst of a recession and a pandemic, even after four years of relentless Russian collusion hype, four years of demonizing the president and his supporters as racists, even after impeachment and with the liabilities as well as the strengths of the president’s personality, the Trump message was capable of mobilizing a record number of voters for the GOP and making gains among blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Under the worst possible conditions, Trump and Trumpism performed well—much better than the pollsters and the pundits predicted. Think of what would have happened if not for COVID and the recession. Donald Trump would not be troubled by protracted vote counts; he would have been re-elected in a landslide. If Republicans learn from this and follow the path Trump has shown them, without stumbling over the historically unprecedented roadblocks that were in his way, they will go into 2022 and 2024 facing a divided, depleted Democratic Party. Joe Biden—who will start on his ninth decade under the sky before the next presidential election—is not the man to rejuvenate liberalism. He is rather its last gasp.

This is true. Now is the time for populists/national conservatives to build on the good things that Trump did, and fight for the future, not the past. Leadership of the Republican Party is up for grabs now. It cannot be allowed to return to the discredited pre-Trump status quo (note that the Never Trumper Lincoln Project is actually telling Georgia voters to vote Democratic in the Senate runoff!). Trump could have accomplished so much more if he had been able to get out of his own way. I’m actually feeling pretty good about the future of political conservatism, because though the American people rejected Trump, they did not embrace liberalism. The Right has a lot to work with, if it can keep itself from being consumed by rage over Trump’s loss.

Hillary Clinton’s shocking defeat by Trump did not cause any meaningful rethinking among the Democrats and liberal institutionalists. It only made them crazier. If it had not been for Covid, and Trump’s erratic handling of that crisis, they would probably today be left to wonder how in the hell they were defeated twice by the likes of Donald Trump. This is actually very good news for conservatives. Rather than grieving over the death of MAGA, and clinging bitterly to Trump’s personal grudges, we should be more bold in fighting for an economic structure that helps the working class, against Big Tech and Woke Capitalism, and against Wokeness in all its forms.

The militant left, which controls the elite institutions, will not be able to help itself. I take this, from a CNN contributor, to be a sign of things to come:

A friend just texted to say that his sister texted out a celebratory message re: Biden to everyone in her directory. He texted back to say that he was sad for America, because no matter who won this race, we are tearing ourselves apart. She responded by cursing him and telling him that he’s dead to her. Then she and her children cut him off.

This is what we are facing now. It is going to require us to be fully engaged. The Right cannot afford to divide its heart with internal recriminations, or lose its mind like the post-2016 Left. Trump did far better this week than anyone expected him to, and now new political opportunities have presented themselves to conservatives who are wise enough to take them.

UPDATE:Ross Douthat says it is possible that Trumpism will survive without Trump...

Trump was at his most unpopular when he behaved grotesquely and ceded policymaking to the Republican old guard, so his would-be successors need to act less like tinpot tyrants, eschew the ranting and the insults, and also make good on some of the policy promises Trump left by the wayside. A populism 2.0 that doesn’t alienate as many people with its rhetoric, that promises more support for families and domestic industry, that accepts universal health care and attacks monopolies and keeps low-skilled immigration low, all while confronting China and avoiding Middle East entanglements and fighting elite progressivism tooth and nail — there’s your new Republican majority.

… but not certain, because nobody can be sure yet that Trumpism can exist without the irreplaceable personality that is Donald Trump — nor can anybody count on Trump going gently into that good night, and allowing someone to succeed him.


about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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