The tumultuous courtship between President Trump and institutional Republicans, and all the insults that went with it, is now water under the bridge. There is a record of accomplishment now! And by golly, it ain't half-bad, per the year-end summation by Rich Lowry of National Review:
For much of the year, Trump's presidency had seemed to be sound and fury signifying not much besides the welcome ascension of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; now, it is sound and fury signifying a discernible shift of American government to the right. It's hard to see how a conventional Republican president would have done much better, except if he had managed to get ObamaCare repealed, which was always going to be a dicey proposition given the narrow Republican majority in the Senate. [National Review]
This is an astonishingly blinkered and inert reaction to a presidency that could yet destroy the Republican Party and any cause that calls itself "conservative" for a generation.
Why won't conservatives wake up and see Trump for what and who he really is?
Part of this reticence, this compulsion to look on the bright side, is surely financial: The rich donors who underwrite the work of conservative media are not going to look kindly on their beneficiaries constantly undermining a Republican administration. Part of it is a sort of self-regarding stoicism: Unlike the hair-on-fire hysterics on the left and the nagging critics of the mainstream media, what remains of #NeverTrumpism is determined to keep its power dry. It's the difference between viewing Trump as a "regrettable development" rather than a "national emergency."
All too typically, The New York Times' David Brooks laments the declining reasonableness of the anti-Trump movement:
[It] seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a "Madness of King George" narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually, and psychologically inferior to people like us. [The New York Times]
The question of whether this narrative — of a Mad King who despite his mental and emotional deficiencies presides over an administration that nonetheless is "briskly pursuing its goals" — is actually "discordant" is answered by Brooks himself in the same column: "It's almost as if there are two White Houses." It does seem that way, doesn't it? The Mad King is working fewer hours and consuming as much television as ever, while the work of his administration is given over to industry lickspittles and parliament leaders who can count on his rubber stamp.
Even David French, the paradigmatic #NeverTrumper who, to his credit, remains alert to the possibility of moral and electoral disaster on the horizon, finds himself reduced to conservative agenda box-checking: "Praise him when he's right, critique him when he's wrong, apply the same standards to your own side that you apply to ideological opponents, and keep your eyes fixed on the larger, more important cultural trends. … Trump's polices aren't nationalist populist but rather conventional and conservative."
The world may be about to collapse around you, but at least we got those tax cuts.
If these conservatives love their country more than favorable regulatory guidances and lower taxes, then they need to start getting worried — and soon. They need to stop tsk-tsking Trump's outrageous public behavior as though it's in the realm of fluffy media criticism. They need to start taking the Mueller investigation seriously rather than nibbling at its edges like a Lilliputian army of pedantic skeptics. They need to join in the pursuit of the truth about Trump and Russia with one-tenth of the energy they expended on Benghazi and Emailgate. They need to stop looking the other way while Trump's amoral congressional allies impede justice in plain view.
If and when we do find ourselves in a constitutional crisis, the self-defanged #NeverTrumpers should not be permitted to pivot again into their prior state of implacable opposition. It's not enough simply to "wait and see" what the truth about Trump is. The truth must be forced into view.
If the conservative faction of the anti-Trump movement now prefers the safe and sanguine space of anti-anti-Trumpism, fine. Just don't expect the hand of rescue when the heavy weather arrives. You're going down with him, too.