A few days ago I had a dust-up on Twitter with National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. Our conflict was about Trump’s fitness to be president, a subject that has been broached millions of times on social media by other Internet partisans.
Twitchy posted the exchange and promoted it this way: “It’s On! Jonah Goldberg, David Horowitz Duke It Out Over Trump’s Character.” The donnybrook led to 500,000 impressions off my Twitter feed, including legions of anti-Trump zealots eager to demonstrate how creative they could be in devising insults to throw at me for defending Trump: beyond dumb, in need of psychiatric help, and probably receiving payments through offshore bank accounts.
As it happens, I’ve known Jonah for twenty years or more, admired his wit and insights, promoted his books, and put him on my platforms. I was distressed when he joined the chorus of Never Trumpers, but never wrote a critical word about him, hoping I guess that, as Trump systematically undid the damage that the Obama regime had inflicted on the country, Jonah would return to his senses.
Other Never Trump conservatives, on the other hand, just jumped to the other side. Bill Kristol even went so far as to collude with the Brennan-instigated witch-hunt by spreading talking points from the Steele dossier. It was easy to write these renegades off, though still wondering how they rationalized the betrayal of their lifetime principles, or were able to deny that they were doing so.
But a group of Never Trumpers like Jonah adopted a less radical stance and conceded that many or even most of Trump’s policy actions were actually conservative, and ones they agreed with. What made them Never Trumpers was his horrible, defective character. Most prominent among this group was Bret Stephens, whom I have also admired and promoted in the past. At the end of Trump’s first year, Bret wrote an op-ed for the New York Times – the position being an obvious reward for his defection – called “Why I’m Still A Never Trumper.” In it he praised Trump’s major policy actions since entering the White House. But then he attacked Trump’s character as un-presidential and indefensible. And he averred: “I still wish Hillary Clinton were president.”
When I read his column, the first question that popped into my mind was this: how can indefensible and un-presidential bad character lead to such admirable presidential decisions? I am not aware of any attempt by Bret Stephens or Jonah Goldberg or similar Never Trumpers to provide an answer.
The posture of these Never Trumpers is transparently self-serving. It preserves their intellectual credentials as conservatives, and simultaneously takes them out of the line of fire from an increasingly vicious left whose goal is to destroy Trump and his presidency, and – incidentally – conservative America. Sitting on the fence affords them new career opportunities — appearances on CNN and MSNBC and columns in the NY Times. All that’s required is that they avoid taking sides in the political war that is engulfing the country. All this reminds me of a memorable Trotsky sneer about liberals, whom he accused of being reluctant to step into the stream of political conflict because they were afraid to get their moral principles wet.
So, when this tweet from Jonah Goldberg appeared on my feed, I abandoned my self-restraint and answered it:
Re-asking a question I've been posing for three years: Please come up with a definition of good character that Donald Trump can clear.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) August 15, 2018
This was followed by a re-tweet and a new comment:
This is easily the most triggering question you can ask of Trumpist snowflakes. https://t.co/zUzMiBe8Yg
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) August 16, 2018
I don’t know whether it was the snide-ness of this comment or its absoluteness that triggered me, but it seemed so pig-headedly self-righteous, so oblivious of the complexities of human character, not to mention the nuclear dimensions of the left’s war against Trump, that I responded, and in doing so walked into a hornets’ nest.
He has an amazing family. He's loyal to a fault. He loves the country that gave him a privileged life, He works around the clock for ordinary Americans, & their security. He would never appoint a treacherous individual to head the CIA. Wake up Jonah.Its a war & u cant be neutral. https://t.co/52J1etR9cz
— David Horowitz (@horowitz39) August 16, 2018
Which drew this retort:
This is total nonsense David. He’s not loyal to a fault. He’s not loyal to his wives. Read up on how he treated Roy Cohn ffs. He doesn’t work around the clock. He won’t read and won’t stop watching TV. I can’t tell if your head is up your ass or his. https://t.co/IzeE8FIrPs
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) August 16, 2018
The nastiness of that last sentence shocked me. Evidently the hatred of Trump is so fevered it can burn through twenty years of cordiality and acquaintance. I wonder if Jonah would be so hostile to someone who shared his view of Trump’s character but thought Trump’s policies were racist and tyrannical.
As it happens I am well aware of the vulnerabilities of what I tweeted. I should never have written it and fallen into the Twitter trap. Tweets don’t provide enough space to account for the complexities of this subject or provide sufficient examples to make one’s case. “Character” is notoriously mercurial and complex to judge.
As it happens, in referring to Trump’s loyalty I had in mind two episodes. The first was the topic of the week: Omarosa. Why did he stick with such a wretched individual for so long, despite warnings from everyone around him that she was no good? Loyalty to a fault. The second was when the left showed its teeth in his first days in the White House and maliciously attacked Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions as white nationalists and racists and even neo-Nazis. Any other Republican, freshly in office, would have thrown them under the bus, however false the accusations. Trump’s fortitude, his refusal to back down under withering fire, is also a character trait, and an admirable one – actually the key to his success where Bush and congressional Republicans had repeatedly failed. Loyalty.
Since Jonah brings up Trump’s three marriages let me ask the question: who can see inside another person’s marriage? I thought, moreover, that since Reagan, who had two wives, entered the White House and performed as a conservative hero, Republicans would have gotten over their puritanical prejudices. All politicians have flawed characters. It’s the nature of the job, which requires compromises, prevarications, dirty deals, and the like. In Trump’s case what is important is not his loyalty to his wives (and none of them seem to be complaining), but his loyalty to the cause he champions and the people who support him.
Has Trump kept his promises to his supporters? Has he stayed the course he set for himself of making America great again? That loyalty is the character trait that matters most in a leader, and should matter most in any assessment of Trump. He has taken great personal risks and incurred great personal costs. His reputation for example, was pretty good before he ran against Democrats and their media, who fueled an epidemic of hate portraying him as a racist and neo-Nazi.
I’m betting there isn’t another Republican who would not have wilted under these attacks. Who would have had the fortitude to stay the course and keep his promises. That’s really good character. And its presidential.