Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency has cleaved the modern conservative movement into two camps: the red baseball cap clad, #MAGA Twitter cheerleaders and a collection of moderate and uber conservative Republicans who see Trump as poisonous to the cause. Members of the latter variety include Ohio Governor John Kasich, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse and popular right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, all three of whom have been consistently and forcefully condemning Trump’s unseemly and juvenile behavior since the primaries of the 2016 election. In February of 2016, Sasse went so far as to say “Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation” in a Facebook post entitled “An Open Letter to Trump Supporters.”
I tend to be of one mind with the Senator when it comes to Trump. Indeed, I find his conduct distasteful and his performance in office thus far subpar. However, what the left demands of Sasse, Shapiro, Kasich, and myself is not condemnation of Trump and his brash disregard of norms, decency, and gravitas––it is support for their agenda and tireless opposition to Trump’s. Republicans with the nerve to publicly chastise Trump have risked dividing their base of support and undermining their own policy goals. Let us see what it has done for their reputations on the other side of the aisle.
Shapiro, the number one target of anti-semitic, alt-right, social media attacks on journalists in 2016 according to the Anti-Defamation League has himself been smeared as alt-right and an extremist. DePaul University went so far as to ban Shapiro from campus and then threaten to arrest him if he crossed onto school property.
A recent article in the The Week declared “Ben Sasse is Insufferable,” before going on to inform its readers that “Sasse has made a career branding himself as ‘the last honest man in the GOP,’ which is journalism code for someone who makes a lot of hay about Trump’s character while inventing Principled Conservative reasons for gleefully implementing the worst parts of the administration’s agenda.” Naturally, Sasse is in favor of the conservative, or as The Week so lovingly puts it, “the worst” parts of Trump’s policies. The people of Nebraska elected him as a tea partier who promised to fight to repeal Obamacare, lower taxes, and shrink the size of the federal government. It is definitionally unreasonable to ask him to renege on those promises simply because Donald Trump was elected president.
Kasich is the only Republican who has been able to appease the insatiable hunger of the left and avoid an onslaught of negative media coverage. Since Trump’s election, he has become perhaps the most vocal right-wing critic of Trump’s actual policy agenda. In fact, it has become increasingly difficult to even classify Kasich as right-wing. The governor is a regular on CNN and MSNBC, where he enjoys bashing congressional Republicans for their unwillingness to compromise as well as their lack of compassion. Kasich has been especially disappointed with conservative efforts to cut Medicaid as part of an Obamacare repeal bill. Of course, if Kasich really believed that cutting Medicaid was uncompassionate and poor policy, his sharp criticism and holier-than-thou attitude would be more justifiable. However, Kasich spent his entire 2016 campaign boasting about balancing a budget in the 1990s and his action plan called for a cap on annual Medicaid growth at 3%. The health care plan proposed by Senate Republicans and endorsed by Trump that Kasich so reviled capped it at 3.7%. Kasich’s seemingly disingenuous disagreement with Trump and the rest of his party is likely part of a larger effort garner support from the left when he inevitably runs for president again in 2020 or 2024. He will lose, be it to Trump or Bernie Sanders, but at least he’ll have have the consolation prize of not being slandered on Salon, Slate, and Vox.
The reality of how the left treats right-wing critics of the President begs the question: what is accomplished by conservatives who reprimand Trump? Their rebukes serve only to alienate a significant portion of their constituency, and liberals will continue to bash them until they alter their ideologies anyway. I’m not saying that Republicans should refrain from speaking out against Trump when they disagree with him. In fact, I see their critiques as a sign of good health for the party and the nation. Yet I fear that Trump’s conservative opponents are quickly losing any incentive that they may have had to continue voicing their concerns. If the vitriol for the Shapiro’s and Sasse’s of the world continues to proliferate, expect us to disappear.