Donald Trump’s conquest of the Republican Party certainly represents a crisis—and possibly the final crisis—for the conservative movement. As with a doctor’s hammer to a knee, the reflexive reaction across much of the political spectrum has been to blame “liberals,” a label that has come to stand for anyone who does not embrace the combination of imagined history, religious fundamentalism, and corporate-driven pseudoscience that comprises conservative ideology.
Public Enemy No. 1 is almost always “the liberal media.” This is perhaps the one thing upon which traditional conservatives and Trump can easily agree. (A recent email from the Trump campaign began, “You’ve seen it—the liberal media can’t stop telling outrageous lies about me. They are really a disgrace to journalism, and they’re so desperate to mislead the American people…”)
Lately, however, some of the sore losers—I hope Trump hasn’t ruined this expression for all of us—have come up with a more precise description of the culprits they seek to hold accountable: the pundits and others who have been calling attention to the extremist drift of the Republican Party, which ultimately paved the path for Trump. Apparently, liberals used up all the mean words we could think of to describe the likes of McCain, Romney, Rubio, George W. Bush, and others. With no insults left over for Trump, we simply recycled the old ones.
This line of argument is hardly limited to the lunatic fringe. Writing in The Atlantic on August 3, David A. Graham complained:
Dangerously ignorant about policy and incurious about the world? That was the line on George W. Bush 16 years ago. Radical, unacceptable views about women? Said of any number of Republicans. Overrated business career? Just ask Mitt Romney about that one. (Not only was Romney’s success credited to his father’s connection, The New York Times reported, “Mr. Romney, though, never ran a corner store or a traditional business. Instead, he excelled as a deal maker,” which sounds eerily familiar.) A temperament unsuited for the Oval Office? Some said the same thing about John McCain. Fascism? MoveOn likened Bush to Adolph Hitler in 2004. Extreme positions? “He’s the most conservative nominee that they’ve had going back to Goldwater,” top Obama aide David Plouffe said of Romney in 2012.
Note that nowhere did Graham attempt to dispute any of these characterizations with counterevidence. And in the case of MoveOn’s alleged Bush/Hitler equation, he neglected to mention that the incident concerned an entry in a contest submitted by someone with no standing in the organization, and was taken down from the MoveOn website shortly after its appearance. The Atlantic has since issued a correction. But never mind facts. Generously, Graham goes on to blame, you guessed it, both sides. “The prevalence of wolf-crying, rather than being the fault of any particular party or even specific politicians or pundits, is a symptom of a particularly toxic, polarized moment in American politics,” he writes.