Dear Levin and Limbaugh: Gamesmanship and Demagoguery Are Things We Were Supposed To Be Against

Bret Stephens wrote an epic and brutal take down of Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and the like in the Wall Street Journal, over their on-and-off-again strange love affair with Donald Trump. Here is an excerpt, but as always, read the whole thing:

Americans have often seen such figures: Marcus Garvey, Henry Wallace, Joe McCarthy, Lyndon LaRouche. We just used to have the good sense to dismiss them as eccentrics, lowlifes or clowns. What we haven’t seen are the modern-day keepers of mainstream conservatism developing schoolgirl crushes on the bad boy of the GOP class. “The Republicans are impotent!” swooned Mr. Levin in one September broadcast. “And now this guy [Mr. Trump], who may not be a down-the-line conservative, is standing up to them. And he’s kicking them all over the place.”

Mr. Levin has since become more critical of Mr. Trump, though Mr. Limbaugh seems to be hedging his bets. But both men provided Mr. Trump with the margin of respectability he needed in the early months to make his campaign credible with Republican voters.

The article tracks well with my own thinking on the matter.

The most charitable reading of Levin and Limbaugh’s actions is that they pimped Trump with the purpose of knocking Jeb Bush out of the race, in the mistaken belief that Trump would then implode and all his supporters would come home to Ted Cruz. If this was the case, there were at least three fatal flaws in their strategy:

1) There is no compelling evidence to suggest that Jeb Bush ever had a chance to begin with. Yes, Bush was ahead in the polls, but on name recognition alone. There was never any groundswell of grassroots support for him, and once the race began in earnest, he dropped like a rock on the polls. And this would have happened regardless of whether or not Trump had entered the race. Anyone who could remember past presidential support bubbles based purely upon name recognition (Ted Kennedy in 1980, Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton in 2008, etc.) would know this.

2) Trump’s candidacy has eaten into Cruz’s support most of all. Few if anyone who support Trump would have ever voted for Bush. Yet, there is every reason to believe that if Trump dropped out of the race today (which he won’t), Cruz would shoot to the head of the pack. Meanwhile, Cruz is in third place.

3) Trump has not imploded, and won’t. He may be a deranged idiot, but he understands self-promotion like no one else in the GOP field. This is an important point. I’ve met and dealt extensively with con men like Trump in my personal life. From my experience, most are borderline retarded in nearly every aspect except one: The ability to lie and manipulate others. In that respect, they are geniuses, and any normal person tangles with them at their peril. Seriously. Trump has been lying, conning, manipulating, and self-promoting himself for years. It’s all he does. It’s all he knows how to do. And since normal people have not had this experience with lying, conning, manipulating, and self-promoting, they are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to someone like Trump. The way to handle someone like Trump, then, is not to engage, not to give him any credibility, not to respond as though anything he says was in good faith. Take the man seriously, but as a peerless fraud, and nothing else. And on that basis, dismiss everything he says as a lie or a half-truth made in order to manipulate and control. Any other strategy will result in failure with someone like him.

The last thing in the world one can ever do with a man like Trump is think you are smart enough to use him to your own advantage. Those who practice the big con nearly always succeed because their marks think they are smart enough to con them. The con man thus takes advantage of the other person’s vanity and greed. Indeed, often those most victimized by a con man refuse to admit that they have been conned, sometimes even to themselves, because their vanity won’t allow it.

And so it is with Mark Levin, Rush Limb, and the like. They thought they could con a con man, and were had. And in doing so, they made chumps of themselves, and everyone in the conservative movement–possibly everyone in the country.

They engaged in some wholesale gamesmanship and demagoguery, and got burnt. Of course, weren’t gamesmanship and demagoguery the very things they were supposed to be against? After all, what have they been railing about for the last nine years? Or do they suppose that this is only bad when Obama and the Democrats do it, but somehow one gets a free pass if one is a conservative? If so, then one really can’t call them conservatives at all, as the last thing in the world conservatism stands for is the moral bankruptcy that this represents. True conservatives would never believe that the end justifies the means: That is a hallmark of liberals and progressives. Which, with their dalliance with Trumpism, is exactly what Levin and Limbaugh have become.

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