To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made of Donald Trump. For me, it begins and ends with a simple fact: he isn’t ideologically conservative, which is why I treated his campaign with skepticism and ended up voting for Ted Cruz in the primary. All things considered, I’d rather have a President with a firm grasp of why he believes what he believes, because that makes him far likely to make sound judgements consistent with a philosophy of individual liberty and restrained government.
On the other hand, we’ve had plenty of so-called conservative Republicans come down the pike who have governed as anything but. George W. Bush, for example, vastly expanded federal involvement with education, gave us Medicare Part D, launched us into two long, expensive wars, and ran up the national debt more than any other President in history—at least until Barack Obama came along. John McCain, who tried to succeed Bush, ran as an immigration hawk at election time but turned amnesty advocate with his Gang of 8 antics, and also suppressed political speech with the profoundly flawed McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform.” Mitt Romney, meanwhile, in spite of characterizing himself as “severely conservative,” was your typical down-the-middle moderate who gave us the blueprint for Obamacare while he served as governor of Massachusetts.
Don’t get me wrong—these were all fine men, and I cast my vote for all of them without hesitation. But I don’t think it’s any secret that two terms of George W. Bush was a disaster for the cause of conservatism in the GOP, carried out with the full cooperation of Republican majorities in the House and Senate for six of those years. Rather than build on conservative policy successes, as Ronald Reagan did, they instead set the stage for Barack Obama—and eventually, after that moribund tenure, Donald Trump. Voters by that point had become sick of the political status quo, and wanted to shake things up with an outsider.
And, whatever else you may think of him, in that respect Trump has more than delivered. His critics—including many among the nominal right—have lambasted him for his petulant style, grousing that he doesn’t have the temperament to be President. The left-leaning media, meanwhile, have joined the chorus in denouncing Trump’s shattering of presidential “norms,” as if those are the standards and practices upon which the republic depend.
But I have a question: What if those norms suck?
Even worse, what if those norms are deliberately constructed to put conservatives at a disadvantage? Take the media for instance. For eight years, they engaged in a wholesale character assassination of George W. Bush, criminalizing policy differences and trying to undermine him even while the nation was at war. They even pushed phony documents on the public in an attempt to tip the 2004 election to John Kerry. The entire time, Bush thought it would sully his office to call out the media for the partisan hacks they were—and it drove those of us who supported him absolutely crazy.
Not so with Trump. He’s not afraid to take the media on—and he’s not afraid to name names. And while his “enemy of the people” rhetoric may be overblown, of one thing there can be no doubt: the national news media are no friends of the people, either. While there are local reporters across the country who do fine work, the big outlets that cover Washington are largely staffed by elites who hold vast swaths of Americans in utter disdain. To them, we truly are the deplorables of whom Hillary Clinton spoke with such contempt. Why should they be above criticism?
Then there’s the matter of the previous administration. It’s beyond dispute that Barack Obama’s Justice Department violated norms with its gun-walking operation Fast & Furious, which resulted in the death of border agent Brian Terry and countless others in Mexico. And it’s established fact that Obama’s IRS destroyed norms when it targeted conservative groups for increased scrutiny, effectively killing their ability to fundraise and participate in the 2012 election. Obama also trashed norms when he unilaterally declared DACA the law of the land, retroactively changed Obamacare by executive order, lied about the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, and looked the other way as his Secretary of State used a private email server in violation of federal law. For some reason, shattering these norms wasn’t a big deal. Now all of a sudden we’re supposed to get the vapors over Trump giving Jim Acosta a hard time?
The truth is that the precious norms so beloved by the left and their media allies only matter so long as they can be used to hobble conservatives in general, and this President in particular. As we’ve seen with the way the Obama administration sicced his FBI on the Trump campaign—perhaps the most nakedly corrupt abuse of power in the history of this nation—the moment norms get in the way of a political objective, they get cast aside with nary a second thought. What makes the left nuts is that Trump has caught on to their little game, and isn’t afraid to deal it back at them just as hard.
Is this a healthy condition for the nation’s politics? Hardly. It’s actually destructive—and I lament that things have gotten to this point. None of this has happened overnight, though. It’s been a long time coming, even as Republicans have preferred to pretend otherwise. That Trump took them all by surprise and snatched the party away is proof that the establishment GOP did so at their own peril—and even now, like the Democrats, a lot of them still refuse to get it.