Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Trumpkins’ Lament. By Bret Stephens.

The Trumpkins’ Lament. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2016.

Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh might be human garbage, but conservatives are wrong to blame them for the disturbing rise of Trump. By Amanda Marcotte. Salon, February 23, 2016.


Where was Mark Levin when Trump was still a big bubble waiting to be popped?

In the 1980s, Eddie Murphy had a hilarious skit in which he explained how it was that Jesse Jackson, then running for president, had a plausible shot at winning the Democratic nomination. The gag involved two white guys voting for Mr. Jackson “as a goof.”

“They get drunk . . . and go like: ‘Let’s vote for Jesse Jackson!’”

“‘I just voted for Jesse Jackson!’”

“And the next day would be like this: ‘He [bleeping] won?’”

I thought of Mr. Murphy’s make-believe drunks while listening to Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin inveigh against Donald Trump following the Republican debate in South Carolina. The Donald had yet again noted that 9/11 had happened on George W. Bush’s watch, adding for good measure that the 43rd president had lied America into war with Iraq.

Donald Trump “sounded like any average host on MSNBC,” marveled Mr. Limbaugh, who was equally aghast that Mr. Trump had defended “Planned Parenthood in language used by the left.”

Mr. Levin was even blunter: “He sounds like a radical kook,” the radio host thundered to his seven million listeners. “To have the leading Republican nominee for president of the United States to make these kinds of statements—and he’s been praised by Code Pink. He should be praised by Code Pink and every left-wing kook organization that hates America. To have him praised for what he said? Terrible. Absolutely terrible.”

It is terrible. So where were Messrs. Limbaugh and Levin last summer, when the Trump candidacy was still a big soap bubble, waiting to be popped by the likes of them?

In July, Mr. Trump said of John McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” The Donald’s trademark insult—coyly calibrated to appeal to voters who lack the brains or the decency to be appalled—should have been the tombstone of his campaign. But it wasn’t, thanks not least to a loud assist from Mr. Limbaugh.

“Trump can survive this. Trump is surviving this,” Mr. Limbaugh exulted. “The American people haven’t seen something like this in a long time. They have not seen an embattled public figure stand up for himself, double down and tell everybody to go to hell.”

In fact, 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.

So Mr. Trump had once supported socialized medicine? That didn’t matter, said Mr. Levin, because the candidate opposed ObamaCare now. So Mr. Trump was conspicuously ignorant about major foreign-policy issues? Who cares, since he was passionate about the “invasion,” as Mr. Limbaugh calls it, of Latin American migrants. So Mr. Trump wants to ban Muslim immigration? Well, Mr. Levin says, at least “Trump has opened the way” to a “national discussion.”

Above all, the Trump candidacy was supposed to serve its purpose as a truck bomb against the “GOP Establishment”—namely, Republicans in Congress who don’t think repeatedly shutting down the government is a smart political tactic; editorial pages, this one especially, that believe in immigration reform and think the GOP can only win as a party of aspiration and inclusion, not fences and deportation; and anyone else who thinks it’s enough to fault Barack Obama for being a lousy president without also accusing him of being a sworn enemy of the United States.

Well, congratulations, fellas. If your avowed purpose was to knock Jeb Bush out of the race, you’ve won. It must feel great.

Then again, it’s looking less great for Ted Cruz, your preferred candidate, who could only manage a third-place finish in a very red state. And it’s looking even worse for the Republican Party, which shows every sign of wanting to give its presidential nomination to an unelectable buffoon who would lose in a rout—to Bernie Sanders.

It’s a lucky thing for conservatives that the likeliest alternative to Mr. Trump for the nomination is the very “establishment Republican” Marco Rubio, the non-jerk of the season who could actually win in November. Too bad his task will be that much harder thanks to the ideological drunks who, when they knew better, cheered the Donald on.