Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sean Hannity’s Veneration of Ignorance. By Bret Stephens.

Sean Hannity’s Veneration of Ignorance. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2016.


The right’s political huckster gives Al Sharpton a run for his money.

It was probably inevitable that Donald Trump and his media munchkins would alight on the stab-in-the-back theory to explain his probable defeat in November. The surprise is that they are doing so with the election still three months out.

“If in 96 days Trump loses this election, I am pointing the finger directly at people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and John McCain and John Kasich and Ted Cruz,” Fox News host Sean Hannity told his radio audience last week. “I have watched these Republicans be more harsh toward Donald Trump than they’ve ever been in standing up to Barack Obama and his radical agenda.”

“Establishment Republican types,” he insisted, had in effect “created Donald Trump.”

Mr. Hannity has never made a secret of his feelings for Mr. Trump, which is the love that dares to speak its name. But his comments were also a revelation, and not just that it has dawned on him that the Republican nominee is likely to lose and lose big. Like members of a cult who discover too late that their self-proclaimed messiah is mortal after all, rationalizations are required.

Mr. Trump has lately been road-testing one such rationalization, saying the election will be “rigged.” Voter fraud is a reality in American elections, but it is typical of the candidate to confuse anecdote with data and turn allegation into conspiracy. Mr. Trump also says the media is “rigged” against him, which is amusing coming from the beneficiary of the equivalent of $3 billion in free advertising.

Mr. Hannity’s excuses are even more disgraceful, combining oily self-absolution with venomous obloquy for the very conservatives who have spent the year warning that a Trump candidacy is an epic GOP disaster that all-but guarantees Hillary Clinton’s election. The habit of shifting blame and refusing to take responsibility is supposed to be the curse of the underclass and its political hucksters, but Mr. Hannity is giving Al Sharpton a run for his money.

Mr. Hannity’s other goal is to preserve the fiction—first cultivated by Ted Cruz and later adopted by the Trumpians—that a wan GOP “establishment” and its “Acela corridor” voters sat on their hands while Mr. Obama traduced the Constitution and sold us out to the enemy. “They did nothing, nothing!” the anchor fumed Thursday on his show. “All these phony votes to repeal and replace ObamaCare, show votes so they go back and keep their power and get re-elected.”

Maybe Mr. Hannity thinks that Messrs. Ryan and McConnell should have jumped the White House fence and stuck a pitchfork in the president. Or that they should have amended the Constitution to repeal Article One, Section Seven—the one that gives the president his veto. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand the constant lament about a do-nothing Congress except by wondering whether Mr. Hannity is stupid or dishonest.

On Thursday evening I opted to give him the benefit of the doubt by writing on Twitter that he was Fox’s “dumbest anchor.” He immediately proved my point by re-tweeting me to his 1.5 million Twitter followers—an audience I could never have reached on my own. Later, on the radio, he called me a “dumba— with his head up his a—,” demonstrating he can’t even swear competently.

But Mr. Hannity’s tantrum obscures the uglier side of what he is trying to do, which is to paint targets on the GOP’s genuine Reaganites—pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-NATO, pro-entitlement reform—and replace them with the Party of Trump—anti-all of the above—no matter what happens to the candidate come November.

Who might help lead this Unglorious Revolution of the crass, clueless and shoulder-chipped? Those who can make themselves rich by shouting and hearing echoes of themselves even as the GOP loses one presidential election after another.

This is the reason I’ve consistently argued that the only hope for a conservative restoration is a blowout Hillary Clinton victory, held in check by a Republican majority in Congress. If Mr. Trump loses the election narrowly, the stab-in-the-back thesis will have a patina of credibility that he might have won had it not been for the opposition of people like me. But a McGovern-style defeat makes that argument impossible to sustain except among the most cretinous. We can count on Mr. Hannity for that.

Last week, I appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show opposite a Trump supporter named Emily Miller. At the end of the show, I said Americans deserve a president who can speak grammatical English. Ms. Miller retorted that it was “snobby” of me to say so.

There was a time when the conservative movement was led by the likes of Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol and Bob Bartley, men of ideas who invested the Republican Party with intellectual seriousness. Today’s GOP is on the road to self-immolation, thanks in part to the veneration of ignorance typified by Ms. Miller and Mr. Hannity. As conservatives go through their pre- and post-mortems, they should think about the damage that such veneration can do.