Conservative Review - George Will and the GOP Divide

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George Will

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George Will and the GOP Divide

By: Jeffrey Lord | August 14th, 2015

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In every town large enough to house a college there is a faculty lounge at the back of which sits the local George Will, nursing his ever-present pipe and innumerable elitist delusions.

Because the actual George Will is a syndicated columnist, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly sniffy public preacher. It is his right to use his considerable intelligence as he pleases. His supercilious performance and its haughty disdain of civic life are costs of freedom that an open society must be prepared to pay.

Ouch.

Truman was not called “Give ‘em hell Harry” for nothing.

Actually, I really like George Will and have defended him in his recent bout with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the paper canceling Will’s syndicated column in a fit of political correctness. And those opening two paragraphs above are a re-write of these two opening paragraphs in a recent George Will column:

In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions.

Because the actual Donald Trump is wealthy, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly vulgar presidential candidate. It is his right to use his riches as he pleases. His squalid performance and its coarsening of civic life are costs of freedom that an open society must be prepared to pay.

OK, then.

With all due respect, it appears Mr. Will has been caught up in a hissy fit over the Trump style. Leaving the impression that refined incompetence is preferred to “vulgar” (his word) competence. Or in other words, it’s not about getting things done but the style in which those things are done. Charges of vulgarity have appeared before in presidential campaigns. Two of America’s more notable presidents – Democrats Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman – were never accused of refinement. In the day there was the story that a friend told Bess Truman that she had to get her husband to stop using the word “manure” in various settings. To which Mrs. Truman replied that it had taken considerable work to get him to clean up his language and say “manure” instead of something more –ahhh – earthy. Truman was not called “Give ‘em hell Harry” for nothing.

Will goes on in this column to say this of Trump:

He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley's legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump "goes too far," he has "tapped into something," and therefore ...

Therefore what? This stance — if a semi-grovel can be dignified as a stance — is a recipe for deserved disaster…

Conservatives who flinch from forthrightly marginalizing Trump mistakenly fear alienating a substantial Republican cohort. But the assumption that today's Trumpites are Republicans is unsubstantiated and implausible.

Say again, Will says: “But the assumption that today's Trumpites are Republicans is unsubstantiated and implausible.” 

It is worth recalling here that once upon a time George Will was as down on Ronald Reagan as he is now on Donald Trump – and has been in the past on Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Really? Look at the innards of a CNN poll in Iowa released this week. That data is a vivid presentation of the divide between elites and the GOP base. It polls only Iowa Republicans, and specifically those who identify themselves as “Republican likely caucus goers.” And what are the results? Donald Trump is ahead of the GOP pack with Iowa Republicans giving him 22% of the vote. Across the board, by double-digit margins, these Republicans – say again, Iowa Republicans – are giving Trump the lead on everything from the economy to illegal immigration to terrorism and more. And contrary to Will’s assertion that Trump is an affront “to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding of National Review,” Trump at 12% is second only to Ben Carson’s 14% when Iowa Republicans answer the question of which GOP candidate “best represents the values of Republicans like yourself.” In a state that has previously given nods to serious social conservatives Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012, that says something.

It is worth recalling here that once upon a time George Will was as down on Ronald Reagan as he is now on Donald Trump – and has been in the past on Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In a November 12, 1974 column appearing in the Washington Post on a potential 1976 challenge by Reagan to incumbent Establishment GOP President Gerald Ford, (titled “Ronald Reagan, the GOP and ’76”), Will wrote of Reagan:

But Reagan is 63 and looks it. His hair is still remarkably free of gray. But around the mouth and neck he looks like an old man. He’s never demonstrated substantial national appeal, his hard core support today consists primarily of the kamikaze conservatives who thought the 1964 Goldwater campaign was jolly fun.   And there’s a reason to doubt that Reagan is well suited to appeal to the electorate that just produced a Democratic landslide. If a Reagan third party would just lead the ‘Nixon was lynched’ crowd away from the Republican Party and into outer darkness where there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, it might be at worst a mixed course for the Republican Party. It would cost the party some support, but it would make the party seem cleansed. 

Four years later, Will’s first and second choices for the 1980 GOP nomination were Tennessee Senator Howard Baker and George H. W. Bush, neither seen by conservatives of the day as “devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of National Review — making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable.”

Only weeks ago Will was insisting Cruz – precisely because Cruz is a considerable Reaganite conservative – could not possibly carry Pennsylvania, ironically a charge that was repeatedly hurled at Reagan himself in the day.

It isn’t just Donald Trump who has attracted George Will’s wrath. In 2008, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, then the GOP vice presidential nominee, was derided as "obviously not qualified to be President.” And as mentioned, Will is no fan of today’s conservative hero Ted Cruz. Only weeks ago Will was insisting Cruz – precisely because Cruz is a considerable Reaganite conservative – could not possibly carry Pennsylvania, ironically a charge that was repeatedly hurled at Reagan himself in the day. Reagan of course, wound up carrying Pennsylvania twice, unlike the moderate Gerald Ford or for that matter any Republican nominee since 1992.

So Will, over the years, has derided Reagan, preferring Baker and Bush Sr. over the Gipper. He was no fan of Palin and has been critical of Cruz. 

What this pattern seems to say is that over the years George Will has become more Establishment conservative than conservative. Content, as it were, with Republicans whose goal if elected is merely to manage the federal leviathan, including whatever the latest leftist contribution to that leviathan might be. Rattling the tea cups of Washington is frowned upon, not to mention anyone who is seen as dangerous enough to wreak havoc on the place in the service of serious conservative reform.

Back in April of this year, two months before Trump announced his candidacy, Will was on the panel of Bret Baier’s Special Report at Fox and said this when the panelists were asked how much money they would place on various candidates in Baier’s “candidate casino.” When he got to Trump he said:

One dollar on Donald Trump in the hope that he will be tempted to run, be predictably shellacked, and we will be spared evermore this quadrennial charade of his.

Suffice to say, Donald Trump not only announced his candidacy, he is – as this latest CNN Iowa poll re-affirms yet again – the front runner.  Repeatedly. Consistently. One Establishment prognosticator after another, now George Will included, has gotten Trump wrong.

All of which says to me that the very estimable George Will, a decidedly worthy subject of great respect, has fallen prey to the beast of Washington Insiderdom/Elitism. Suffering a disconnect with the activists in the base of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. A disconnect that is shared with far too many GOP ‘Inside the Beltway’ types.

This disconnect was on display with his inability to grasp the appeal of Ronald Reagan. It was on display with his take downs of Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz. And it is vividly in evidence with his take on Donald Trump. The divide between Insiders and Outsiders, as seen in this latest Will column, is wide indeed.

And, in the way of the current political world, ironically his much publicized view of Trump does nothing but add fuel to the Trump base.

Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.

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