First things first: I confess that I frequently hang out with #NeverTrump believers and folks who are at least sympathetic to that cause.
This happens all the time in cyberspace and in analog life as well, including church. As GetReligion readers probably know, I had been a Bible Belt Democrat all my life (part of the endangered pro-life tribe) until the 2016 election shoved me through the #NeverHillary door and into Third Party land (but that’s another story and not the subject of this post).
All of this is to say that the following double-decker New York Times headline caught my eye:
The ‘Never Trump’ Coalition That Decided Eh, Never Mind, He’s Fine
They signed open letters, dedicated a special magazine issue to criticism of him and swore he would tear at the fabric of this nation. Now they have become the president’s strongest defenders.
Wait a minute. So the whole #NeverTrump world has veered into Make America Great Again territory? How did I miss that?
Actually, this is one of those thumbsucker pieces that is dominated by hard-news language (add sarcasm font) like “some,” “many” and “largely.” A phrase such as “at least half” is a rare concession to complexity.
This piece also assumes that anyone who is scared as Hades about trends in the Democratic Party’s woke candidate pool — on First Amendment issues, for example — has concluded that embracing Trump is the best choice available on Election Day. By the way, in this political feature making “supportive statements” about one or more actions taken by anyone in the Trump White House equals enthusiastic support for the president’s 2020 dreams.
Let’s dive into the thesis section of this analysis piece that is not labeled an analysis piece:
“Never Trump” no more, conservatives have largely resigned themselves to a more accommodating state of mind: “Never mind Trump.” And their change in attitude helps to mute the much smaller group of conservative voices who remain highly critical of the president and have questioned his conduct. …
It can be difficult to remember that indignation and contempt for Mr. Trump once simmered in every corner of the conservative world. In August 2016, dozens of the most senior Republican national security officials signed a letter warning he would “put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
Female leaders of the anti-abortion movement joined together before the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and issued a joint statementdeclaring themselves “disgusted” at his behavior, saying he had “impugned the dignity of women.” National Review published an “Against Trump” issue that featured essays from 22 prominent conservatives who all made a case for why he should not be the Republican nominee.
At least half of those writers are now on the record making supportive comments about the president.
Now, in the world of conservative media, there has been tremendous pressure on #NeverTrump scribes to soften their tone, if not switch sides. Ask journalists who used to work at The Weekly Standard. (Here’s another confession: I was a charter subscriber there, in large part because of that magazines coverage of religion and culture.)
At the same time, it’s hard to say that #NeverTrump people have all been taken out and shot — when they show up day after day, week after week, in the op-ed pages of elite newspapers and in the guest rotation lists of cable-TV “news” shows. And, hey, another post-Trump newsroom has just opened its doors and signed David French for its squad.
You could also say that #NeverTrump scribes have been working hard to find ways to signal that, well, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in a valid election and that millions of Americans had reasons for supporting him — reasons that are worthy of serious attention by journalists. Yes, that includes concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court.
All of that isn’t the same thing as saying Trump was or is qualified to occupy the White House.
But, since this is GetReligion, the part of this story that mattered the most to me was its discussion of how religious and cultural #NeverTrump conservatives have sold out and joined his team. In this case, I really needed to see names and numbers.
So here is that crucial section of the story. This is long, but crucial:
Few changes of heart have been as head-spinning as the social conservatives and evangelical Christians who now consider Mr. Trump a hero. Many of the conservative women who once saw him as a boor have come to believe that for too long they were focused on the wrong qualities in presidential candidates. They wanted someone pious when they should have been looking for someone who could throw punches.
“I endorsed Rick Santorum in 2012. And Mike Huckabee,” said Penny Young Nance, who signed the statement in 2016 of anti-abortion activists opposing Mr. Trump. “But at the end of the day, I’m not sure those guys I love and admire would have had the guts to do what Trump has done,” she added.
Among the other considerations of “late adopters,” as Ms. Nance called herself, is how Mr. Trump relentlessly and savagely attacks the left and its leaders. “American women want a street fighter,” she said, “and this is the guy who puts the knife in his teeth and swims the moat.” She called Mr. Trump “a gutsy New Yorker,” resisting the urge to use a less polite term that Mr. Trump might have used himself. “I could use a different word, but I won’t.”
Several things to note here. Let’s lead with the basic fact that it’s hard to base the claim that “many conservative women” and social conservatives now “consider Mr. Trump a hero” — based on an interview with one person.
In the grammar of old-school journalism, one person is not “many.”
Yes, it would have helped in the Times team had seen fit to mention that Nance is the leader of Concerned Women for America — which is a large and influential group. That still doesn’t prove that “many” religious conservatives have granted Trump hero-worship status, but it would have been a good fact to have included in such a long report.
Again let me stress that I know a few social and religious conservatives who have backed one or more actions taken by the Trump team. However, I have been watching the #NeverTrump world carefully and I don’t think I have seen “many” — or even half — of these people abandon their conviction that Trump was and is a poor choice to lead this nation.
Once again, read that headline: “The ‘Never Trump’ Coalition That Decided Eh, Never Mind, He’s Fine.”
REALLY? The whole #NeverTrump coalition jumped into Trump world? Even the very idealistic #NeverTrump #NeverHillary folks? Does this example of creative writing at The New York Times prove that to be the case?