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Why America Went All In on Donald Trump-And Why We Must Do It Again
By Charles Hurt
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THE NUCLEAR OPTION
This is the story of the unlikeliest of heroes emerging from the unlikeliest of places to take up the impossible cause of an almost forgotten people. They are people who love their country, trust their higher God, obey laws, and will do anything for their family and neighbors. Among them are farmers, factory workers, military veterans, police officers, small contractors, truck drivers, stay-at-home moms, and retirees. They believe in an America founded on bedrock principles aimed at guaranteeing freedom and justice for all. They understand that America is not perfect and never has been, but they believe those founding principles ensure we are always working toward an ideal of fairness, striving for equal justice under the law, and always humble before God. These Americans are not racist. They are not stupid. They are not backward. Some of them have not gone to college but are well-schooled in the basic American ways of hard work, duty, and compassion.
It is fair to say that these citizens are the moral as well as the lineal descendants the Founders dreamed of when they hatched the radical idea of replacing a despotic monarchy with self-governance. It would take a special people to grasp and hold this startling concept that man’s rights come directly from God—not from a king, not from a government, and certainly not from the corrupt kleptocracy that our government has become. These are the very people the Founders believed could be trusted to make all the decisions about who should lead a free and just government—a government strictly limited in both power and reach.
Who are these people? No characteristic defines them more than this: They are people who work. They work for a living. They work to eat. They work to support their families. They work two jobs, three jobs, maybe four jobs—whatever it takes. They work when they get off work to make life better for themselves and their families. To improve their homes. To improve their land and property. They work to help a friend who is trying to start a small business. Many work so long and hard that they start their own small businesses, and then they hire other people who work. They are people who volunteer. They are people who are the first to open their wallets and pocketbooks when a catastrophe strikes. And if the trouble is close enough, they are the first to show up with their pickup trucks or their boats or their chain saws or whatever they have that might help a neighbor in need.
It is a given among these people that America is exceptional in its compassion as well as its power. They understand that military might is the key to protecting our constitution and our freedoms against the cesspools of barbarians throughout the world. They are cheered by those posters showing a warship teeming with fighter jets, with the words “100,000 Tons of Diplomacy.” They believe in borders because they love America and want to live in America. Not Canada. And not Mexico. They believe America is smiled upon by God, in return for our commitment to freedom, fairness, and equality.
This is also the story of a Leviathan government—the most powerful force in the history of mankind—that has become dangerously unmoored from the people it represents. From the people for whom that government is supposed to work. It is the story of how elites and the politically comfortable who control both parties in Washington seem to be in another world, insulated from reality. In their smug arrogance and hostile indifference, these “leaders” don’t even realize how much the people they are supposed to represent despise this uncontrollable monster they have spawned along the Potomac.
So, after more than a generation of relentless despair over the mess in Washington, where could faithful Americans turn? Betrayed at every juncture by all breeds of political swamp rats, was it all hopeless? Or was there a promising glimmer just over the horizon? Or could there be, as my dear mother would ask, reaching for the book of Esther, a leader “for just such a time as this”?
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE PRESIDENT
When Donald Trump descended the glass escalator of Trump Tower on June 16, 2015, much of America was amused that this sultan of brashness and pomposity would have the gall to offer himself as a viable candidate for the presidency. Most of the American political establishment—along with their handmaidens in the media—treated the prospect as an aberration perhaps worthy of a footnote in the annals of political history. But the Donald made good copy, often irresistible copy, as it slowly became clear that this flamboyant and deeply narcissistic businessman and entertainer was deadly serious. But that did not breed respect among many; it only served to stoke an irrational hatred of the man and a determination to stomp out the little fires of loyalty that were starting to pop up.
An almost visceral contempt set in among the media as well as virtually every established politician. They harshly denounced Trump for his message about illegal immigration, unfair trade with China, radical Islamic terrorism, and coddling enemies like Iran. He was branded as a racist, a xenophobe, an isolationist, and as a dangerous, violence-inciting war-monger. Never in modern political history has the media establishment, across the entire political spectrum, fallen into such unquestioning, total lockstep agreement. Left wing, right wing, all around town, almost every media mouth denounced Donald Trump as a reckless demagogue hell-bent on shredding the Constitution and becoming some kind of dictator.
“Now you may have noticed that I have not yet included Donald Trump in our coverage of the Republican presidential campaign this season, and that is because he is obviously never going to be president,” said MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell a day ahead of Trump’s intended announcement.
“Donald Trump will never be president. He knows that. We know that,” said then–Washington Post writer Chris Cillizza in a column on June 16, 2015. “But his candidacy ensures that for the next several months (at least), he will suck the attention and oxygen away from the men and women who might be. That’s great entertainment. But it’s terrible for politics.”
All pretense of fair journalistic standards vanished. Reports presented as investigative journalism were often go-for-the-jugular attacks. To be sure, of course, Trump’s long and unorthodox run as a womanizer and cutthroat business mogul yielded ample derogatory material. What was consistently left out of any equation was the man’s uncanny ability to always go for the soft spot, to come up with the perfect description for making almost anyone understand his position.
Indeed, what so many could not see was that this man, so skilled in all sorts of rare arts as a playboy and as a business tycoon was, in reality and most of all, a master of communication. And communication was supposed to be the purview of the media. But they just couldn’t get it. They just could not imagine that someone so rough around the edges, someone capable of such low crudity, someone who was so studiously undiplomatic, was in reality a superb communicator—and one, it turned out, who was better at it than all of them put together.
Many of the media’s claims were fantastical yet some of their allegations became gospel, even among reporters I had found over the years to be fair and balanced. Some of those friends and acquaintances would soon stop talking to me because I declined to buy in to all the crackpot theories and hysterical claims about how Donald Trump was the second coming of Adolf Hitler or how he secretly wanted to hand the country over to a bunch of Russian oligarchs. His growing base of supporters endured any crazy accusation anybody could come up with—just so long as it might destroy Trump.
“This is racist crap, of course, and to me it’s the biggest original sin of Donald Trump,” MSNBC host Chris Matthews said in September 2015. Matthews had blasted Trump on his birther claims regarding President Obama. “Before he went after people from Mexico as rapists, which was outrageous. Long before that, he said our president was an illegal immigrant. He played that card and he’s still playing it.”
“It’s not even a race between ideologies anymore,” said HBO host Bill Maher in October 2016. “It’s not Republican and Democrat or conservative and liberal. It’s reality versus alternative reality.”
“So much of what Trump says on the stump seems improvised and inconsistent,” wrote NPR’s Mara Liasson in September 2015. “And on the surface he can look like nothing more than a bombastic showman. But Trump fits right in to the classic tradition of American populism. From William Jennings Bryan to Huey Long to George Wallace to Ross Perot, American populism has always combined nativism with economic grievance.”
The most unhinged reporters and writers were not the crazy leftists or even the Never-Trump conservatives like Bill Kristol, founder and editor of the now-cratered Weekly Standard. (To be fair, some conservatives justifiably objected to Trump on principled grounds of conservatism.) Rather, the most rabid anti-Trump diatribes came from the middle-of-the-road, studiously nonpartisan journalists who had covered Washington for a long time through Democrat and Republican power without ever showing their hand. They turned out to be the true Swamp Loyalists, the ones who struggled the hardest to protect the system at any cost from a monstrous disrupter like Donald Trump.
In the era of Trump—from the day of his ride down the escalator and then upward to the successful pinnacles of his presidency—no criticism was off-limits. The media openly mocked his looks, ridiculed his private business accomplishments, pilloried his family and children, and made fun of his elegant foreign-born wife—for her accent! On top of all this ridicule and hatred, there was the smug certainty that under no circumstances could Donald Trump get the Republican nomination—much less win the presidency. And once he had made mincemeat of this skepticism, the squalling crybabies in the media mob seemed more committed than ever to denigrating him as a racist moron and destroying him.
Among conservative media, Trump was mocked and ridiculed and worse. The vaunted conservative National Review magazine dedicated an entire issue to conservatives of every stripe denouncing Trump. Among the only conservative heavyweights to understand Trump and his supporters early on was radio legend Michael Savage, whose philosophy about “Borders, Language, and Culture” was a blueprint for Trump’s campaign.
THROUGH MY OWN EYES
Now, a little background. In addition to being a Fox News contributor, I write a column for the Washington Times called “Nuclear Option.” Its name is in homage to an “On Language” column written by the late conservative icon William Safire. His column appeared in 2005 in the New York Times Sunday magazine back when the Times was not afraid to allow a brilliant conservative to write for its opinion pages as well as its Sunday magazine. This particular column appeared at the height of the rancorous debate over then-president George W. Bush’s judicial nominations.
While history will never forget what Democrats did to Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh after President Trump nominated him in 2018, that was just one battle—the nastiest—in a much longer war. That war began in earnest some fifteen years earlier, after Democrats concluded that the only way to get their crazy and unpopular policies into “law” was by hijacking the federal court system and using the courts to create laws so unpopular that they would never pass in an elected body like Congress. Part of the hijacking involved systematically blocking Bush’s nominees for no reason except that the nominees did not buy in to the Democrats’ wacky brand of left-wing judicial activism.
Every week Safire’s column delved into language and how it was being used, often in the political realm. In this particular column, Safire explained the origin of the term “nuclear option,” a secret new parliamentary strategy that was being bandied about in those days as a way to blow past the Democrat minority’s filibusters against Bush’s federal court nominees.
The strategy was deemed “nuclear” because it was the option of last resort. All other possible avenues for addressing the situation had been exhausted and the filibusters remained. Pulling the trigger on that nuclear option meant total annihilation of the enemy. Maximalist damage. Ultimate ruin.
It was also referred to as the “nuclear option” because of the massive fallout that would plague the United States Senate for years and years after it had been deployed. In a decorum-bound place like the Senate, such brute, heavy-handed tactics are nearly unheard-of. But so were—at that time—the Democrat filibusters that could effectively derail judicial nominations. Ultimately, it was predicted, the “nuclear option” would burn the place to the ground.
At the time, I was a reporter covering judicial nominations for the Washington Times. It was an invigorating beat because it was then, as it is now, the place where the most high-minded political philosophy meets raw, street-level partisan politics.
One of the more appalling stories during that time was when Democrat staffers for the Senate Judiciary Committee were caught openly discussing in memos their determination to prevent President Bush from nominating Miguel Estrada—a rising legal star at the time—to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Among their reasons, they said, “he is Latino.” In the memos—which were leaked to me—staffers fretted that if Estrada made it to the federal circuit court, he would be Bush’s natural next choice for the Supreme Court.
Democrats would stop at nothing—even outright racism—to prevent Bush from getting credit for nominating the first Hispanic to the United States Supreme Court.
I wrote countless stories about the scandal. Needless to say, most in the so-called mainstream press of the day completely ignored the explosive stories. Still, I took enormous pride in plowing as much new ground as I could.
One lazy recess afternoon when most of the Senate had cleared out, I ran into Senator Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican who had been majority leader until the press hounded him from office for saying nice things about a ninety-eight-year-old colleague, Senator Strom Thurmond, the South Carolina Republican who had once run for president as a Dixiecrat.
Senator Lott was one of the great masters of parliamentary Senate intrigue. I buttonholed him and asked whether there were any fresh ideas about what Republicans might do to break the Democrat filibusters of Bush’s judicial nominees. Indeed, Lott said, there was a supersecret, highly explosive strategy for doing just that. “I’m sorry I can’t explain it right now,” he said. I badgered him lightly but all he would say about it was that it would be regarded as “nuclear.”
I worked just that much into my story and was delighted when, a few days later, William Safire reported: “Charles Hurt of the Washington Times wrote that Lott told him of a plan that might allow Republicans to confirm a judge with a simple 51-vote majority—rather than the 60 votes needed under present rules to ‘break’ a filibuster. Lott ‘declined to elaborate, warning that his idea is ‘nuclear.’”
Later in that column—a weekly feature in the New York Times Magazine about language—Safire recalled working as a staffer in the Nixon administration. Tasked with presenting the boss with a range of options for resolving a particular dilemma, staffers would couch their preferred option as the centrist one in the middle, sandwiched between feckless retreat and the all-out “nuclear option.”
“You submit a memo presenting a range of five choices: the top one amounts to Abject Surrender and the bottom one to Nuclear Strike,” Safire wrote. “In this way, the chief executive is induced to choose the one in the middle—Option 3, the most sensible, or at least most centrist, choice.”
Safire went on to recall one time when he tried the nuclear option—or Option 3—trick on President Nixon, but someone called his bluff: “I tried to get away with the Option 3 trick once with President Nixon, but his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, intercepted my decision memo and panicked me by musing, ‘Interesting you should bring up the nuclear option.’”
Indeed. Interesting someone should bring up the nuclear option.
A little background is in order to shed some light on why I see things as I do. And why in 2015 Donald Trump was in my view the perfect political answer to everything that was wrong in Washington.
For most of my life, all I ever wanted was to write for newspapers. My brother and sister and I started our first single-sheet newspaper when I was eleven years old. Put simply, I liked finding out what was going on and telling others what I found out; if it had a sting to it, all the better. In college, where I majored in political philosophy and English, I worked for daily newspapers every summer and never wanted to go back to school in the fall.
After working at a couple of newspapers in my home state of Virginia, I got a reporting job as an intern with the esteemed St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with its storied history in the Pulitzer family. Additionally, two of my favorite correspondents—Ernest Hemingway and Truman Capote—had given me a taste of the American heartland outside of the rural South and I wanted to see it for myself. Soon after, I got my first full-time newspaper job in Detroit, when the Detroit News went on strike. After six years in the Motor City, covering murder, the mob, and all manner of mayhem, I got my first job covering politics in Washington. Along with our newborn infant, my wife and I moved east ten days after September 11, 2001.
In my first days in Washington as a political reporter, following the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, it was unnerving to see Humvees parked on bridges and at every intersection. Huge military convoys circled the Pentagon and seeing them on civilian highways around a modern American city was jarring. At the same time, it was also a moment of near-total political unity. The motives and interests of an entire nation were laser focused on a barbaric common enemy that wanted to obliterate every one of us and erase our way of life.
Even as months turned to years and the Bush administration laid out plans for invading Iraq, there was a remarkably united front in Washington. Democrats joined Republicans to green-light Bush’s invasion plans. Then-senator John Edwards called Saddam Hussein a “clear and present danger” and “imminent threat.” Senator John Kerry, who would soon flip-flop and run a presidential campaign against the war, voted in 2002 to invade Iraq “to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security.” Former first lady and then-senator Hillary Clinton offered similarly stark warnings. “He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members,” she said. “It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons.”
Clearly, the political class in Washington was unified. Saddam Hussein might not have been directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but leaders in both parties were in lockstep that he and his rogue country posed a pressing and legitimate threat to the United States—a threat that could no longer be ignored in a post-9/11 world.
But humming along under the surface of this apparent unity were the same old divisions that separated those who believed in limited government and those who wanted the government to be all things to all people. Though the federal debt was less than $6 trillion at that point, all signs were pointing to the upward explosion that, in fact, came to pass.
Never in the history of the world had a more powerful and far-reaching government been assembled. Yet, increasingly, this government had grown less and less answerable to the innocent citizens. The federal bloat was such that whole departments—vast bureaucracies wasting hundreds of billions of dollars—could be eliminated without any real impact on the average taxpayer. It was maddening to behold, and it fed the national anger over a government gone berserk.
Entitlement spending back then was spiraling toward bankruptcy, although some argued there was still time to fix things before they became dire. Partisans on both sides agreed changes had to be made to ensure the long-term solvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. At least there seemed to be a mature recognition on both sides for the need to fix our grave and potentially crippling problems before they consumed us.
The first sign to me of what lay ahead was how quickly the unity behind the Iraq War crumbled. Not because things got ugly in Iraq—all war is ugly—but rather because the next election cycle was fast upon us and politicians were doing the smooth-shoe to abandon any principle that had become inconvenient. For Democrat presidential nominee John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, their commitment to the troops they had voted to send into battle lasted only until it became politically expedient for them to turn tail and run.
Think about that for a minute. Kerry and Edwards both argued for the war in Iraq. Both voted to send in brave and heroic Americans to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Not two years later, these two perverted scoundrels were running for the White House on a campaign explicitly opposed to the war in Iraq.
Republicans were not a whole lot better. They were supposed to be the “conservative” party most concerned about the fiscal viability of America’s entitlement programs. Around the edges they nibbled to make reforms. And the first chance they got to score a big victory before the next election, Republicans introduced and passed the largest expansion ever of any American entitlement program, known as Medicare Part D.
Meanwhile, federal debt under the supposedly conservative Bush administration climbed from less than $6 trillion to above $10 trillion.
Then came eight years under President Obama, the insufferable merchant of false hope. He had run a thrillingly positive campaign in 2008, then proceeded to govern like a corrupt Chicago alderman, weaponizing the IRS and the Department of Justice and politicizing everything he touched. He turned the cops into bad guys. He went to Egypt and apologized for America’s oppression of countries and their people around the world. It was simply mind-boggling to watch—and insulting to any true believers in our Constitution.
Under Obama, the Democrat Party’s embrace of “identity politics” reached a fevered pitch. Their political playbook of racial division was no longer a thing of secret memos between Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The party as a whole came to embrace out-and-out racial political warfare—and what that amounted to was the most highly synchronized display of pure racism the country has ever seen.
Meanwhile, over in the spending department, President Obama would rack up an additional $10 trillion, boosting the national debt to a whopping $21 trillion for our children and their children to grapple with.
Even as Republicans gained more and more power in the U.S. Congress during the Obama nightmare, they seemed increasingly incapable of delivering on promises. An innocent citizen would be forgiven for thinking that maybe neither side wanted to fix the big problems of our day, because if those problems got solved in a reasonable way, what issues would politicians run on? How would they possibly raise so much money?
Meanwhile, the government continued to become larger and larger—and more unwieldy, more untamable, and more indifferent to the wishes of voters. It was literally a Ponzi scheme where new recruits were desperately needed to keep the payments going to the early investors or else the whole thing would come crashing down.
Interesting that someone would mention the nuclear option.
The 2016 presidential election season dawned with two dozen Republicans clamoring for the nomination. There were conservatives and moderates and libertarians and social preachers. We had had a taste of them all—and all had disappointed.
But oddly, there was a curious element of agreement in this chaotic landscape. We had endured Democrats, conservatives, Republicans, progressives, the Tea Party, triangulators, and even the Contract with America. One thing they all seemed to agree upon was that immigration—legal as well as illegal—was just fine. Those new Americans would be the source for the needed recruits to keep the Ponzi scheme going!
- On Sale
- Jul 9, 2019
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Center Street