by Roger Kimball
For some time now, Michael Anton has been saying that the Establishment – Democrats tout court, of course, but also large swaths of the testosterone-challenged GOP – are dead set against allowing Donald Trump to run for president again. It’s been obvious from its beginnings that the January 6 committee – an illegally constituted kangaroo court – was interested in one thing and one thing only: eliminating Trump and his followers from the metabolism of American political life. The fact that its public face is Liz Cheney, a soon-to-be cashiered anti-Trump RINO, underscores Anton’s point, or part of it.
It’s not just the Democrats who cannot countenance Trump. It is the entire certified political class, what Anton calls the bureaucratic “uniparty” that runs the government and maintains the Overton Window that determines what is and what is not acceptable in the political life of the country. Donald Trump is not in the picture frame.
Another data point: just Friday, the New York Times gleefully reported that Fox News – Fox! – had also cut the former president loose. Apparently, he hasn’t appeared on the network since April. The Times noted that other mouthpieces of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire – the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, for example – had published opinion pieces harshly critical of Trump and pointedly announcing that he was unfit to run for president.
There is a certain anxiety evident in all these anti-Trump imprecations, a fact that that is made more understandable when one looks at the polls. The unhappy fact – unhappy, anyway, if you are dead set against Donald Trump being president – is that Trump is by far the most vital Republican candidate. The Republican consensus is repeating the mantra “DeSantis, DeSantis, DeSantis.” Nothing wrong with that: Ron DeSantis is a good guy, Trump without the mean tweets and other baggage that CNN dislikes. Were he the GOP candidate, I would support him avidly.
But will he be? As Newsmax reports, Trump is “crushing all potential opponents in a Republican primary,” including DeSantis. A recent Harvard-Harris poll has Trump hoovering up 56 percent of the vote in a field of seven GOP rivals. DeSantis clocks in with 16 percent. The last time I checked, 56 was a considerably bigger number than 16.
Anton’s point is that the regime is prepared to move heaven and earth to stop Trump. They would prefer to stop him from running at all. If they can’t do that, they will go to any length necessary to prevent him from winning. And if that doesn’t succeed, they will prevent him from being seated as the next president.
As I say, Anton has been singing this tune for some time now, and I have been privileged to hear some of his cadenzas on the subject. He has now gathered the various leitmotifs together into a single robust essay that was published to wide notice last week in the lively new website Compact. Titled “They Can’t Let him Back In,” Anton’s essay reads like a playbook lifted from a John Le Carré novel. If the January 6 committee fails in its appointed task to destroy Trump, Anton forecasts, there are a host of contingencies ready and waiting to complete the job.
Anton lists six or seven likely responses to a Trump candidacy, each more disturbing than the next. But what is perhaps most disturbing is his observation that this huge salient is not, or at least not primarily, about Donald Trump. At the end of the day, Anton observes, “Anti-Trump hysteria . . . is not about Trump.”
The regime can’t allow Trump to be president not because of who he is (although that grates), but because of who his followers are. That class – Angelo Codevilla’s “country class” – must not be allowed representation by candidates who might implement their preferences, which also, and above all, must not be allowed. The rubes have no legitimate standing to affect the outcome of any political process, because of who they are, but mostly because of what they want.
And what is that? Why, it’s what everyone says they want but few actually do: democracy, self-determination, the recovery of sovereignty by the people from the self-engorging bureaucracy that wrested power from the hands of the people decades ago.
The burden of Anton’s essays is twofold: first, to explain why the regime believes that “under no circumstances” can Trump be allowed near the levers of power again and, second, how it intends to prevent that unacceptable thing from happening. As a coda, Anton points out that, should the impossible happen and should Donald Trump somehow, over Liz Cheney’s most strenuous objections, actually win the presidency and be en route to taking office, the reaction would be (in the words of a George Soros-linked entity) “a street fight, not a legal battle.” And then? A conflagration would erupt that would make “make their reaction to Jan. 6 look like a marshmallow roast.”
I think all this is likely. But what I do not know, and what Anton does not speculate about, is what happens then. He is quite right that the regime has mastered the supreme rhetorical trope of blaming conservatives for fraudulent or near-fraudulent behavior that it itself perpetrates. They do the bad things. It is still our fault. “They get to engage in shenanigans that make elections look fishy; we get blamed for saying they look fishy.” Nice work if you can get it!
But they can get it. All the time. It’s their stock in trade. That is the amazing thing. “When we point out that, hey, something looks off there, the response is invariably: How dare you sow doubt about the election! You are undermining confidence in Our Democracy™. Not their shenanigans, but our doubts undermine confidence.”
Exactly. But what about our side? Anton has reviewed the likely order of battle for the regime. What about us deplorables? Do we just roll over and take it? We always have. After the deeply flawed 2020 election was called for the Man in the Basement, there was abundant grumbling. There was even the jamboree at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Liz Cheney hops up and down telling us that was an “insurrection.” We all know – even Cheney knows – it was not an insurrection. It was a spontaneous protest whose chief structure seems to have been supplied by various para-government operatives, informants, organizers, and plants. For his part, Donald Trump urged the crowd headed to the Capitol to make make their views known “peacefully and patriotically.” Determined to make the case that Trump was inciting a riot or worse, the Jan 6 committee omitted that bit from its video of the event. But the mass of citizens understands that Trump was not guilty of trying spark an “insurrection” to “overturn the election.”
The big question remains, however, what happens next time? Trump enjoys the support of tens of millions of people. How many read the New York Times or watch CNN? One way of framing the question I have no answer for is this: Is there a line in the sand that, if crossed by the regime, would galvanize the deplorables into open revolt? What if, the next time a presidential election was curated by George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Democratic National Committee, a few million of them began acting like Black Lives Matter protestors during the summer of 2020? What then?
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Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine’s Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art’s Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).
Photo “Donald Trump” by Trump White House Archived.