Trump is ‘worse than ex­pected’

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ROBERT PHILPOT Amer­ica’s lead­ing con­ser­va­tive magazine.

RON­ALD REA­GAN fa­mously called it the 11th com­mand­ment: “Thou shall not speak ill of any fel­low Repub­li­can.” But, for the Jewish con­ser­va­tives who were at the heart of the “Never Trump” move­ment – those Repub­li­cans who vowed not to sup­port their party’s can­di­date in last Novem­ber’s elec­tion – it was a com­mand­ment they could not keep.

Two months after Don­ald Trump took the oath of of­fice, few are show­ing signs of sec­ond thoughts.

Per­haps the most high-pro­file and vo­cif­er­ous of the Repub­li­can Jewish rebels last year was

Bill Kris­tol, the son of Irv­ing Kris­tol, the so-called “God­fa­ther of neo­con­ser­vatism”. After serv­ing as then vice pres­i­dent Dan Quayle’s chief of staff, Mr Kris­tol went on to found and edit The Weekly

Stan­dard, “Not men­tally healthy”: Trump The driv­ing-force be­hind the bid to per­suade a third-party con­ser­va­tive to en­ter the race against Mr Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton, Mr Kris­tol was fa­mously la­belled a “rene­gade Jew” by Bre­it­bart News, the web­site for­merly run by Steve Ban­non, the pres­i­dent’s chief strate­gist.

Barely 48 hours after Mr Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Mr Kris­tol tweeted sim­ply: “Je ne re­grette rien.” That may be his gen­tlest com­ment thus far on the 45th pres­i­dent. With the ex­cep­tion of the nom­i­na­tion of Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court, Mr Kris­tol sug­gested one month into Mr Trump’s ten­ure at the White House, “it’s worse than I ex­pected”. His dis­like of the pres­i­dent re­flects the tenor of the crit­i­cisms lev­elled by other Jewish con­ser­va­tives over the past year. Dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, it was Mr Trump’s pop­ulism and his seem­ing dis­re­spect for the con­sti­tu­tion and the rule of law, rather than wor­ries about his electabil­ity, which was at the heart of their con­cerns. In of­fice, they feel the pres­i­dent’s lan­guage and ac­tions have vin­di­cated their stance. “Trump is a dem­a­gogue [and] dem­a­gogues are dan­ger­ous,” Mr Kris­tol warned soon after the in­au­gu­ra­tion. The pres­i­dent’s at­tack last month on the me­dia as the “enemy of the peo­ple” ex­em­pli­fied the prob­lem. It was not, Mr Kris­tol ar­gued, “some­thing one ex­pects in nor­mal US or lib­eral demo­cratic dis­course”.

David Frum, a fel­low con­ser­va­tive who worked as a speech­writer for Ge­orge W Bush, shares sim­i­lar fears. His cover story in this month’s At­lantic magazine paints a grimly re­al­is­tic pic­ture of how Amer­ica could fol­low the ex­am­ple set by Hun­gary, which has slowly slid down the path to au­toc­racy since the elec­tion of Vik­tor Or­ban in 2010. “We are liv­ing through the most dan­ger­ous chal­lenge to the free gov­ern­ment of the US that any­one alive has en­coun­tered,” Mr Frum writes. “What hap­pens in the next four years will de­pend heav­ily on whether Trump is right or wrong about how lit­tle Amer­i­cans care about their democ­racy.”

An­other Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion alumni, Eliot Co­hen, vo­cif­er­ously op­posed Mr Trump dur­ing the elec­tion but none­the­less ini­tially ar­gued that young con­ser­va­tives should cau­tiously serve in the new ad­min­is­tra­tion if asked to do so. How­ever, he swiftly changed his mind, ap­palled by the ap­point­ment of Mr Ban­non and the “ex­cus­ing and nor­mal­is­ing [of] this sin­is­ter char­ac­ter” by other con­ser­va­tives. Mr Co­hen be­lieves his fears have been more than borne out by Mr Trump’s first weeks in of­fice. “I’ve been in this town for 26 years. I have never seen any­thing like this. I gen­uinely do not think this is a men­tally healthy pres­i­dent,” he said in an in­ter­view last month.

Max Boot, a lead­ing con­ser­va­tive for­eign pol­icy ex­pert who en­dorsed Mrs Clin­ton, is keen that the fo­cus on the far-right ide­o­logue Mr Ban­non not de­tract from the pres­i­dent’s own cul­pa­bil­ity. “It’s just about im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine … Trump act­ing in a more pres­i­den­tial man­ner, be­cause he’s been the same ob­nox­ious bully for the past 70 years,” Mr Boot wrote of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s chaotic start.

Amid the myr­iad ex­am­ples of that chaos, one is il­lus­tra­tive. El­liot Abrams, a vet­eran of the Rea­gan and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions, had been widely tipped to be­come Rex Tiller­son’s deputy at the State De­part­ment. De­spite his pre­vi­ous well-doc­u­mented op­po­si­tion to Mr Trump, his Oval Of­fice in­ter­view with the pres­i­dent for the post passed off well. He was, though, sub­se­quently re­jected when Trump was made aware – re­port­edly by Mr Ban­non – of Mr Abrams’ past crit­i­cisms. For Mr Trump, in vic­tory there is no hint of mag­na­nim­ity.

Wil­liam Kris­tol Eliot Co­hen Elliott Abrams David Frum


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