Time magazine’s new cover, showing Donald Trump’s yellowish hair on fire in a cartoonish blaze, symbolizes how the media view the president as a hot mess.
But some of the president’s fiercest critics on the right are starting to recognize how their side’s animosity is burning out of control.
The relentless negativity of the #NeverTrumpers actually helps him by making his detractors seem obsessed and unwilling to credit him for just about anything. They give the president a big target, one that is widely distrusted by his base. And they can seem incredibly condescending toward the man in the White House.
This is not just an extension of liberal bias. Many in the #NeverTrump movement are on the right, having tried to block him from winning the Republican nomination and now convinced that he is damaging their movement.
David Brooks, the moderately conservative New York Times columnist, has been extremely harsh toward the president, likening him to a small child and generally rendering him as unfit for office. But in a bit of a reassessment, Brooks now says the critics have gone too far.
People who meet with the president, he says, are often surprised to find “that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by …
“The White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.”
In other words, for all the sound and fury, the president is doing a reasonably good job.
But the anti-Trump movement—of which Brooks is a “proud member”—”seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information” and views Trump as “a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.”
In perhaps the unkindest cut, Brooks says “the anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.”
That last point buttresses something I’ve been saying for a long time, that some of the opposition to the 45th president is not just ideological, not just stylistic, but cultural in nature. And those who suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome, just like those who suffered from Obama Derangement Syndrome, may be deluded into thinking the whole world agrees with them.
Another #NeverTrumper, Bret Stephens, who joined the Times from the Wall Street Journal, hasn’t softened his view of the president. But he does allow that “if the anti-Trump movement has a crippling defect, it’s smugness … We’re the moral scolds who struggle to acknowledge the skeletons in our own closet, the smart people whose forecasts keep proving wrong. We said Trump couldn’t win. That the stock market would never recover from his election. That he would blow up NATO. That the Middle East would erupt in violence when Jerusalem was recognized as Israel’s capital.
“The catastrophes haven’t happened, and maybe that’s just a matter of luck. But by constantly predicting doom and painting the White House in the darkest colors, anti-Trumpers have only helped the president. We have set an almost impossibly high bar for Trumpian failure.”
It may well be that the Trump-bashing crowd lowers expectations to the point where the president can look good simply by presiding over, say, a substantive negotiating session on immigration.
But if some of the movement’s own commentators are seeing its members as smug and insular, it suggests that the fire over the Trump presidency may be consuming them instead.