Unsolicited advice to moderate Republicans (yes I see you)

Trump will lose, probably in ignominious fashion. You don’t want any part of that.

It’s shocking but true that I have Republican friends. Some are mainline conservatives, pro-life, or otherwise drawn to a Republican social policy agenda. Others are close to the Republican Party on Israel, or are socially liberal but conservative or libertarian on economic policy. I feel badly for them. They are good people, now stuck with Trump as their party’s standard-bearer.

To them and others, an offering of unsolicited advice, read for you below.

(There is also a cheesy iPhone video here).

Most of your party will coalesce around Donald Trump. That’s an epic mistake. Trump will lose, probably quite badly. You don’t want any part of that. For any number of reasons and causes, Trump may also leave this experience in some personal disgrace. I have no idea whether this will happen because of some racial code-words, some sexist comment, maybe disparaging the disabled, or some financial or tax thing. I think disgrace will come.

Even if no (further) disqualifying scandal emerges,this is a defining moment. People who publicly back Trump will be in the predicament that some conservatives found themselves in after they defended segregation and Joe McCarthy, and that some on the left found themselves in when they acted as apologists for various excesses committed under Communism.

These mistakes dogged politicians and public figures throughout their careers. They sometimes dogged people’s personal lives and reputations, too. You don’t want to be that dad explaining your election-season pro-Trump 2016 Facebook entries to your daughters five years later. Trust me on this one.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

31 thoughts on “Unsolicited advice to moderate Republicans (yes I see you)”

  1. You've no less a problem, when your party is going to nominate a felon. In fact, your problem may be deeper, thanks to the depth of your denial about it.

      1. Nope. Right out of several dictionaries: A "felon" is anyone who has committed a felony.

        It isn't the conviction that makes you a felon, it's the commission.

        1. A divergence from the main point, and from the open question of what, if anything, Mrs. Clinton is guilty of…

          It bothers me a lot when I discover what I think of as a serious downturn in our language. Yes, I know that English is a living language, and is constantly changing to reflect modern usage. But Brett is absolutely correct in asserting that at least several respectable dictionaries define "felon" as he has stated. I can't shout "fire" in a crowded auditorium if there is no fire just because I suspect there might be a fire. But apparently I can label a person "felon" in a political discussion, simply because I suspect the person might have committed a felony.

          Think of the hierarchy of certitude:
          (a) XYZ was convicted of a felony.
          (b) XYZ was indicted for a felony by a grand jury, but accepted a plea to a lesser included charge in order to avoid trial for the felony.
          (c) XYZ has been indicted for a felony by the grand jury, but the trial has not yet been held.
          (d) XYZ has been presented for indictment by the prosecution, but the grand jury has not yet returned an indictment.
          (e) XYZ is under arrest for a felony, but has not yet been presented for indictment.

          Where should the word "felon" be appropriate? A, for sure. B, perhaps. C, probably not; it's a "rush to judgment." D or E? Not in my usage of our language, that's for sure.

          Now we have a new one. XYZ has been accused of a felony, or perhaps more than one. Not accused by the police, nor by a prosecutor, but by some rivals. After the expenditure of thousands of man-hours of expensive high-powered investigator time, no charges have been brought. But it's OK to call XYZ a felon, simply because somebody said so.

          And why is that? Because somebody said it's so. That's a peculiar twist in the epistemology I learned from the Jesuits.

          1. The interesting thing here is that Brett has managed to talk himself into a position where he can't lose, at least in his own mind. If Clinton is not indicted, after all, that merely proves his contention that the DOJ will cover up the crime.

            That's standard conspiracy theory stuff of course. The lack of evidence just proves how powerful the conspiracy is.

          2. Since language is my field, I'll jump in here and point out that–as your comment suggests–three very important words at the beginning of that definition have been ignored: "Law." That is, the definition "one who has committed felony" (that one's from the OED, but as Brett notes, they all say pretty much the same thing) is a technical term and as such is defined in law, and, in law, it is the conviction that makes the felon.

            So yes to your (a), but none of the others allows the use of the term in its legal sense. Of course, there is an archaic sense of the word meaning 'a wicked person.' And one can use the term loosely as in the definition in your penultimate paragraph: "because somebody said so" or "because I think this person did something that should count as a felony." But one should in that case be aware both that one cannot call the dictionary as a friendly witness, and that no one else is obliged to agree with one's use of the label.

          3. I disagree that B should perhaps be called a felon. Prosecutors routinely overcharge in order to frighten defendants into pleading guilty to a lesser charge, whether or not they are guilty even of the lesser charge. The fact that a grand jury, which would proverbially indict a ham sandwich, goes along with the prosecutor hardly changes this.

            Brett might try "criminal" rather than "felon," because, although "criminal," like "felon," is a legal term (it means one who commits a crime, which the law defines as a felony or a misdemeanor), it is used more loosely–less legalistically–than is "felon." We all know that Bush and Cheney, for example, are criminals for authorizing torture, but we should not call them "felons" unless they are convicted of their crimes.

          4. In a properly operating legal system, uncorrupted, where only legal considerations played a role in deciding whether to investigate and prosecute, that would indeed be the hierarchy of certitude.

            But it can't be, where the contention is that the legal system itself has been corrupted, and political considerations are driving the decision whether or not to prosecute. When you can't assume that the legal system is honestly evaluating the evidence, you can't take the legal system's own decisions as a proxy for the strength of the evidence. You must actually *look at the evidence*.

            The evidence says that Hillary has committed felonies. That Lynch reliably won't prosecute important Democrats does not make the evidence go away.

            Anyway, I find it somewhat amusing that Harold posted this essay, premised on Trump's inevitable defeat, on the very day that Trump overtook Clinton in the average of polls. I've no idea who's going to win the general election, and anybody who's confident about that at this point is just delusional.

          5. OK, let's assume Trump wins.

            The disaster that would ensue would be so great that anyone who supported him would be in just the predicament Harold describes, maybe worse. Remember how many Bush supporters were jumping ship late in his Administration? Multiply by ten for the Trump Administration.

          6. Maybe. Maybe not. My own crystal ball is on the fritz. It could go either way, the man is clearly competent, even if you don't like his manner. But screwing up is easier than not.

            I didn't write to assert that Trump is going to be a great President. Just to challenge the usual "Republicans' sh*t stinks!" narrative, where some problem Republicans might have is pointed to, without any awareness Democrats have it, too.

            Look, guys, Hillary has huge problems as a candidate, even if you're committed to dismissing them all as bogus smears. You have to be aware of that on SOME level. It's not an accident that she's having trouble fighting off a challenge from somebody's geriatric crazy uncle.

          7. I have no doubt Trump is mentally competent by legal standards. Whether he is actually the super-competent businessman he claims to be is open to serious question. We really have a dearth of data on his actual performance.

            Besides, I don't think that such competence is anything like a sufficient condition for a successful President. Being good at figuring out real estate deals is not the same thing as being good at figuring out the issues a President has to deal with.

            As for Hillary, actually I agree that she is not a great candidate. Sometimes I think, "Martha Coakley." But that has nothing to do with whether she is a criminal. I think even you will concede that there has been an awful lot of wolf-crying by the GOP on the subject of her integrity. How many Benghazi hearings have there been now? So there is strong tendency to describe it all as noise.

            As for the current foofraw, I haven't seen the evidence any more than, as Ken Rhodes says, you have. What I read is that her email practices did not differ much from those of her predecessors, and that the classified material she allegedly mishandled in this way was not classified at the time she had it on her private email. If that sounds to you like a good basis for an indictment then I am very glad you are not a federal prosecutor.

          8. By the way, Brett, I note that your guy Trump has now resurrected the Vince Foster murder theory, as has WND. Still wonder why some of us view right-wing attacks on Clinton as not wholly sane?

          9. I did notice. It seems she mishandled some email and may have violated some rules in so doing. It's not entirely clear.

            Were you a Romney supporter in 2012? Were you worried about his (possible) tax evasion pre-2009?

          10. Yes, the sort of rules it's criminal to violate. And , no, it's pretty clear. Oh, and remember when she said she was cooperating in the investigation? Lied about that.

            I found Romney rather revolting, personally.

  2. I remain unwilling to agree with the statement that "Trump will lose, probably quite badly." He might. He might not.

    I'm pretty confident Clinton's email "scandal" is mostly smoke with no fire, but as Mr. Bellmore so loves to point out at every possible opportunity, there are plenty of people in the right-leaning security community who are itching to make political hay of it, and I assume most of us remember the degree to which the false claims of the self-proclaimed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth damaged Kerry, so there's no saying that a similar tactic adopted by partisan security "experts" applied to the emails wouldn't damage Clinton.

    I also observe with increasing alarm that Jeff Weaver seems to have convinced Sanders to contest the convention, despite the hypocrisy of a "people's" candidate who has made a great deal of hay arguing against the anti-democratic properties of closed primaries trying to secure the nomination using the anti-democratic superdelegate mechanism. I am certain that if the Republican candidate were anyone other than Trump, almost none of the people who still support Sanders this late in the campaign would be voting for Clinton in the fall. I suspect that a non-trivial number are going to be unwilling to vote for Clinton regardless. I know for a fact that most of the progressives I know in non-swing states are planning to write in Sanders or vote Stein.

    I guess my point is that although the fundamentals favor Clinton in almost every way, the fundamentals don't always determine election outcomes, and encouraging talk that she will crush Trump may make it easier for people who don't like her to feel comfortable staying home or voting Stein, which will in turn benefit Trump.

    1. Kerry was unprepared for swiftboating. The Clintons have been the object of far-right hatred and smears for 30 years. They dealt with it before, are dealing with it now, and will still be dealing with at the end of Hillary's second term.

      1. I agree… to some extent. But I also live in a swing state, in a conservative-leaning area where there are yard signs that say "Hillary for Prison 2016," and that's without a full-on general election smear campaign media blitz underway, so I do feel like it really is a weakness of her campaign. My broader point is that I'm not sure the "Hillary can't lose" narrative is true, for a variety of reasons, of which that is only one. I believe she will win. The worst case scenario outcomes for a hypothetical Trump presidency are downright apocalyptic, and I think a sufficient number of people will realize that. But I think we are a long way away from being able to safely declare an inevitable Clinton landslide.

  3. I wish the examples supported the argument better. The link at "some conservatives. . ." in the penultimate paragraph takes us to a 1954 New York Times article on two McCarthy supporters, William F. Buckley and Brent Bozell, both of whom did rather well for themselves in the conservative movement. Bozell remains sufficiently influential to have been allowed a rare "open letter" at Breitbart. (He was arguing against supporting Trump for being at heart too liberal.)

    1. Look at Adam Serwer's piece (linked), on National Review and Segregation.

      1. I did, but it's altogether possible I've missed the point of this particular example. If so, I'm glad to be corrected. As I read it, the Serwer piece is someone on the liberal end of the scale pointing out to the NR that its history is one of support for segregation, sometimes overt, sometimes less so. But neither the NR nor Buckley found that a disadvantage, as far as I know, and if either the man or the magazine ever took back their overt support for segregation (and for the claim that whites are superior), I'm unaware of it. Buckley made quite a nice living off his positions and was lionized in circles which would (as far as I know–those circles are too exalted for me) never have admitted the plebeian George Wallace.

        The point of the post is clear, and I'm mostly in agreement with it, but it's this particular example I don't quite get.

        ETA: their segregationist stance didn't seem to hurt them among the people they care about.

  4. I would go farther than Harold — moderate Republicans and for that matter anyone who loves their country should not associate themselves with Trump whether he loses or wins.

      1. A fine piece. One quibble: Franco was not an "unstable authoritarian nationalist", but the epitome of personal and institutional stability. He froze Spain in an authoritarian order that only ended with his death in bed.

  5. Republicans who stand with Israel have a problem these days because Netanyahu seems to be taking a Trump-like position re the Israeli soldier who summarily executed the disabled Palestinian attacker. Call it fascism or something else, but police-state authoritarianism will be the dominant policy of a Trump administration. In the NRA endorsement he now has his armed true believers. They can cheer him as he calls for "no more gun free zones" in a gun free zone. Supporters of Mr. Trump should consider the rubble of 1945 Berlin, and the cinder of Hiroshima. Mrs. Clinton is an unfortunate alternative choice. She is, however, not a felon. To achieve such status she will have to stand in line behind George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. I'm not holding my breath there.

    1. Gotta point out to you, in case you haven't been following the news: It's not the right that's been deploying mob violence in politics this year. It's the left. Why do you expect police state authoritarianism out of the people the brownshirts are attacking, rather than the side the brownshirts are working for?

      Projection, I guess.

  6. Two guys walk into a bar and proceed to get roaring drunk. Are they problem drinkers? Who can tell? Then one guy tells the other that he has a drinking problem, and the mystery is solved. The speaker is a hypocrite and the other guy is sober as a judge and healthy as a horse. I hope cancer researchers are researching the efficacy of having smokers tell other smokers that they're at risk of getting lung cancer. Much cheaper than chemo, and less debilitating too.

    But really, I'm not sure that in the drinking analogy the (presumably fatal) missing component is that the speaker is implying that he doesn't have a problem. I didn't even see that until you pointed it out – I just saw two problem drinkers. The other guy is objectively drinking too much. Whatever comfort he derives from pointing out his accuser's hypocrisy would seem to pale beside the damage he's doing to himself.

    It works even worse when applied to Pollack's post and Hillary's character flaws. Because she's been in public life, and hated by a significant number of people, for a very long time, she's been the subject of more negative stories in the liberal press (not to mention the conservative press and talk radio), ranging from totally legit to thoroughly bogus, than anyone else in the same time period. I can't speak for Pollack, but as for me and a whole lot of other liberals, we recognize her flaws, and are voting for her in spite of them, not because of them.

    Trump's supporters, however, generally support him because of his flaws ("flaws" in the view of a large number of decent people, liberal and conservative alike), not in spite of them. In fact, in Trump's case, the only thing he has demonstrated so far are flaws. We have no idea what policies he'd pursue; his promise is that he'll bring in the best people and he and they will craft "beautiful" policies, to be determined. As for negotiating with foreign leaders, he has not promised to do to them what he did to his primary opponents, mostly belittling and mocking them, and lying without compunction. Instead, he says that his books and constant self-affirmations prove he's the toughest and best negotiator ever. He didn't use these skills in the primaries because that's not how you win an elimination contest like a primary or reality show. But we know he has them to use in negotiations because he's said over and over that he does. The only thing Trump demonstrated in the primaries, in gaudier terms than any other major party nominee in history, is that he has no moral scruples. Like I said, a feature to some, a bug to others.

    If Hillary does get indicted, I don't know yet what I'll do, but I surely won't for Trump. And if Hillary escapes a reckoning, but Trump is indicted or found liable in a civil suit over Trump University (or found to use Bill Cosby's connection to procure a lot of Quaaludes for nefarious purposes), I wouldn't expect you to vote for Hillary.

  7. To be quite fair to Trump, Ms. Lane does not now hold the swimsuit episode against him: they later had a relationship, and it ended amicably. Nobody is a complete s*it all the time to everybody, and some women are attracted to thuggish alpha males, for a while. There is quite enough undeniable evidence of Trump's oafish lack of respect for women.

    Note that nobody has shown up in comments to defend Trump's character and record (except, unwillingly. me). The best our in-house conservative can do is claim that Hillary Clinton is worse, on the gauziest of evidence. We will see a lot more of this false equivalence.

    I've already posted my predictions. FWIW, I think a fadeaway to irrelevance late in the campaign is more likely than a spectacular implosion. The Kochs and Wall Street are reported to have already written Trump's chances off and putting all their money into protecting the GOP majorities in Congress. I doubt if this will work completely.

  8. Brett–You wrote that I've claimed the person is "categorically innocent" because that person was not found guilty. I looked back at what I wrote, and I couldn't find that. What I wrote is this: There are degrees of certitude, and we have a standard for when we get to label somebody as a criminal. When we have a conviction, I've stipulated that justifies the label. When we have an indictment, and the person cops to a lesser plea to avoid a trial, I've stipulated that it might be reasonable to call the person a criminal. Below that, I've proposed that it's premature (and unjust) to lable the person as a criminal, pending further discovery.

    You have written that, lacking confidence in the authorities, you must actually *look at the evidence* yourself. (Emphasis is yours.) So I wonder how you got to look at the evidence. I believe you haven't seen any evidence. Rather, I believe you've seen reports of someone else claiming to know the evidence. That's a standard that's subject to review.

    So as regards your statement that a candidate is a felon, what we have is this:

    From God's lips to your ears is an absolute knowledge of truth, insofar as your faith in God, and in the presumption that it was God's voice you were hearing, is absolute. In that case, a claim of knowledge would be subject to the second person's faith in your veracity. But you haven't even claimed your knowledge is based on God's whispering in your ear, just some "evidence in the public record."

    And you haven't addressed how we are to judge the alleged "evidence" in light of the failure of the Republicans in Congress, in spite of holding a majority in both houses and a majority (and the chairmanship) of every committee, and in spite of expenditure of a major amount of high-powered manhours, and a waste of a major amount of investigatorial funds, to come up with anything they could take any action on.

    So your claim of having made your determination based on evidence you've actually looked at (your words, not mine) is taken with a grain of salt.

  9. If Hillary can get the felon vote, using Brett's definition, then that covers the overwhelming majority of Americans. Certainly she'd get Trump's vote.

  10. Harold, it's likely that 90% of the GOP will support Trump, and an electoral catastrophe a la Goldwater would not bother them (hint – any more than in '64). And we've seen that no matter how badly the GOP f*cks up the contry and the world, Republicans will be Republicans.

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