11-Alarm Fire

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on November 7, 2016

11-Alarm Fire

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

11-Alarm Fire
“I’ve got Republican friends who don’t think or act the way Donald Trump does,” President Obama said Wednesday at a Raleigh rally for Hillary Clinton. That’s totally believable except the part about his having Republican friends. The president continued: “This”—meaning Trump, not Mrs. Clinton—“is somebody who is uniquely unqualified. I ran against John McCain. I ran against Mitt Romney. I thought I’d be a better president, but I never thought that the republic was at risk if they were elected.”

National Review’s Charles Cooke finds Obama’s remarks vexatious. “Democrats really have limited their ability to credibly warn against the dangers posed by Trump,” he argues, noting that Obama and his supporters treated Romney quite viciously in 2012:

Then? Romney was dangerous and represented a departure. Then? He was no John McCain, that’s for sure! Now? Pah. Romney was a gentleman. A scholar. A safe pair of hands. Sure, in 2012 Obama ran a commercial arguing that Romney wasn’t “one of us.” Sure, Obama was so worried about Romney’s being in the White House that he tried to impose restraints on the drone program that he had run without restrictions. Sure, Joe Biden said that Romney would put African Americans “back in chains.” Sure, Harry Reid accused Romney of being a tax-cheat and a scoundrel. Sure, Obama’s campaigners repeatedly claimed that if Romney were elected he would continue his dastardly spree of killing people with cancer. Sure, the Atlantic characterized Obama’s approach toward Romney as being “My Opponent Is a Dangerous Radical (with a dash of My Opponent Is a Strange Weirdo thrown in).” But in retrospect? He was fine. In fact, he was no threat at all. Chill.

If we understand Cooke correctly, he is frustrated with liberals because he largely agrees with them about Trump—note he accepts the premise about the “dangers posed” by the GOP nominee—and finds the case more difficult to make persuasively because their lack of credibility tends to discredit his argument. To put it in fabulous terms, liberals cried wolf, and now that there really is a wolf, nobody is listening to Cooke’s cries.

To judge by the Twitter exchanges we read yesterday, Cooke did not find a receptive audience on the left. Some detractors argued that Romney was a dangerous radical, which illustrates Cooke’s point without conceding it. Others claimed that the anti-Romney rhetoric then was not actually as harsh as the anti-Trump rhetoric now.

Although this column has also criticized the left (in February and September) for crying wolf, it seems to us the latter group has a bit of a point. Our (admittedly subjective) sense is that the left has been denouncing Trump more harshly than it denounced Romney. The most recent examples to cross our desk are the New York Times’s Charles Blow, who calls Trump “an existential threat,” and the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, who describes the nominee as “an open and committed enemy of liberal democracy and constitutional republicanism.”

To our mind, there is at least a difference in degree between the 2012 attacks and the 2016 ones. Whereas the volume of the Romney attacks was at 8 or 9, now they’ve cranked it up to 11. You can see why conservatives and liberals might experience that differently: Whereas the left needed expensive new equipment to get the volume boost, to the right it’s an intolerable racket either way.

Another difference between 2012 and 2016 is the role of the so-called mainstream media. There, the volume boost has gone to 11 from something more like 5 or 6. We’ve written often about that in the past but were surprised to find this in Vanity Fair of all places, from Ken Stern:

This election is different: for the first time in my memory, some of the major media organizations in this country have now abandoned all semblance of objectivity in furtherance of electing Hillary Clinton, or perhaps more accurately, in furtherance of the defeat of Donald Trump.

I recognize that this is Trump we’re talking about here, and that many voters might view his nomination as a one-time mental breakdown of the Republican Party. But let’s not be so sure. Attitude changes like these have a way of normalizing very quickly. I can easily imagine, for instance, a similar response from the mainstream media if Mike Huckabee or Ted Cruz, or some other similarly non-traditional candidate were to secure the nomination of the Republican Party for President in 2020. Having helped successfully scuttle the nomination [sic; he seems to mean the general-election campaign] of one candidate, it may be terribly tempting for our leading organizations and media outlets to seek an encore performance.

We’re not sure why Stern limits his hypothetical to a “non-traditional candidate.” We can easily imagine, say, the New York Times taking an openly adversarial approach to, say, John Kasich or Marco Rubio running in 2020 to succeed President Kaine. The move away from objectivity and toward partisanship didn’t start after Trump became a candidate. Press theorists have been bemoaning “false balance” (i.e., balance) for years, and the “fact check” genre—opinion journalism, often of low quality, with a pretense of authoritativeness—was invented more than a decade ago.

Stern’s analysis presupposes that Mrs. Clinton will win. That assumption also helps explain why liberals do not care to take Cooke’s argument seriously: If Trump loses, it makes no difference, at least in the short term, whether the left’s criticisms of him have been credible; and if their overwrought attacks on Romney and other past Republicans indirectly led to Trump’s nomination, that’s a win-win from the Democratic standpoint.

But wait. As this column revealed Tuesday, Trump could win. That’s not even a contrarian view anymore: FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, no conservative, had a post last night titled “Election Update: Why Clinton’s Position Is Worse Than Obama’s,” meaning Obama’s the week before the election in 2012:

There’s been a potential breach of Hillary Clinton’s electoral firewall. And it’s come in New Hampshire, a state that we said a couple of weeks ago could be a good indicator of a Donald Trump comeback because of its large number of swing voters. Three new polls of New Hampshire released today showed a tied race, Trump ahead by 1 percentage point and Trump up by 5. There are some qualifications here: The poll showing Trump with a 5-point lead is from American Research Group, a pollster that’s had its issues over the years. And other recent polls of New Hampshire still show a Clinton [presumably Hillary] ahead. But the race has clearly tightened in New Hampshire, with Clinton leading by only 2 to 3 percentage points in our forecast.

CNN notes there’s also a new Colorado poll showing the two nominees tied at 39%. As of early Friday afternoon, Silver gives Trump close to a 1 in 3 chance of winning. Mrs. Clinton is the favorite, but not a prohibitive one.

What if Trump wins? It’s a safe bet the media would remain adversarial, which is largely to the good; it would be refreshing to see journalists challenge those in power for a change. But here’s the more interesting question: What if he wins and he turns out not to be as bad as the liberals and Nevertrump conservatives fear?

We don’t mean to suggest a Trump presidency would be trouble-free, but his detractors have set an awfully high bar for awfulness. It is possible he would meet it—but if the world and the republic survive the administration of President Trump, it’ll be really hard to get anyone alarmed when the next wolf comes along.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.