Hugh Hewitt occupies a rare place in the media ecosystem. The white-haired, genial talk-radio host who used to host a show on MSNBC, was the subject of a somewhat flattering 2005 New Yorker profile, and still writes a column for the Washington Post, and at least purports to engage with audiences outside the right-wing alternative-information ecosystem. Yet unlike the vast majority of conservative pundits in the mainstream media, he has not turned on Donald Trump. He has lavished the president with almost unbroken loyalty, even as he attempts to maintain his veneer of intellectualism.
Hewitt has written a case (he calls it “the case”) for Trump’s reelection. If it were possible to fashion a coherent, fact-based argument for Trump’s reelection, Hewitt — by dint of his unique role — would probably be its author. Instead, he has written a column that persuasively negates the very possibility that a coherent pro-Trump argument can or could be made.
Its most remarkable aspect is its complete refusal to address the evidence of Trump’s misconduct and incompetence. You might think a self-styled definitive case for Trump’s reelection might at least pause to rebut the fact that, say, the special counsel described his extensive criminal behavior and the House impeached him for abusing his power. Of course, the list of Trump’s crimes is so extensive, Hewitt couldn’t be expected to refute all of it in such a small space. No, what’s amazing is that, by confining himself to the positive case for Trump while ignoring the negative, Hewitt runs out of things to say. And so even his brief 800-word summary is heavily padded.
This masterpiece of anti-persuasion rewards careful study. I have reprinted every word of it below, interspersed with my comments.
President Trump’s record of accomplishments is easy to compile.
Most significantly, he has brought the existential threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party into the sunlight. No more nice words. No more treating the Tiananmen Square massacre as a bug, not a feature. The light is on. Trump has pulled the cord.
It is astonishing that Hewitt begins his case by praising Trump for his moral clarity in denouncing the Chinese government. Trump of course has lavished dictators with praise, including, repeatedly, China. Of course every American president has had to deal with foreign dictators, but Trump has exceeded all of them in his habit of praising those dictators for (not despite) their authoritarianism. Trump congratulated Xi Jinping for extending his tenure (“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great”) and dismissing his overbearing control of protests in Hong Kong as a matter “between Hong Kong and China.”
Trump is the only president, and the only prominent American I can think of, who actually praised China’s crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests. (“They put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength,” he cooed in 1990.) The fact that, while unspooling his imaginary history of Trump as clear-eyed opponent of dictatorship, Hewitt goes out of his way to bring up Tiananmen almost suggests a guilty conscience he cannot fully repress.
With huge help from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Trump has put two justices on the Supreme Court, 53 judges on the federal courts of appeals, 144 and counting on the District courts, and more than 20 on the specialty courts. The Constitution has been buttressed.
Right, every president whose party controls the Senate can fill judicial vacancies. I wrote an entire book about President Obama’s accomplishments and didn’t bother citing his two Supreme Court justices and dozens of federal court appointees, because that is a pro forma function.
Trump’s tax cuts, along with the massive deregulation he orchestrated, led to 3.5 percent unemployment until the regime in Beijing acted with criminal recklessness toward a virus that has devastated the world.
Here is a fascinating line. The first part claims that Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation produced low unemployment. Yet he provides no evidence for this link. Trump made several specific falsifiable predictions for the effects of his tax cut. He said the tax cuts would lead to “4, 5, and maybe even 6 percent” growth. Instead the economy grew at the same level as it did in Barack Obama’s last few years. His administration predicted higher levels of corporate investment and corporate tax revenue, but the tax cut did not increase business investment, and corporate tax revenue plummeted.
The second part of the sentence notes, as an aside, the existence of a pandemic. His treatment of the catastrophe follows Trump’s method of blaming the whole thing on China. Note that Hewitt gives Trump full credit for an economic recovery he inherited, while absolving him of blame for a pandemic that broke out on his watch, despite extensive evidence that he mishandled it.
Indeed, rather than mount any active defense of Trump’s response to the virus, Hewitt treats the fact that it originated in China as if this relieves Trump of any obligation to act on his own. Imagine Franklin Roosevelt had denied Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and refused to mobilize a response, and was running in 1944 on a platform of “the economy was good before Axis aggression allowed them to seize control of the coastal states.”
Economic recovery depends on those rule rollbacks, and not just grotesque overreaches such as the Clean Power Plan and “Waters of the United States” rule, but on hundreds of other intrusions into the private businesses and onto the private property of Americans.
Nearly all economists believe economic recovery depends on containing the pandemic that has shut down schools and huge amounts of economic activity, rather than allowing firms to increase their pollution.
Trump took a military operating in President Barack Obama’s last years at about $600 billion and moved that budget by his third year to $738 billion, with more in the budget coming soon. The Navy necessary to meet China on the high seas, all 355 ships of it, is being planned and built.
This passage requires a brief explanation for the uninitiated. Hewitt is obsessed with a 355 ship Navy. I have never seen another conservative mention this goal, but Hewitt presents it as the key to securing American global hegemony and punctuates his columns with pleas to Republicans to take this objective seriously.
Until quite recently, Hewitt was despairing that the Navy was ignoring him. (“There is still — 40 months into his presidency — no plan for the 355-ship fleet Trump called for in 2017,” he wrote in mid-June.) Now that it’s time for his endorsement, he has decided the 355 ships is in the works, though if Trump wins he will probably return to his posture of pleading with them to make it happen.
As flotilla-based rationales for Trump go, allegedly building 355 ships is probably more persuasive than “There has NEVER been a boat parade for Joe Biden!” But it is still awfully weird.
Trump tore up the so-called Iran nuclear deal, which was a tower of absurd hopes built on a policy of appeasement and a foundation of hostility to Israel.
Iran is now resuming its nuclear program.
Trump handed the complex Israel-Palestine negotiations to his unqualified personal attorney and even less-qualified son-in-law, in the apparent belief that being Jewish is not only a necessary but a sufficient credential for conducting Middle East diplomacy. Neither has advanced negotiations or even halted Israel from expanding settlements and making peace impossible.
Trump took the United States out of the unbalanced, absurd, doomed-to-fail Paris Climate Agreement and has instead focused on and delivered American energy independence. People have real job security in Pennsylvania as a result, if not in jetting off to Paris for follow-up seminars.
Trump’s denial of climate science and efforts to ramp up greenhouse-gas emissions, which in the long run may be considered one of his worst misdeeds, has not revived the coal industry, as he promised. In point of fact, Pennsylvanians do not have “real job security,” due to the massive recession Hewitt avoids mentioning.
Trump ordered Iran’s master terrorist, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, killed, accomplished the complete physical destruction of the Islamic State caliphate and successfully hunted down its terrorist chieftain, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The former was never contemplated by Obama, the latter couldn’t get done by him even though his scampering from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of Islamic State and its thousand barbarities. The Syrian butcher, Bashar al-Assad, has twice used chemical weapons and twice had cruise missiles remind him that the red line is back and is real. Russian mercenaries attacked U.S. troops in Syria and were mowed down. Not an American was killed. Those are “Trump rules of engagement.” Even Cuba is back in its box, joined there by Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro.
Assad is no longer using chemical weapons because he has wiped out his opposition, not because Trump frightened him. Russia paid Taliban troops to kill American soldiers, and Trump denied and excused it. It’s not clear what “box” Cuba and Venezuela are in or how their international behavior is supposed to have changed. Hewitt tactfully avoids any mention in his foreign policy section of Trump’s repeated attempts to tear up American alliances, which is his most distinct and consistent foreign policy goal.
At home, Trump pushed through the long-overdue justice reform legislation and the reorganization of Veterans Affairs, and, this year, the Great American Outdoors Act that fully funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Trump frequently boasts that he overhauled the VA, though he is referring to a reform that passed in 2014, and was minor enough that I also didn’t bother mentioning it in my Obama book. Trump’s even more minor “overhaul” simply continues this process. The fact that Hewitt is reduced to mentioning it in a short column indicates how desperate he is for material. It is true that he acceded to more conservation funding (which he previously proposed to slash) and a minor liberalization of criminal justice (which he is now proposing a draconian crackdown). Both of these issues seem to be more properly understood as Trump being forced to reverse his long-held positions, and are testament to his willingness to present any policy change, even one that is diametrical to his stated goals, as a win for Trump.
House Democrats passed a piffling bill when covid-19 arrived, while Trump, McConnell and Senate Republicans advanced the innovative and massive Paycheck Protection Program that kept the U.S. economy from collapsing even as it contracted by nearly 10 percent in the second quarter as the China’s principal export, covid-19, ravaged the country.
Suggesting that the House Democratic bill was “piffling,” and that Republicans successfully increased its size and scale, is bizarre. It’s also unclear why Hewitt presents the economy contracting by a tenth in a few weeks as a measure of success.
Trump’s border wall is far short of his promises, and the sections he had built — in defiance of congressional appropriations — have been routinely penetrated by smugglers. Hewitt is citing a Trump tweet about the wall as if it is a credible verification. He fails to mention Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.
Trump got his United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. From dairy farms in Wisconsin to border businesses in Arizona, the USMCA was a huge win for the United States.
USMCA was an extremely minor modification of a trade agreement Trump had publicly described as a historic disaster.
Trump doesn’t want to deport the “dreamers” and won’t, but his deals with Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala have helped stem a flow of illegal entries into the United States that Obama was helpless to halt.
The current state of the southern border is that Mexico has closed it because the United States is overrun by the coronavirus.
While establishing himself as the most accessible-to-the-media president in modern times, Trump has also stripped off the veneer of objectivity from the “fake news.” “Blue Bubble” journalists are the last to know the contempt in which they are held beyond the Acela corridor and outside Silicon Valley and Hollywood. They mistake their small audience share for success. In fact, most of America would rather watch a mystery poetry slam than their “news.” Trump hammered that home, and journalists hate him for it. In turn, Blue Check Twitter confirms the contempt that “elites” feel for more than half of America.
Having exhausted his supply of even minuscule Trump accomplishments to hype, Hewitt has to pad out the rest of his argument with a long paragraph insulting journalists, which does nothing to advance his case for Trump. He concludes by asserting that the media hate the “more than half of America” that supports Trump, who was elected by a minority and whose approval ratings have never reached 50 percent.
Trump’s brawling, slugging, tempestuous approach to everything in every hour has worn down many, but his road is marked by these accomplishments. Former vice president Joe Biden’s near-50-year run in government is marked by … well, you fill that in. Polls say Biden is far ahead. We shall see.
Hewitt decided that his case for Trump requires a brief argument against Biden. The two data points he summons are (1) Biden has a lot of experience in government and (2) has a commanding lead in the polls. Neither seems like a very good reason to oppose Biden.
There’s an aesthetic critique of Trump that has convinced elites that he must be beaten, that he is cruel and beneath the office.
Hewitt is making a euphemistic reference to the fact that numerous former Trump officials have described him as unfit for office. Those officials include John Bolton, whom Hewitt lavished with praise before turning on him after he described Trump as thoroughly corrupt and congenitally lazy. It is not an “aesthetic” critique.
But Americans want their jobs and security back.
Hewitt’s tacit admission that Americans lost their jobs and security under Trump seems counterproductive.
They like the police.
So does Joe Biden, who is proposing to increase police funding even while curtailing police abuse. Polls also show that Americans favor reforms to curtail abuse by the police, which Biden favors, while Trump, who has publicly urged police to ramp up their violence, opposes even the tiny gestures Senate Republicans tried to make.
And, yes, most of the time they mostly admire Trump’s style and, almost always, his results.
Again, polling is extremely clear that Americans admire neither Trump’s style nor his results.
The Trump era has been dominated by the president’s aberrant behavior: using his office for personal profit, smashing democratic norms, fomenting racism, binge-watching television rather than doing his job, and grossly mishandling a national emergency. Hewitt almost completely ignores these large facts to focus instead on minor ones. He has managed to prove only that Trump is indeed indefensible.