In October of 2016, James Taranto wrote in the Wall Street Journal that I was “one of the 2 or 3 most intense Never Trumpers we’ve encountered all year.” He was right. From the moment Donald Trump descended the golden escalator I hoped his shoelaces would get caught in it. My criticism of Trump was relentless and brutal. I exposed his connections to Mafia figures, I latched on to any vague allegation of racism I could find, I didn’t just want him to lose, I wanted him to lose in a landslide.
Thursday night, as I watched my president accept the nomination of the Republican Party for the second time, I fully realized how wrong I had been. This is not new for me, I’m wrong a lot. I am after all the guy who ran an article called “Anthony Scaramucci Is The Man Trump Needs” two hours before he got fired. But this was different. This time realizing I was wrong and interrogating why told me a lot about myself, my country, and what I want for both.
My virulent opposition to Donald Trump was rooted in fear. I was afraid of electing a man who had never held office to our highest office, I was afraid that the brash unfiltered way he talked would careen the country into mayhem if he won, which I assumed was impossible. I was afraid that his nomination would hand generational power to a Democratic Party I already knew was sliding into fever dreams of socialist utopias. But I think what I was most afraid of was change.
To give myself a little credit amidst this mea culpa, I did identify what Trump was politically early on. I wrote an article for City Journal asserting that Trump represented the Reform Party’s takeover of the GOP. The first election I could vote in was in 1992. I remembered Ross Perot, the protectionist, leery of immigration, warning about the great sucking sound of jobs going to Mexico. Perot won nearly 20 percent of the vote, a shocking result for a third-party candidate, but still just a fifth of the nation. I did not believe Trump could translate that 20 percent into a functioning party.
What I didn’t realize was the Reform Party ethos, born of Perot but also of culture warriors like Pat Buchanan, had come to represent so many more people than it did in 1992. I saw the Republican Party, as the party of defense, like William F. Buckley standing athwart history, my vision of the GOP was one resisting tides, not creating them. In Trump I saw a faulty seawall that would give way to a parade of progressive horribles.
I could not have been more wrong. Very quickly the president’s conservative victories started to stack up. Actual conservative Supreme Court Justices, not fair weather institutionalists like John Roberts. A US embassy in Jerusalem, and real tax cuts came into being. He actually pulled out of the disastrous Iran Deal and Paris Accord; he threatened and imposed tariffs on China, abandoning the failed neoliberal policy of appeasement, the childlike fantasy that free trade alone would transform that communist country into a liberal democracy.
Yes, I still cringed at some his remarks, and often wished he would step back from Twitter, but when I looked at the ledger of the good and bad he has done for our nation, the former flowed over. The latter was a bare empty cupboard of vague violations of norms. I came to tolerate Trump, to view him as the better of two imperfect choices. That changed Thursday night.
Thursday night the president stood in stark contrast to his opponent Joe Biden, who ran a convention based on fear of the virus, who embraces a new normal in which petty dictators like Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio control my life, a desperate old man who said he would lock me down again. No. President Trump did what he does best; he spoke to a crowd. There was joy and optimism and patriotism. Instead of fear there was pride. For me, he was no longer the lesser of two evils but a man I dearly hope will remain our president.
It is fashionable these days for former Republicans to gang up and sling dirt at Trump. This is supposed to be meaningful because supposedly they are conservatives. Well, two can play at that game. If their abandonment of Trump is meaningful then so is my embrace. And the difference? They represent a tiny, dying breed of think tank technocrats; I represent a vast constituency of Americans who have come to see the power of his leadership.
I believe that Donald Trump will win reelection, though I warn you, as I said above, I’m wrong a lot. But it doesn’t matter. Even if he should lose he has changed the GOP, he has changed conservatism, and he has changed me. We will not play defense anymore. Those of us who love America will fight for its values and ideals. I thank Donald Trump for helping me find the courage to be a part of that fight. Here’s to four more years.