Trump will do lasting damage to the conservative media that support him most
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In what has become a rather intriguing game of high-stakes poker, the Republican media, its augurs and pundits at large have found themselves choosing a side when it comes to the party's front-runner, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE.

On one end of the poker table sits the party's highbrows, where conservative thought is held in the highest regard, but is often not packaged sufficiently for mass consumption. This is where you'll find the likes of George Will, Charles Krauthammer and writers from the National Review, all loudly and staunchly opposed to Trump.


On the other end sits the party's most flamboyant: Those in radio and on popular blogs, whose talent for listening to and, at times, voicing the frustrations of Joe Six-Pack in Red State America has earned them millions of devoted followers and a rightful place alongside their often more scholarly counterparts as purveyors and distributors of conservative principles. This is where you'll find Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Hugh Hewitt, all firmly in favor of Trump, cheering him on as he skips debates and demeans otherwise decent people. These are the people whom the "Real Donald Trump" will ultimately damage most.

Much was made last Friday about the dust-up that the National Review caused after publishing their "Against Trump" editorial and symposium. If the move by Rich Lowry et al accomplished nothing else, it accelerated the pace at which everyone who holds conservatism dear will be forced to choose which side of the table they prefer.

And whether one believes it was a stand based on principal or simply an attempt to insert themselves into the conversation, it was a bold move nonetheless. It is indeed rare for a national publication to speak out so loudly against its own party's presumptive nominee so close to the first votes being cast.

As expected, the criticism from the flamboyant side of the table has been unending. Even Trump responded, calling the National Review "finished ... a dead magazine."

But amid all the outrage roiling in conservative circles, one question needs to be asked: What if the National Review is right?

Peggy Noonan is one of the most compelling raconteurs in political writing today. Her time crafting speeches for President Ronald Reagan translates today into beautiful, conversational prose that is equal parts informative and entertaining. Yet her many columns in recent years rebuking or calling into question the judgment of President Obama are laughable. Why?

Because in 2008, while many on the conservative side were still fighting against the ascendancy of Barack Obama, Noonan wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal essentially endorsing Barack Obama for his "good judgment."

Noonan's optimism, her desire to seek out the better angels in all of us, is admirable. But for those who hadn't bought into Obama's perceived "good judgment," or that the crease in his pants would make him a great president, the mistakes made by her and others so willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt — to allow him to be the blank canvas to which they could pin their hopes and dreams — inflicted lasting damage to those mistakenly blinded by Obama's light. It wasn't that Noonan chose to believe in him; it was that her measurement of him proved to be so wrong.

Ironically, those that were the loudest critics of Noonan during the rise of Obama are in danger of facing the same fate in this election cycle with their tacit, if not outright, support of Trump. If your sole job is to persuade millions that the front-runner's Republican bona fides are legitimate, you damn well better be right.

Trump's loud, boisterous yet vacuous promises of "doing great things" hide the expansion of an already bloated government and the narcissism-fueled authoritarian control necessary for him to do any of those things, great or otherwise. His malleable position on virtually every issue of importance to conservatives; his frightening ignorance regarding the Constitution and the separation of powers; his stated, unintelligible priority among the three legs of the nuclear triad — "I think, for me, nuclear is just the power, the devastation is very important to me" — should raise red flags everywhere, on both sides of the Republican's poker table. But they don't. And the loudest voices on the right so vital to calling out those hidden dangers are now, just like Noonan was eight years ago, blinded by a charlatan's light.

Months from now, when Trump's progressive leanings are exposed, the millions that listened to the party's flamboyant will realize that the emperor has no clothes. And then there will be a reckoning.

Trump will be fine because he'll just explain to everyone that we were too stupid to not know he was a snake all along. The mess will be left to Rush Limbaugh, Hannity and the others who so delighted in Trump's self-indulgent ways, to clean up. Their reputations will suffer. Taking them seriously again will be a tall order. And when they fall asleep at night, they'll be left to wonder why they couldn't see through the empty promises they'd built their careers warning against.

They'll wonder why they fell for, and passed on as kosher, such a lousy bill of goods sold to them and their followers by the greatest salesman in the world. They'll wonder why they got lost in a tin-eared echo chamber, where their positive opinions of the man hardened; they'll wonder why they couldn't recognize another blank canvas who's not the one they'd been waiting for after all.

Hale is a freelance writer who lives in San Antonio with his wife and three children.