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What kind of conservative will liberals tolerate?

There’s a certain kind of conservative that liberals will tolerate. First and foremost, he or she must hate Donald Trump — that’s mandatory. Then he or she must be someone who is disgusted by what the Republican Party has become. And for acceptance in liberal circles, it helps if the conservative voted for liberals (who share none of the conservative’s values) in presidential elections.

And as if to prove my point, the New York Times recently ran a column, a conversation between two disillusioned conservative columnists at the paper, Bret Stephens and David Brooks. Here’s how the column begins:

“For decades, conservative values have been central to Bret Stephens’s and David Brooks’s political beliefs, and the Republican Party was the vehicle to extend those beliefs into policy. But in recent years, both the party and a radicalized conservative movement have left them feeling alienated in various ways. Now, with an extremist fringe seemingly in control of the House, the G.O.P. bears little resemblance to the party that was once their home. Bret and David got together to suss out what happened and where the party can go.”

Stephens tells us that, “In 2016, I voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time in my life, did it again in 2020, and I think of myself as a conservative-minded independent. If I haven’t finalized my divorce from the G.O.P., we’re definitely separated and living apart.”

As for Brooks, he’s way beyond the “separated and living apart” stage. He says that, “When people ask me whether they should end a relationship they’re in, I answer them with a question: Are the embers dead? Presumably when the relationship started there was a flame of love. Is some of that warmth still there, waiting to be revived, or is it just stone-cold ash? In my relationship with the G.O.P., the embers are dead.”

I understand why Brooks and Stephens and a million other conservatives didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I understand why they think the Republican Party has gone astray. But here’s what I don’t understand: If you really do believe in conservatism, how can you vote for liberals who don’t share any of your supposed conservative values?

There’s no law that compels any of us to vote in a presidential election. I didn’t vote for president in 2016 or 2020. I didn’t vote for Trump either time, but I wouldn’t vote for a liberal Democrat, who shared very few, if any, of my political values. Yet Stephens and Brooks voted for liberals instead of sitting out the elections. 

And they’re hardly the only ones who will tolerate only a certain kind of Republican. 

According to a study just released by the conservative Media Research Center (MRC), guests on late-night comedy shows during the last five months were — with one exception — liberal. A summary of the study tells us that, “MRC analysts found that from Labor Day [2022] through Jan. 31, [2023], liberal guests outnumbered conservative guests 93 to 1. It was 99 percent liberal and/or Democrat. The one exception was My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, who Jimmy Kimmel put on to mock.”

How so? you might ask. Well, Lindell appeared on the show — wait for it — from inside a stuffed animal “claw” machine. In other words, he was allowed on as long as Kimmel could portray him as a doofus, as someone looking like a clown at a carnival show.

And over at MSNBC — the most liberal of the cable news outfits — they apparently also tolerate only a certain kind of conservative.

There’s morning host Joe Scarborough, who used to be a conservative Republican congressman; there’s afternoon host, Nicole Wallace, the White House communications director during the George W. Bush presidency; and there’s political analyst Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

What do they all have in common? They all loathe Donald Trump, in particular, and don’t have a good word for the Republican Party in general.

Back at the Times, David Brooks says that, “Trump brought the three horsemen of the apocalypse — immorality, dishonesty and bigotry. The party, complicit in all that, is dead to me.”

Brooks and Stephens are two bright guys. Their ideas aren’t crazy. But we get virtually nothing about what the Democratic Party — the party they voted for in at least two presidential elections — has become. They don’t tell us if they’re comfortable supporting a party that, in many cases, harbors beliefs and values with which no conservative would want to be associated. Or is hating Donald Trump enough for them?

There is one more kind of conservative liberals will tolerate: Dead ones. No fooling. The left detested Barry Goldwater — until he was dead. They loathed Ronald Reagan — until he was dead. And to a lot of liberals, Goldwater and Reagan — and even George W. Bush — come off as candidates for a GOP Mount Rushmore, compared to Donald Trump.

So, is it possible that someday liberals actually will tolerate a late-not-so-great Donald Trump who has gone up to the Mar-a-Lago in the sky because another Republican will come along who they find even more detestable? Not likely. While there is a certain kind of conservative liberals will tolerate — the kind that has no use for what conservatism or the Republican Party has become — Donald J. Trump is one Republican that liberals will never, ever tolerate. It’s one of those certainties, like death and taxes.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags anti-Trump Barry Goldwater Bret Stephens conservatives David Brooks Donald Trump liberals Mike Lindell political divisions Republican Party Ronald Reagan

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