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What Does It Mean to be a "Supporter" of a Candidate?
Also: The Bulwark is right-wing garbage.
No Triad on Monday—have a great Memorial Day weekend. And please read Will Selber’s magnificent, heartrending piece in which he remembers some of his comrades.
Warning: Today’s edition is fairly self-indulgent. I hope you’ll forgive me. Share it if it moves you. And then go outside and enjoy the long weekend, friends.
1. Lie For Me
There’s lots of discussion about “supporting” Candidate X versus Candidate Y this week and it’s worth unpacking what people mean by that word.
How do you “support” a candidate? You vote for him or her. That’s it. That’s supporting them.
You could also give them money, I guess. Or work for his/her campaign. But those are the only ways a person can actually support a candidate.
But on the internet that’s not really what people mean, is it?
Check out this story in which Ron DeSantis’s press spokeswoman got rekt by a Twitter rando:
Christina Pushaw, a top adviser to Ron DeSantis, argued with a 16-year-old Trump supporter about botox and Ukraine on Twitter just one day after the Florida governor launched his campaign for the presidency.
The argument started on Thursday after “GOP Josh” — a 16-year-old supporter of former President Donald Trump — asked Pushaw, “How much of the $1M DeStablishment raised yesterday will go towards your Botox?”
Who is “GOP Josh”? Umm, he’s this kid?
Man, I would love to meet the people who get their political analysis from 16-year-olds. But don’t dunk on GOP Josh because he is, at the end of the day, a kid.
What I want to focus on is that GOP Josh is identified as a “supporter” of Donald Trump.
What does that mean?
GOP Josh did not vote for Trump in 2016 or 2020, though he might vote for Trump in 2024, depending on when his birthday falls. And it is not legal for minors to make political contributions, so he hasn’t given Trump money.
GOP Josh isn’t a “supporter” in the traditional sense. He’s a fanboy.
And here’s where we get to the distinction between real-world “support” and “internet support.”
You can vote for a candidate, or give money to a candidate, and still make objective judgments about the candidate. When the candidate does something unwise or harmful, you can say so. If the candidate is doing badly, you can admit it. Because being honest about the candidate does not diminish your support—Sen. Smith is getting your vote and so it’s okay to acknowledge that Sen. Smith is in trouble in the polls, or that Sen. Smith’s statement on the Widget Act is dumb/wrong/whatever.
But with “internet support” it’s different. If you’re an internet supporter, then the nature of your contribution is your public performance. You are there to rep the brand. Sometimes that means highlighting good stuff for your candidate—“The Iowa numbers show that he’s crushing it!” Or: “Our guy just passed a bill to help veterans who got sick from burn pits.”
But most of the time, being an internet supporter means running cover for your team. It means minimizing mistakes, or positing alternative facts to explain away problems. Not to put too find a point on it: Being an internet supporter means conducting yourself as if you were a paid employee of the candidate.
Because if you don’t—if you concede that he or she did something bad—then it diminishes the fundamental nature of your support, which is not a vote, but a posture.
I reject this view. Utterly and completely.
You’re probably as tired of reading this as I am of saying it, but we’re going to do it again anyway:
It would be terrible for America if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024. It would be better for America if any of the other Republicans running against him were to win the nomination. It would be best if the nominee were Asa Hutchinson. It would be good if the nominee were Tim Scott. It would be just fine if the nominee were Nikki Haley or Glenn Youngkin. It would not be great if the nominee were DeSantis, because he presents his own set of Orbánist dangers.
But even so, a DeSantis nomination is still less dangerous than Trump for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that Trump has already attempted a coup d’etat.
As such, I’ll happily register as a Republican and “support” one of those folks with my vote in the primary.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to lie to you for them and pretend that everything is going great and that they have a good chance to beat Trump.1
By the same token, I’m likely to vote for Joe Biden in this particular general election because, as I’ve explained here often, he’s been a successful president who has done a pretty good job for America.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to lie to you for him, either. If Biden is in trouble, I’ll tell you. If Biden does something unwise or dangerous, I’ll say so. As I’ve done in the past.
To the extent that I’m on a team, it’s #TeamLiberalDemocracy.
I mention all this because at The Bulwark this week we received some criticism from people who were confused as to why we weren’t “supporting” Ron DeSantis. This is a category error. The people making this criticism are talking about “internet support” because they view that as the way political commentary should work: You have a team and you support your team by defending it against criticism, positioning it for success, and attacking those on the other team. You must, always and everywhere, project what you hope to happen as the reality that is happening.
And fair enough: We don’t do that.
If this sort of thing appeals to you, The Bulwark is not the place to find it.
On the other hand, if you want to see around corners and understand the shape of things to come, we’re pretty good at that stuff. Don’t make me remind you that I told everyone Trump would be insisting that he won the election and would be the overwhelming favorite when he ran in 2024—and I told you this in October of 2020.
So maybe sign up for the free list, or even become a member and support us if you want publications like ours to exist in the world.
One other thing: I saw one critic wondering aloud how Never Trump conservatives could have turned their back on all of the “issues” they once held dear.
There are three responses to this question.
(1) Some conservatives may have reconsidered their views on “the issues.” This would not be a crazy thing to do. If “the issues” you believed in over the course of many years led to an attempted coup, then it would not be unreasonable to question whether or not the positions you once held on them had been wise.
(2) Other conservatives may have simply decided that an issue which had not been present in America since Jim Crow—the survival of liberal democracy and the rule of law—had suddenly reappeared and superseded the old issues in urgency.
(3) But it’s also not ridiculous to look around and notice that for a number of issues, the Democratic party is now at least as hospitable as the Republican party. If you are in favor of robust foreign policy, your natural home 10 years ago was in the Republican party. Today, you can still find outposts for that view in the GOP, but the main body of the party has turned to isolationism. The Democratic party is now the natural home for people who want America engaged in world affairs.
The same can be said about the free market, and globalism, and free speech, and individual liberty, and crime, and the rule of law.2
The map for these issues isn’t perfect—there are still some Republicans who believe in those things and some Democrats who are opposed to them. But the main bodies of the parties, as marked by the leaders who will be their presidential nominees and the preferences of the rank-and-file, have switched.
The GOP is the party of punishing corporations for political views, fighting trade wars, banning books, criminalizing speech, pardoning felons, and excusing law breakers.
Again: Not perfectly and you can find exceptions. But in general.
For those who have held onto their “conservative” views on “the issues,” well, at this point, they’re cheering for the clothes.
2. Also, The Bulwark Is Right-Wing Garbage
It’s kismet that this week Slate’s advice column also features a letter from a parent who is horrified to discover that his/her teenage son has subscribed to The Bulwark:
Dear Care and Feeding,
A month back, my 16-year-old son “Dylan” used some of his money to subscribe to the Bulwark. It’s a transphobic, warmongering, right-wing turd of “online news.” We had perhaps foolishly not been monitoring his internet expenses, and only noticed when the bill for his subscription came up.
Dylan has since been banned from recreational use of the internet in our home, his phone has been severely restricted, and he’s only permitted online access for the purpose of schoolwork. However, with the school year entering into finals season, he does legitimately need some access for research papers or to collaborate on group projects. While he’s permitted access at home for approved activities like his coursework, he’s started opting to stay late at school and use their computers, or go to the library to use the computers there.
While I know he’s been going to the library to use the computers, courtesy of calling some of the staff to make sure he really is where he said he was going, they’ve been unwilling to show or even keep track of what sites he’s accessing. And somehow, I doubt he’s just doing research on biology or chemistry. How do I stop him from circumventing these steps?
Now look, what are the chances that this letter is a troll? I’m thinking >95 percent. But let’s just pretend for a moment that it’s genuine, because the Slate columnist’s advice is like a parody of tankie pablum:
There’s not much that you can do to monitor your son’s computer use at the library, though you may want to try popping up on him unannounced so that you can see for yourself just what he’s up to. I think the more important thing for you to focus on now is challenging the ideas that he came across on the Bulwark and identifying just what made the site compelling to him in the first place. You should be having some serious conversations about gender and sexism, racism, various phobias, and the problem with right-wing politics. . . . You can’t just take for granted that keeping him off this site is enough to challenge any problematic beliefs he may have developed. Your counter-programming efforts are just as important, if not more, than limiting his access to the web.
You should also be talking to him about what he and his friends are discussing these days. Are he and other boys consuming this content together? Who tipped him off to the Bulwark in the first place? Find out who may be influencing him these days and focus your energies on showing him just why they aren’t to be taken as authorities. Show your son the problem with the ideologies he’s engaged with and keep these dialogues going even if it seems like you’ve “gotten through.” The right-wing internet holds a lot of danger for young men who can be easily radicalized if their families aren’t proactive about interrupting their access and challenging the ideas they may have already glommed onto while browsing.
Again I say: OMG.
Also, I want to pretend that this is a real letter so that I can picture Dylan having a sleepover with some buddies and one of them says,
Tristan: Hey guys. I found this neolib Never Trump website in my old man’s browser history. And it’s got MONA CHAREN on it!
Dante: I dunno, T—I heard she was guilty of war crimes.
Tristan: Naw, dog. You gotta read it. These guys want globalism AND forever wars.
Apple: Guys, this isn’t funny. I’m scared.
Dylan [pushing his way to the front]: Let me see it. What’s this podcast with Charlie Sykes? Ooooooh—he’s talking to David Frum. And they like institutions. . . . [eyes glaze over] I, uh, I’ve gotta go to the bathroom. What’s the URL?
In my day, we just passed around copies of Playboy and the Public Interest. I guess today’s kids are into harder stuff.
So The Bulwark is both a partisan liberal Democratic propaganda arm and a source of transphobic, warmongering, right-wing news.
Thank you for building this incredible community with us.
Amanda tipped me off to a podcast I’d never heard of before: Behind the Bastards. Every week they do a deep-dive into the biography of a bad person.
They have just wrapped up a six-part series on Vince McMahon and I’m here to tell you that it’s glorious. Absolutely worth your time and filled with wrestling stories and trivia. It’s my Memorial Day gift to you.
There’s a YouTube version of the show if you prefer your podcasts that way.
And you can feel good about supporting these guys: The podcast is free, but if you listen they ask you to support the Portland Diaper Bank, which is a great charity.
Here is a thing I never understand about internet supporters: Their analysis seems to line up with their preferences something like 95 percent of the time. How does that work? I go through life assuming that the thing I hope happens is always going to be a longshot.
The one outlier here is abortion and fair enough. If abortion is your first, second, and third issue, then the difference between the two parties is clear.
But on the issue of “life,” the Republican party’s behavior regarding COVID has proven that what it cares about is the practice of abortion and not a true culture of life, in the sense that every single unrepeatable human soul possesses equal and inherent dignity, no matter the external circumstances. (Ditto the Republican party’s immovable stance on guns and palpable thirst for executions.)