Rick Wilson Really Bummed All Those Republicans He Helped Elect Are Traitors
Rick Wilson is a GOP political strategist who's enjoying a new career offering his insight to moderate Democrats. They love to retweet him (and Steve Schmidt and Tom Nichols and Max Boot AND Bill Kristol) because it shows they're open to a broad range of dumb opinions. If Democrats elected a president as uniquely awful as Donald Trump and the ones who didn't play ball were cast out of the mad king's court, Republicans would let the poor bastards starve in obscurity. Wilson is lucky Democrats are so forgiving and will snatch up copies of his upcoming book, Running Against the Devil: The Plot to Save America From Trump — and Democrats From Themselves. When NeverTrump Republicans say they want to save Democrats from "themselves," their plan is to turn us into less embarrassing Republicans. It's Extreme Makeover: Jack Kemp Edition.
Wilson has a piece this week in Rolling Stone -- how radical! -- and he laments how Donald Trump has coarsened our political discourse. Why, the president and his supporters call anyone who oppose them "traitors." That ain't no way to govern! In the glorious pre-Trump era, Jimmy Stewarts of all political persuasions went to Washington every day and crossed the aisle without rancor.
WILSON: America once used the words "treason" and "traitors" only in cases of actual betrayal of our nation's most vital secrets or interests.
Be honest: The words “traitor" and “treason" don't have the sting they once had; they've been devalued from mis- and over-use by this president. For Donald Trump, any opposition, either personal, ideological, or political is treason. Anyone who stands in his path betrays the Great Leader. Anyone who fails to take the knee is a traitor.
No, Rick Wilson, Donald Trump didn't build that. "America" maybe was conservative in its rhetoric, but actual conservatives took a more liberal approach to character assassination. Newt Gingrich pioneered the "othering" of Democrats in the early 1990s. He released a memo with a thesaurus-full of inflammatory words to describe liberals: "sick, pathetic, lie, anti-flag, traitors, radical, corrupt." Wilson himself, while working for John McCain's 2008 campaign, created attack ads tying Obama to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, who he'd already denounced by this point. The ads claimed Wright preached "hate" about America that Obama could "believe in." This was just the start of Republicans calling Obama a Benedict Arnold in blackface.
A headline for a 2013 David Horowitz National Review article was literally "How Obama Betrayed America." When Obama prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against transgender Americans, Maggie Gallagher called the Republicans who supported the move "traitors." Wilson meanwhile is behaving as if he's shocked to discover that the Republican Party is no good.
WILSON: There are elected officials who have made the decision to protect a corrupt president by embracing conspiracy theories, refusing to acknowledge sworn testimony of career foreign-service officials, and piling on to Trump's attack of democratic institutions.
That's a shame, but know-nothing conservatism traces back decades. Trump didn't achieve this himself. He's accomplished nothing on his own. Stephen Colbert lampooned "truthiness," the Bush-era concept that what a conservative felt was true mattered more than what a liberal bothered to prove was true. Fox News and Republicans encouraged Americans for years to reject climate change science, and now the current president thinks the whole thing's a hoax.
WILSON: The traitors talk a good game, hands over their withered hearts, about supporting the Constitution, but they're happy to ignore it when it suits their purposes.
That sounds a lot like the Patriot Act.
WILSON: The traitors believe the executive branch is superior to all others and unaccountable under the law.
This is where the attacks against Trump's critics are consistent with how Republicans treated critics of George W. Bush. If you took issue with Bush's invasion of random countries, you didn't support the troops. A political party whose members rename french fries "freedom fries" out of childish pique long ago proved it was dumb enough for Trump to "hijack."
Wilson has stated that when crafting an attack ad, you go after an opponent's strengths, not their weaknesses. (It's the Karl Rove model and it works!) There's no better or more repulsive example than the smear campaign Wilson directed against former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who lost an arm and both legs at 25 while serving in Vietnam. Wilson's ads for Republican candidate Saxby Chambliss implied that Cleland's disagreements with Bush over funding for the Department of Homeland Security proved he was pen pals with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The ad worked and Cleland was the last Democrat elected to the Senate from Georgia.
Let's not ever forget that Wilson has spent most of his career helping remove from office actual patriots. He most recently produced ads that were instrumental in helping Republicans reclaim the Senate in 2014. The ads didn't call anyone traitors but they helped empower the people who Wilson (correctly) believes have betrayed the "oath they serve and the security of this country." It's fine if Wilson wants to join the angry villagers with the pitchforks and torches, but he should take responsibility for creating the Frankenstein monster in the first place. But he never will. Rick Wilson and other Never Trumpers aren't upset that Republicans suddenly turned bad. They're upset that Republicans have turned on them.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.