You Cannot Be Too Cynical About Trump (or His Imitators)

Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. Any plans to hop a flight to Martha’s Vineyard?

Gail Collins: Gee, Bret, I think the Vineyard folks have had enough unexpected guests for a while. But I really was impressed by how gracious they were to the immigrant families that Gov. Ron DeSantis shipped there.

Bret: It’s a shame for the Venezuelan migrants that they weren’t on the Vineyard for long, because the community there is extraordinarily generous.

Gail: As opposed to DeSantis and his slimy attempt to score political points with the right wing.

Bret: It was definitely a stunt, but it was a politically effective one.

Gail: Are you still open to the idea of him as a possible president?

Bret: All depends on the opponent. If you were a Republican primary voter and your choice was between Donald Trump and DeSantis, who would choose? No fair to answer “Canada” or “euthanasia.”

Gail: Exactly why I’m never going to be a Republican primary voter. And I don’t believe there’s a Democrat with an infinitesimal possibility of nomination I wouldn’t prefer to DeSantis.

Bret: No fair avoiding the question! I’m no longer a registered Republican, but I’d root for DeSantis over Trump in a primary, and I’d vote for DeSantis over, say, Kamala Harris or Gavin Newsom in a general election, though I hope that’s not the choice I would have to make. I’d also love to see a candidate who believes we need more immigrants in this country and is serious about effective border enforcement.

Gail: About immigration. The Republicans are clearly planning to make that a big issue — certainly Trump loves to howl about it. But let me begin with one bottom line: The United States has an aging population that can’t possibly fill all the job openings it already has. The hospitality sector has been, on average, half a million people short every month for months; the food services industry alone is around 1.4 million people short.

Bret: Total agreement on this one. We don’t just need immigrants to fill jobs — we also need their ambition, entrepreneurialism, work ethic, cultural creativity, strong family values and non-entitled attitudes. Unfortunately the Biden administration is screwing this up by pretending that we aren’t seeing a tidal wave of border migrants, and that it’s not a massive burden on the social services of border states.

Mystifying to me why the administration can’t get this one right. Democrats are even losing Hispanic voters over the issue. What gives?

Gail: No modern president has been able to get a real grip on the border immigration crisis — don’t even know if you can call it a crisis since it’s been going on for so long.

Bret: There’s never been perfect border control, but there’s been better and worse. What we now have is unmistakably worse and a lot of liberals are deluding themselves if they think there’s nothing amiss when U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports a 250 percent increase in migrant encounters around Yuma.

Gail: You have waves of folks fleeing from disaster back home — these days, particularly Venezuelans.

Bret: Ah yes, Venezuela. Chesa Boudin’s idea of a workers’ paradise. Sorry, go on ….

Gail: Many of them have endured terrible treks by foot, sometimes with children. If they present themselves at the border, their claims have to be processed, which can take a lot of time. The procedure is really a mess, and meanwhile there’s the choice between letting them live miserably in makeshift camps or providing them, and especially their children, with the services they need.

Like his predecessors, Biden’s has been trying to get the system improved, but the legal issues plus the politics make it almost impossible.

If these folks make their way into the country illegally, with luck they’ll get settled and work out their immigration problems later. But of course they can also wind up homeless and drift into crime. The border state residents have to bear most of the burden just because of their location, so you can see why they’d resent that.

Bret: We obviously should be compassionate to refugees fleeing persecution, kids especially. But Biden has also turned the United States into a magnet for migration in a way that communities are simply unprepared to handle. Our compassion as a country has to be proportionate to our means, not our wishes.

Gail: One thing we clearly need is revised immigration law that takes all this into consideration and provides economic support to the communities where these folks wind up. But I’ve noticed a certain lack of enthusiasm among congressional Republicans for that idea.

Bret: There used to be Republicans — Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush, and John McCain among them — who were eager to pass comprehensive immigration reform and were stymied by restrictionists on both sides of the aisle, including Bernie Sanders. Now we’ve got an immigration debate in Congress that might as well be described as the heartless against the clueless.

Switching subjects, Gail, our colleague David Brooks had a terrific column last week on why all the attempts to defeat Trump thus far have failed. Any theories of your own?

Gail: Trump’s recent triumphs have been pretty much within his own party. Let’s see what happens when the candidates he endorsed for Senate, like that crazy guy in Arizona, actually have to run in an election against a non-crazy Democrat like Mark Kelly.

Bret: Don’t be shocked if the crazy guy wins. Last poll I checked had him within two points.

Gail: But in the bigger picture, we’re living in a new internet-oriented world where old political virtues like making reasonable deals with the other side have been wiped away. Too boring.

Bret: Trump intuitively understands entertainment the way no other politician has since maybe Ronald Reagan. But Reagan was a romantic whereas Trump is a cynic, which makes him particularly potent in a cynical age.

Gail: It’s scary how well Trump fits into that new world. No real ideas maybe, but he’s colorful, a good ranter and not constrained by any sense of obligation to be rational. Have to admit my greatest hope for the total scuttling of Trump’s political career is the New York attorney general’s attempt to pull the cover off his finances.

How about you?

Bret: I tend to think that all of these legal attacks on Trump do more to help than hurt him. He’s a Nietzschean figure in that sense: that which does not kill him makes him stronger. Unless he is tried in a courtroom somewhere in the West Village, there is no jury in the United States that is going to hand down a unanimous verdict against him. What these potential prosecutions mainly do is keep him in the spotlight, which is right where he likes to be, with something like the color of martyrdom, at least to his supporters.

Gail: My dream has never been Trump in behind bars — you’re right, he’d become a triple martyr — but Trump in bankruptcy court and then sending out Truth Social memes from a motel in New Jersey? That speaks to me.

But go on …

Bret: Trump is what a friend of mine calls a “rage funnel.” It’s a funnel for a very specific type of rage — the rage of feeling looked down upon. And I don’t think that ends until the culture of liberal condescension that people like Hillary Clinton typified turns into a culture of understanding and empathy for his voters.

Gail: Hillary was over-blamed on that front, thanks to one dumb comment. But you’ve got a very important point and from now on when I see The Donald I’m going to see him as a funnel-head.

Bret: Coneheads!

Gail: On a totally different subject — you’re my trusted interpreter of sane Republicanism. Can you interpret what Lindsey Graham is up to with his bill creating a national ban on abortion? At a time when many of the G.O.P. Senate candidates seem to be scrubbing all abortion references off their websites?

Bret: You can’t interpret stupid, Gail.

The bill isn’t just dead on arrival with every single Democrat. It’s D.O.A. for many Republicans, too. The whole point of overturning Roe v. Wade was to let the states decide for themselves what limits to set on abortion. So much for federalism. And, as you point out, the proposal just plays into Democratic hands at a time when pro-choice voters are exceptionally motivated to go to the polls.

Gail: Yippee!

Bret: That being said, it isn’t such a bad thing that the G.O.P. keep fumbling the politics of the midterm, because the last thing the country needs is yet another crop of Trumpy Republicans in Congress. So I say, go Lindsey!

Gail: Wow, so you’re hoping for a Democratic-controlled Congress as well as a Democratic-controlled White House?

Bret: Which Bolshevik was the one who said “the worse, the better”? That’s kind of my attitude here. It’s not that I relish the idea of continued Democratic control. Far from it. But then I look at the alternative.

Gail, we’ve dwelled on a lot of negatives, which I guess is what you get these days when you talk about politics. Can I end with a brief tribute to the greatness of Roger Federer, who announced last week that he was retiring from the professional tennis circuit? There are some athletes who personify everything that’s perfect not just about a sport but about sportsmanship itself: Jesse Owens, Ted Williams, Althea Gibson, Pelé, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Roger was that for 24 years on the court and off.

Gail: That’s what I’ve come to appreciate about sports. They do bring us all together, even when we’re rooting for different players.

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