Three weeks ago, as protests against police violence raged in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, Never Trumpers had a stern warning for Joe Biden: Condemn the violence or lose the election. Never mind that Biden had condemned rioting and looting, repeatedly, for months. If he didn’t find a Sister Souljah moment—a reference to Bill Clinton’s dog-whistle attack on a virtually unknown rapper in 1992—and assert “independence” from the progressive left, argued George Will in The Washington Post, he could be in serious trouble.
Those calls came at a moment when polls showed Biden and Donald Trump inching toward one another. Trump’s favorability even appeared to flutter upward. Given the role that riots played in the 1968 election, the assumption was that what was true 50 years ago was also true today: Urban violence helps the Republican law and order man and hurts the weak-kneed Democrat. It didn’t matter that America has changed significantly since then, or that the Republican law and order man, in this case, is the incumbent presiding over all this alleged chaos.
Three weeks later, those calls seem opportunistic. Pundits like Will waited for a moment of maximum bed-wetting to insist that a Democrat campaign like a Jeb Bush Republican. But the feared collapse of Biden’s campaign hasn’t happened; indeed, polling has showed that voters favor Biden over Trump on the issue of law and order. So what’s a political hack to do?
Earlier this week, Danielle Pletka provided an answer: Ignore all the evidence and keep insisting, as loudly as possible, that Biden must do more to placate conservatives. Her op-ed in The Washington Post, headlined “I never considered voting for Trump in 2016. I may be forced to vote for him this year,” is not just another example of the rot at the core of what’s left of the conservative movement. It’s also the clearest sign yet that the Biden campaign can afford to dial back its significant overtures to figures like Pletka, and that media institutions like the Post op-ed page need to tighten up their standards to avoid running incoherent drivel by bad-faith conservatives.
Pletka casts herself as your standard Never Trump figure, a sensible Republican who is repulsed by Trump’s “erratic, personality-driven decision-making” and disgusting personality. “I don’t need a bumper sticker or a lawn sign to convey my distaste for Trump—his odious tweets, his chronic mendacity and general crudeness,” she writes. Joe Biden, in contrast, is a “decent” person. This juxtaposition would seemingly be enough for a Never Trumper—particularly a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who is appalled whenever vulgarity and politics align—to make the right choice.