The right-wing radio divide over Trump

The conservative conversation falls into three camps: Trump enthusiasts, reluctant supporters, and staunch opponents

WASHINGTON — Michael Graham has sustained his share of insults for declaring that he will not, under any circumstances, bring himself to vote for the Republican party’s presidential nominee.

These are trying times for right-wing radio hosts.

They’re on the front lines of one of the most heated debate topics in recent American politics: whether conservatives should support Donald Trump.

The question has divided the kingdom of conservative conversation into three camps: the Trump enthusiasts, the reluctant supporters, and staunch opponents like Graham.

He’s drawn some ire. His Facebook page is littered with accusations he’s a closet liberal. He’s heard more distasteful insults — he says some have called him a traitor to his race.

But he’s not turning back.

“I cannot vote for Donald Trump. I can’t. I just can’t,” said the Atlanta radio host and head of a podcast for the Weekly Standard.

“As a moral person I cannot wake up the day (after the election) and say I voted for Donald Trump. One day, people are going to ask, ‘Did you really vote for Donald Trump?’ I don’t want to have to lie, like millions of Americans are going to, and say, ‘No, I didn’t.”’

Republicans are mostly rallying around Trump. Big-money donors are joining his cause. He’s received a bounce in support. Some polls even show him ahead of Hillary Clinton.

Yet doubts persist about conservatism’s johnny-come-lately.

A Fox News poll showed one-quarter of staunch conservatives and almost half of moderate conservatives expressed unfavourable views of Trump — who in the past was pro-abortion, donated to Democrats, called for big tax increases, supported Canadian-style medicare, and invited the Clintons to his wedding.

The poll still showed him beating the also-unpopular Clinton. And to some, that’s what matters most.

Conservatives are uniting against their common enemy. It’s similar to the phenomenon on the Democratic side, where some are invoking the fear of Trump to urge Clinton-skeptics to rally around her.

The phenomenon is evident on the airwaves — where conservative hosts fall into three camps:

  • Hot for Trump. Sean Hannity gets teased for his softball interviews of Trump. Laura Ingraham was jubilant when he became the presumptive nominee: “I’ve been smiling from ear to ear… I’m just doing the Snoopy dance.” Michael Savage says he’ll make history by thwarting radical Islam: “He will save the West. He’s the Charlemagne of our time.”
  • Lukewarm. Rush Limbaugh, the grand poobah of right-wing radio, is in this category. Limbaugh says Trump’s main attribute is that he might prevent a third Democratic term, and a continued slide toward progressivism. “This is my point: Trump is not Hillary. Trump is not Obama,” Limbaugh said last week.
  • Cold on Trump. Glenn Beck dislikes him, but thinks he’ll win. Mark Levin flirted with Trumpism earlier, then turned. The small-government conservative and former Reagan administration official hasn’t rallied yet.

Levin listed a series of examples last week of government overreach, from the environment to business regulations to financially unaffordable entitlement programs.

“What exactly is Donald Trump’s proposal for addressing this? Come on, folks, put politics and politicians aside,” Levin said.

“Is there any plan? (Is it just Trump’s) nationalism/populism — which is nothing but dressed-up progressivism?… I’m told, ‘Just shut up, Levin, get in line; what, do you wanna elect Hillary Clinton?’ So now we’re not supposed to talk … I have no principled allegiance to any politician, or political party. I have a principled allegiance to my country.”

All these hosts have taken flak from listeners, amid the raucous internal debate about the future of the Republican party and conservative cause.

Graham cites two reasons for his own anti-Trumpism.

One is based on ideology. He says Trump doesn’t have any. He jokes that the billionaire showman is so devoid of principles that he’d put China’s one-child policy in his platform, if it were popular. He doesn’t believe Trump is pro- or anti-abortion — just bereft of beliefs.

The other reason is character. He calls Trump a “scam-artist marketing sleazebag” willing to rip people off in ventures like the ill-fated Trump University, now involved in a lawsuit.

He made a prediction: People who vote for Trump now will spend a lifetime hiding this reputational stain.

He called it the reverse-Woodstock phenomenon.

“You know how everybody was (supposedly) at Woodstock? Apparently 73 million baby boomers were at Woodstock — at a farm that holds 100,000. This will be the reverse. Trump will have gotten 40 million votes and no one will be able to find seven guys who voted for him. That’s going to be Donald Trump.”

So where will Graham go, if not to Trumpstock 2016?

He’ll either vote for a third-party candidate, or write someone else’s name into the ballot. Because he’s determined to show up on election day and help Republicans retain the Senate.

And he’d never vote for Clinton.