Prior to the Trump presidency, there were some conservative pundits and publications that mainstream media considered to be “serious” commentators on the right. Given that they were in the position of having to defend a Republican Party that evolved from being post-truth to post-policy, we can have a debate about how serious they actually were. But their job was to provide some intellectual gravitas to GOP positions.
Once Trump was elected, that group split, with some becoming Never Trumpers (Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, etc.) and some deciding to take up the mantle of defending the narcissist-in-chief. Among the latter group are people like Byron York at the Washington Examiner and Stephen Miller at the Spectator. I name those two in particular because they have recently written that concerns on the left about what this administration is doing to the Post Office basically amounts to a conspiracy theory.
The title of York’s piece says it all: “A reality-based look at Trump and the post office.” But Miller ups the ante with, “Going postal: the USPS conspiracy theory is the new Russiagate.” Especially during the week that the Senate Intelligence Committee released a bi-partisan report documenting the pattern of relationships between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, it might not be a good time for them to compare what’s going on at the Post Office with so-called “Russiagate.” But Miller isn’t the only one that went there. Here’s how York opens his piece.
Some of the accusations have grown so frantic that they resemble the frenzy of a couple of years ago over the allegation, from many of the same people, that Trump had conspired with Russia to fix the 2016 election.
The commonality between what these two authors have to say doesn’t end there. They both suggest that the Post Office was “going broke” and that the actions taken recently by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are merely steps taken to “reform” the institution, given its financial problems. They claim that concerns expressed by Democrats about how those will affect the upcoming election are merely conspiracy theories cooked up by the same folks that they think manufactured the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
But to make that claim with a straight face, these authors have to contend with the president’s own words. As a reminder, while talking to Maria Bartiromo, Trump made it clear that he was blocking funding for the Post Office, which would stop them from being able to handle mail-in voting. He made similar claims on Fox and Friends. So if this is all just a conspiracy theory, it was cooked up by the president himself.
Miller’s attempt to address that boils down to his suggestion that Trump’s comments were simply a case of him “electioneering” to his Fox News base, adding that “concerns with a universal mail-in election are not unfounded.” In other words, he’s admitting that—to the extent that all of this is a conspiracy theory—Trump started it, and he was justified in doing so.
York takes the position that the president merely confused things.
[Trump] suggested that not agreeing to the $25 billion was a way to stop universal mail-in voting, which it is not. He hasn’t addressed the serious problems at the Postal Service which need attention and do not have anything to do with voting. In all, he left the issue more confused than it had been beforehand — and that was saying something.
It’s hard to wrap one’s head around that one. The president is refusing to agree to additional funding for the Post office and being clear that he is doing so in order to stop universal mail-in voting. But York claims that’s not the real reason. So should we simply dismiss what the president said about his own motives?
For those of us who actually reside in the reality-based world, it is important to keep in mind that what Republicans are doing to the Post office is a twofer: sabotage the USPS to go private, and slow ballots down as a bonus. As Eric Cortellessa documented for this magazine, the former has been going on for decades.
All of that explains why those conservative journalists, who chose to hang in there in an attempt to defend Trump, face the challenge of combining the skills they developed over the years to promote post-truth politics with a president who lives in a delusional world designed to promote his own self-interests—which means that he occasionally says the quiet parts out loud. When someone like Byron York goes on Fox News to furrow his brow and pretend to make an intellectual argument in support of all of that, the descriptor that comes to mind is “pretzel logic.”