Republicans are both delighted that leftist Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been brought down by accusations of sexual harassment, and outraged at what they see as the left’s hypocrisy.
But hypocrisy is a two-edged sword. By pointing out that Democrats and many in the media seem to have covered for Weinstein for many years, Republicans are engaging in the same variety of venial sin.
For decades, progressives have used hypocrisy as a club to beat conservatives with. That’s because hypocrisy is a values-free accusation. Liberals didn’t have to say that adultery is bad, they merely had to point to Speaker Newt Gingrich’s own family values platform to show he was a hypocrite.
And just last week, to cite another example, pro-life Congressman Tim Murphy resigned after it was revealed that he urged his mistress to have an abortion. Again, the left didn’t have to say abortion is bad, they merely had to show that Murphy said it was.
The point here is that hypocrisy is a standards-free charge. The GOP, once the party that said “character counts,” has devolved into a faction that can no longer muster the righteous anger to call out Weinstein’s treatment of women - the real offense here - and instead lambasts prominent Democrats for failing their own pro-women rhetoric.
Why? The answer is clear. Because Republicans surrendered the moral high ground when they nominated Donald Trump in 2016.
It wasn’t always like this.
At the height of the Bill Clinton scandals, the unimpeachable conservative Peggy Noonan wrote, “In a president, character is everything. A president doesn’t have to be brilliant … he doesn’t have to be clever; you can hire clever …. You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks. But you cannot buy courage and decency; you can’t rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him.”
It’s clear that Trump hasn’t. And that’s a problem for conservatives, particularly religious conservatives.
Author Stephen Mansfield, himself a conservative Christian, has a new book titled “Choosing Donald Trump.” He says that setting aside values, in the hopes of victory, is a decision that will likely come back to haunt conservatives - even if Trump was the least bad of two terrible choices.
“I think you have to understand how many religious conservatives perceived Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” he said recently. “They felt like they had been traumatized by Barack Obama and his administration. He was stridently pro-abortion; most religious conservatives aren’t. His wife and he were strident advocates for the pro-LGBT agenda; most religious conservatives aren’t.”
There were many acceptable candidates in the race early on. But they lost, and support for Trump soon became full-throated.
And here’s the risk. Moral high ground is difficult to regain. As Mansfield said, “if Donald Trump betrays their vision, which he’s already done in some matters, then their banner may be driven from the field of cultural debate for a generation or more.”
Weinstein’s story is one of human failure. And so is the GOP’s response to it. A rarified display of dignity from every side of the political spectrum would be welcome.