Over at Townhall this morning, Kurt Schlichter casually advocates for anarchy. Republicans should get over all that rule of law business, he argues, because adhering to principle only ever helped the Left and hurt the Right. Liberals always fight dirty, so why can't conservatives?
It's a familiar and tempting argument to the conservative faithful who have long been let down by overpromising and underperforming politicians. It's also childish, whiny, and desperate—exactly what a six-year-old Thrasymachus might say on the school yard.
At issue is President Trump's pardon of Arizona's notorious ex-Sherriff Joe Arpaio. Schlichter says the pardon was necessary to "deny the enemy the head" of the convicted lawman, and he believes it was appropriate because "undoing injustice" is why the power exists. To do otherwise, to let the legal system work, would be tantamount to surrender.
No one, except maybe a dim witted senator from California, would deny the second point. At the same time, nobody familiar with the record of the disgraced lawman would consider pardoning Arpaio a conservative victory.
A populist darling, Arpaio quickly became a petty tyrant. The sheriff regularly targeted Hispanic Americans without probable cause, intimidated elected officials, and arrested journalists. Meanwhile the sheriff failed to ignore investigations into sex crimes while setting off on a goose chase to discover Obama's birth certificate.
Ricochet Editor (and Arizonan) Jon Gabriel does a better job detailing Arpaio's rap sheet, and concludes that the sheriff's contempt of court conviction "was like busting Al Capone on tax evasion." The opposite of a lawman, Arpaio was clearly lawless and, as we argued, by pardoning him Trump abandoned his own law and order campaign promises.
Schlichter doesn't seem concerned with those details. Instead, he defends the pardon because the Republican Arpaio wears his team colors. And facts don't matter in his mind because his ultimate goal is "causing the Left so much pain by applying their new rules to them that they give up trying to grind their Birkenstocks into our faces forever."
Like Thrasymachus and sophists everywhere, Schlichter's only goal is winning, and the only justification he thinks necessary is strength.
Certainly combatting leftist tyranny, or any tyranny for that matter, is a worthy goal. But flouting the rule of law to notch a partisan win isn't conservative. It's tribal and counterproductive. What's left to conserve after trampling one's own principles? Nothing but a lawless society that favors whoever holds power at the moment.
Beating the Left in a lasting way doesn't mean bludgeoning them. It requires persuasion and the winning of arguments based on the very principles we are talking about trampling. Maybe this sounds high-minded and impractical but it's what's required in self-government.
Today's conservatives delude themselves if they think they're the first to face seething ideologues and angry mobs. Before becoming president, Abraham Lincoln faced the same challenge and appealed specifically to principle, what he'd call the "mystic chords of memory" of the Founding.
If given the choice when confronted with leftist tyranny, a free society should side with Lincoln, law and order, and government accountability, rather than doubling down on partisan barbarism.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.