Perhaps I’m confused about the values that Hillsdale teaches to its students when a powerful ally in the Republican Party is not the subject under discussion. But I would have thought if a Hillsdale student were to ask, “Should I travel the country lavishing praise on a flagrantly immoral man to empower him in a way that advances my ambitions?” the answer would be an unequivocal, “No.” But apparently, Arnn would actually say, “Are your ambitions good? Can he win?”
Later, Hewitt asks, “So tell me, Larry Arnn, why did George Will attack—savage him—not attack him, savage him?” The answer is perfectly clear from Will’s column. Will thinks Pence is a phony based on his perception of a flagrant contradiction between his words and actions, and he was morally disgusted by Pence’s embrace of Arpaio, a perfectly understandable reaction to anyone familiar with the sheriff.
Yet Arnn responded:
I don’t know the answer to that. I saw George this week. And I don’t––you know, George Will doesn’t like Donald Trump. A lot of people don’t. And there are things about Donald Trump that I don’t like and a few things that I do. But Pence is—you know, he does what a vice president does.
He boosts Donald Trump. And that’s not false because Mike Pence was not a guy with a political job that was not going anywhere. You get elected twice governor of Indiana, you’re a candidate for president. So he gave up something to join Donald Trump. It means, I think, he means it.
Well, I think maybe George resents that.
I find that answer fascinating.
It acknowledges Trump’s flaws and Pence’s lavish praise of a flawed man, then explains that Pence “does what a vice president does” as if that answers the criticism—as if it’s “all in the game” and therefore moral.
Will rejects both the assertion that Pence speaks in good faith and the notion that extolling Trump is okay because it’s “what a vice president does”—objections any conservative ought to understand, even if they disagree—yet Arnn says Will’s column was perhaps motivated by resentment of Pence, as if Arnn was incapable of discerning a substantive reason for the critique, as if he can’t even conceive of an earnest principled objection to Pence’s conduct.
Here’s the telling exchange that came immediately afterward, with Hewitt also expressing confusion about why George Will wrote that column:
Hewitt: I’ve been thinking about this, because I’m just so startled by it. But let me, if I could take part of your time, I want to read a list so that it is in the Hillsdale archive. This list is Amul Thapar, age 49; John Bush, age 55; Kevin Newsom, age 46; Ralph Erickson, 59; Amy Barrett, 46; Joan Larsen, 50; Allison Eid, 53; Stephen Bibas, 49; Gregory Katsas, 54; Stephen Grasz, 57; Don Willett, 52; James Ho, 45; David Stras, 44; Elizabeth Branch, 50; Kyle Duncan, 46; Kurt Engelhardt, 58; Michael Brennan, 55; Michael Scudder, 47; Amy Eve, 53; Joel Carson, 47; John Nalbandian, 49. They are all confirmed on the federal bench, the appeals bench, and Ryan Bounds, 45; Mark Bennett, 65; Andy Oldham, 40; Britt Grant, 40; Paul Matey, 47; David Porter, 52; Marvin Quattlebaum—the wonderfully named Marvin Quattlebaum—54; Julius Richardson, 42; Richard Sullivan, 54; Ryan Nelson—I think he’s 15, I don’t have his age. He looks like he’s 15. They are all nominated.
Dr. Larry Arnn, these people will defend religious liberty for the next 30 to 40 years at a rate of 400 decisions a year. How can anyone not see this?
Arnn: Yeah, that’s just too good a thing. And you know, one of my students just became number two in the office—what was it called? Office of Interagency Regulatory Affairs under the great Neomi Ra—OIRA.
Hewitt: Oh, she is great.
Arnn: She’s the person who’s called—except she won’t permit herself to be called this—the regulatory czar. She’s what Obama’s Cass Sunstein was. And she just hired one of my students to be her No. 2. And I talked to her about it. And she’s so good. Well the point is, all of those judges—Don McGahn will make the point in public—all of those judges are not only in an age where they’re going to go on for a while, but all of them have done extensive thinking and writing about administrative law, which is the alternative to constitutional law in America today and the scene of the great struggle.
So that’s a direction that’s not just, let’s get a bunch of conservative judges, and not just, let’s get a bunch of Republican judges. That’s, let’s get a bunch of judges who’ve done substantial work on that big issue. It’s amazing.
Hewitt: And who understand the implication of this unelected and largely unsupervised branch, Doctor.
The logic here is clear enough. Neither Hewitt nor Arnn talks as if they believe that good moral character is really essential in an American president—they talk as if they believe that a president who flagrantly exhibits all manner of character flaws and odious behavior can put the country on a trajectory that benefits it greatly for decades if he appoints good judges.