Since Donald Trump won the Republican nomination close to a year ago, conservative responses to him have fallen into three broad categories: pro-Trump, anti-Trump and anti-anti-Trump. The firing of James Comey is no exception.
The pro-Trumpers, right-wing populists like Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and the writers at Breitbart, said Comey deserved to be fired for going soft on Hillary Clinton. This, despite the fact that the letter Trump cited to justify the firing, by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, actually criticized Comey for being too tough on Clinton, in particular, by “releas[ing] derogatory information” about her in a July 2016 press conference.
The anti-Trumpers, conservatives like my Atlantic colleague David Frum, who see Trump’s authoritarianism, mendacity and corruption as more dangerous to American liberal democracy than anything being peddled by the Democrats, reacted to the Comey firing with alarm.
Then there were the anti-anti-Trumpers: conservatives willing to criticize Trump, but unwilling to believe that he poses a greater threat to the values they cherish than do his opponents on the left.
Unlike the pro-Trumpers, the anti-anti-Trumpers did not summarily reject the idea that it’s worth investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. But they defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey by insisting that the Russia investigation will go on. Comey’s firing may even supercharge it. “As for the Russia probe,” argued the Wall Street Journal editorial page, “if Mr. Trump is trying to cover up anything, firing the FBI Director is a lousy way to do it. Such a public spectacle will make details more likely to leak if agents feel their evidence is being sat on. Mr. Comey’s credibility was also tainted enough that whatever he announced at the end of the probe would have been doubted.” In National Review, my old friend Jonah Goldberg made a similar point. “For a guy who is clearly desperate to get people to move on from the Russia talk,” Goldberg noted, “Trump keeps doing things that make it easier to keep that storyline alive.”