The Problem With Ben Shapiro's Playbook Piece Isn't That He Shouldn't Have Done It - It's That It Is So Predictable

Post by: Rick Ellis 14 January, 2021

If the national political press has one consistent, predictable response, it is to become irate about all of the wrong things.

Ben Shapiro's piece for Politico's Playbook on Thursday has received a lot of negative feedback from the media and the Left. The outrage even extended to the staff of Politico, who apparently insisted on an all-staff meeting to air their unhappiness.

I understand the temptation to react with the natural response of "why give this professional conservative troll any more attention?" Because if Shapiro has illustrated anything over the past decade, it is his ability to find the topics that outrage his opponents the most and use their anger to make himself more popular. Here is the average timeline for pretty much any Shapiro opinion.

1) Say something that manages to include both a kernel of truth as well as the dumbest, most provocative statement imaginable.

2) Wait until a few people respond with "Hey Ben, you know, that's pretty damn stupid. And I don't honestly think you even believe what you're saying."

3) Shapiro loudly proclaims his opponents are out to get him and hate all conservatives.

4) His critics respond with variations of "Dude, we don't hate you. We just think your idea is kinda ridiculous. Why don't you explain it to us?"

5) Shapiro warns his critics want to "cancel" him, while also laughing at them by claiming his ideas have "triggered" them.

And then he moves on.

But here is the thing about Shapiro. Yes, he's infuriating and someone whose composition is comprised of 90% provocateur and 10% stale white bread. But he also has a strong sense of where the modern Trump/Republican group brain is right now. So he's worth reading, in the same way that it's worth reading what your irrational ex is posting about you on Facebook. To win any argument, you need to know what your craziest enemies are thinking.

I have to admit that some of the internal outrage at Politico over Shapiro's piece is pretty funny. Politico - and specifically the Playbook - exist in large part to pass along the conventional wisdom of Washington and of the national political press. Politico is insiders writing for other insiders and those who want to feel like insiders. So given that mission, hiring someone who oozes conservative media conventional wisdom like Ben Shapiro makes a great deal of sense.

On the other hand, just allowing Shapiro to write his special brand of reactive political wisdom without putting it in some kind of context is not a great editorial decision. Whether that means having someone write an alternative Playbook as a comparison or having a version of his Playbook that includes counterarguments embedded in his piece. And when he predictably argues that no other writer gets that type of treatment, just admit as much and explain "It's because you're special, Ben."

Now while I frankly don't have the time to refute the entire Playbook piece, here are a couple of passages worth noting:

Conservatives see the game. It doesn’t matter whether you held your nose when voting for Trump; it doesn’t matter if you denounced his prevarications about a “stolen election” (for the record, I was met with great ire when I declared the night of the election that Trump’s declaration of victory was “deeply irresponsible”).

If you supported Trump in any way, you were at least partially culpable, the argument goes. It’s not just Trump who deserves vitriol — it’s all 74 million people who voted for him.

When it comes to assigning culpability in the Trump Era, I generally apply the "your wife is ugly and your Dad might have helped to kill JFK" rule. It doesn't matter if you opposed Trump before he was elected. It doesn't matter if you occasionally offered up some weak criticism of Trump every so often such as "Oh, I wish he wouldn't Tweet so much." If your personal business model was built upon jumping on the Trump Train and riding it until it was out of steam, then yes, you are at least partially culpable. If you humiliate yourself in public to win favor with Trump and/or his supporters, then some culpability is indeed yours.

You hear this argument from conservative media folks a lot: "Oh, you're not just criticizing President Trump, you're criticizing all 74 million people who voted for him!" Which is the ultimate bad-faith argument. It's like having someone whack me in the head with a baseball bat & then when I complain about it, having the assailant claim that means I hate everyone who is a baseball fan. Which obviously wouldn't be the case. I would, however, be unhappy with the people standing around after I was whacked requesting that I should be hit again or blaming me for having a huge head that is just begging to be whacked.

Those on the political left see such questions as “whataboutism.” And yes, none of these politicians are the sitting president of the United States and head of the executive branch looking to pressure the legislature to violate the law and overturn a lawful election.

But it’s just as plausible to see such questions as demands for neutral political standards to hold everyone accountable. Without such standards, conservatives fear, any political flashpoint will be used as a cudgel to cram down social, cultural or even governmental repression.

There are discussions to be had about holding everyone accountable. And certainly Democrats have their own blind spots when it comes to their behavior. I don't have a problem with striving towards a political world in which we hold everyone equally accountable for their actions. But what is striking about Shapiro's Playbook entry is that while he spends a lot of time highlighting examples of what he believes is problematic behavior from Democrats, he doesn't devote even one sentence to missteps conservatives might have made.

And this attitude - to borrow the phrase - is a core part of the modern-day conservative movement playbook. Insist that the only way to have a fair discussion is to have your opponents admit to all of their mistakes. While simultaneously refusing to ever, ever acknowledge the slightest mistake or hint of culpability of your own.

Our social fabric is torn. It was torn before Trump. And, as it turns out, the incentive structure of modern politics and media cuts directly against stitching it together again.

Well, if anyone would know about successfully monetizing a torn social fabric, it's Ben Shapiro.

If you have any feedback, send it along to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.

Last modified on Thursday, 14 January 2021 23:47