Are Donald Trump's media defenders choosing 'Trumpism' over conservatism?

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For years, conservative commentators have railed against Democratic proposals for mandatory paid maternity leave.

"The government should NOT force employers to pay you while you take 2 months off maternity or paternity leave," A.J. Delgado, a conservative pundit, tweeted in April 2014. "It was your decision -- plan around it."

But this week, after Donald Trump proposed a plan calling for six weeks of mandatory paid maternity leave, Delgado's opinion on the matter seemingly changed.

"Sane, helpful, compassionate policies? Yes, please!" she tweeted.

Call it the Donald Trump Litmus Test. Time and again this campaign cycle, Trump's supporters in the media have changed their opinions on key conservative issues in order to support or defend the Republican presidential nominee. Viewpoints and policy proposals that were once anathema to them are now accepted and even celebrated. And that phenomenon has split the conservative media.

"It would seem to be easy for these folks to say, 'I support Trump, but idea X or policy Y is foolish,'" Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, which has opposed Trump's candidacy, told CNNMoney. "Most of them seem determined to be 100 percent in the tank, though."

"I don't know what it will take conservatives to realize they are being scammed," said Stuart Stevens, a top strategist for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.

The maternity leave proposal provides a perfect example of the litmus test. To many conservatives, it ran counter to their beliefs in small government. Rush Limbaugh, the most influential conservative voice on talk radio, criticized it as evidence for big government's victory in the 2016 campaign. Amanda Carpenter, the former spokesperson for Ted Cruz, wrote that "by supporting a government-provided stipend for paid leave Trump has surrendered himself to the Democrat vision of a more socialist America."

Meanwhile, Delgado, who this week joined the Trump campaign as an adviser, told CNNMoney that Trump's proposal was different because it would be paid for through the existing unemployment insurance program. But she declined to comment on her apparent endorsement of the expansion of a government insurance program, which conservatives have railed against for decades.

Similarly, conservative pundit and radio host Laura Ingraham mocked paid leave in January 2015 -- "Paid sick leave... paid maternity leave... paid childcare... and it's all freeeeeeeeeeeee!" she tweeted -- but took greater interest in Trump's proposal this week: "Need to see details regarding how Trump proposes to pay for a new 6-week maternity benefit," she wrote. (Ingraham did not respond to a request for comment.)

Bret Stephens, the Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editorial page editor, said Trump's defenders are simply unwilling to acknowledge any wrongdoing by their candidate.

"Once you've concluded that Hillary Clinton is Satan," Stephens said of pro-Trump conservatives, "nothing Trump can say or do can possibly be worse."

Jonathan V. Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard who has been chronicling these shifts, cites the reversals as evidence that "Trumpism corrupts."

"I've never quite figured out why Trump's big supporters are constantly being forced into these kinds of embarrassing contortions," Last wrote in his weekly newsletter Wednesday. "Why can't they support Trump while honestly and fully acknowledging all of his problems and contradictions?"

The first time Last wrote about Trump's "corrupting" influences was in February, when conservatives embraced his criticism of George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War.

"Nine months ago, if you had asked Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, Jerry Falwell Jr., or Ann Coulter whether they would endorse a figure who takes the Code Pink, Michael Moore, view of Iraq ('Bush lied, people died'), one suspects they all would have recoiled at the prospect," Last wrote at the time. "Yet in the hours after Trump insisted that George W. Bush intentionally lied the country into war, not one of the major figures who have endorsed him was willing to contradict his claim."

Last offers more recent exampes as well. For instance, he notes how conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt rushed to defend Trump's affinity for Vladimir Putin by arguing that Putin has "served his country's national interest" better than President Obama has served the U.S.

"It was as if Trumpism caused Hewitt to forget everything he knows about Madison, liberty, inalienable rights, and political philosophy," he wrote Wednesday. (Hewitt did not respond to a request for comment.)

At other times, pro-Trump conservatives will simply choose to ignore or downplay a Trump proposal that they dislike or do not agree with.

In August, when Trump expressed a new tolerance for allowing undocumented immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding to stay in the United States, websites like Breitbart and Drudge Report all but ignored the issue and focused instead on negative stories about Hillary Clinton.

Related: Breitbart, Drudge ignore Trump's immigration pivot

"I'm old enough to remember when certain conservative outlets would go into a frenzy over GOP'ers wanting 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants," Oliver Darcy, the Business Insider politics editor who previously worked at Glenn Beck's The Blaze, wrote at the time.

Jim Swift, the deputy online editor at The Weekly Standard, said such blind faith in Trump is likely to continue through election day.

"At this point," he told CNNMoney, "all people who aren't afraid to say they support Trump will fall in line behind almost anything he does."


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