How Jennifer Rubin went from Romney 'shill' to Trump scourge

Trump's conflicts of interest are unprecedented
Trump's conflicts of interest are unprecedented

Donald Trump's ascent to the presidency has been littered with surreal moments -- the pre-dawn tweetstorms, the unannounced Kanye visits -- but don't overlook the case of Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger at the Washington Post.

Four years ago, Rubin had a reputation as a mouthpiece for Mitt Romney, drawing criticism and even calls for her job from those who believed she was more campaigner than commentator. Now her fiercest critics are supporters of the new leader of the Republican Party, a man Rubin described in October as "evil incarnate."

"I think Donald Trump lacks the moral core and appreciation for American values that we have come to expect from every president," Rubin told CNNMoney in a phone interview last week. "He has normalized racism, misogyny, xenophobia and nativism."

"This is not someone who should be president of the United States," she added with more than a little resignation. "But he will be."

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Rubin's unsparing criticism of Trump marks a radical departure from her assessments of the previous Republican nominee, and perhaps even a shift within conservative media.

Her breathlessly positive coverage of Romney was considered by some to be symptomatic of the right's refusal to accept analysis, or polling, that pointed to a second term for Barack Obama. But Trump's candidacy created a schism among conservatives, with Rubin and others at odds with those who wanted Republicans to get behind the party's nominee.

Now, in the wake of Trump's surprise victory, his allies have been out for retribution against those who didn't join up. Last week, Rubin was chastised by former Arkansas governor and two-time GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

"Jen Rubin is WAPO's excuse for conservative," Huckabee tweeted Monday, adding that Rubin's "contempt for all things Trump exposes her and WAPO as Fake News."

But Rubin seems unfazed by the idea of alienating fellow conservatives who support Trump, saying she is "not a team player."

"My role is not to champion or encourage anyone with an 'R' after their name," she said. "My views and analysis remain the same."

Rubin, 54, was late to join the world of political punditry, having previously served as a Hollywood lawyer. She was hired by the Washington Post in 2010 after three years at the conservative magazine Commentary, and has been a lightning rod for criticism pretty much ever since.

In 2011, she used her Twitter account to promote an incendiary blog post regarding the release of an Israeli soldier from Hamas captivity.

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Patrick Pexton, the Washington Post's ombudsman at the time, publicly rebuked Rubin for retweeting a link to the post, which called for a brutal death to be brought upon the soldier's captors and their offspring.

Nearly two years later, after he left the Post, Pexton called on the newspaper's leadership to fire Rubin, who he said was "the No. 1 source of complaint mail" during his time as ombudsman.

Pexton, now an editor at the Frederick News-Post in Frederick, Maryland, told CNNMoney, after reading 10 of Rubin's recent blog posts, he believes "she has improved."

"If I can judge by those, she has become less strident, which is one of the qualities I did not like from the work she did back in 2011 to 2013," Pexton said in an email. "Back then she was so fawningly in favor of Mitt Romney, I thought she was angling for a job in a Romney administration."

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Rubin still has deep admiration for Romney, but she disputes the suggestion by some critics that she was a Romney "shill."

"I thought and still think that Romney was a dedicated, patriotic public servant and would have been a very good president," she said. "What I don't do, what I've never done and will never do is repeat lies, peddle in birther conspiracy theories, make up imaginary claims about other members of the media."

When it comes to Trump, Rubin has been consistent; in early 2012, she expressed disappointment when Romney accepted the real estate mogul's endorsement.

She said she was "flabbergasted" this month as she watched Romney, who was scathing in his critiques of Trump throughout this year's campaign, jockey to be the president-elect's secretary of state.

"You got me," Rubin said when asked why she thought Romney wanted the job. "I don't know what was going through his head. I would like to think he was trying to be a good and patriotic citizen. I thought it was, quite frankly, never going to happen."

Rubin has had her own role reversal this year. After frequently complaining about the press coverage of Romney in 2012, Rubin now sees problems with the right's media criticism.

"I think it's very difficult for many in the conservative movement to get away from this obsessive blame the mainstream media habit," she said. "I don't think it's particularly productive. I think there is bias, and there's also good honest reporting. Of course, in this election, Trump blames the media for accurately reporting and playing back what he has said."

Rubin was chided by some conservatives for her Romney coverage in 2012, but not to the extent that she's been attacked this year. She said her email inbox and Twitter feed are filled with angry messages from Trump supporters.

A pair of Fox News commentators, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, ridiculed Rubin last week for saying Trump's cabinet is stacked with "ignoramuses, billionaires and a few generals."

"You know who got weaker with Trump's election?" Carlson said. "People like Jennifer Rubin."

"Well, I guess we can't be as qualified as blogging for The Washington Post," replied Ingraham, who has been floated as a potential White House press secretary under Trump.

Carlson brought Rubin on his Fox News program earlier this month to scold her for writing in October that the GOP could be hurt when "the old white males who comprised Trump's base (and Fox News's TV audience) literally die off over the ensuing decades."

"Have you revised your view, or do you think it's just about racist white men?" Carlson asked.

It wasn't Rubin's first time in the Fox News lion's den. In October, Rubin gave a contentious interview to the channel's top-rated host, Bill O'Reilly.

For once, it was Rubin's turn to accuse someone else of being in the tank.

"You actually are in the spin zone," she said to O'Reilly. "It's presented as a news program or a pseudo-news program and instead it's a lot of parroting of what Trump says to you."


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