A headline on Wednesday’s Kansas City Star read as follows, “Kris Kobach rejects criticism for speaking at a ‘white nationalist’ conference.”

The charismatic Kansas secretary of state did more than “reject” criticism. He blasted its source, the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC says “hateful, false things,” said Kobach, the nation’s leading legal authority on illegal immigration. “They’re unethical smear artists.”

Of course, they are. For years they have pretended to be otherwise because their targets – inevitably political conservatives – have not called them out. In the age of Trump, all this is changing.

In fact, the SPLC is just one of the many arms of what I describe in my book “Scarlet Letters” as progressive neo-puritanism, an unholy mingling of law and faux morality that mimics the polity of our early New England ancestors but without the mercy and without the grounding.

The SPLC tells donors of its dedication “to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society,” but that is just a ruse to empty the pockets of the useful idiots who keep the SPLC in business.

“Today,” observed Ken Silverstein in the left-of-center Harper’s magazine, “the SPLC spends most of its time – and money – on a relentless fund-raising campaign, peddling memberships in the church of tolerance with all the zeal of a circuit rider passing the collection plate.”

If the church of tolerance has a Torquemada, it is surely SPLC founder and director Morris Dees. Under his twisted guidance, the SPLC has done little over the years but slander conservatives and sow the seeds of racial and religious distrust.

The CNBC panel at last week’s Republican debate was littered with little Torquemadas, each asking questions under the old assumption that Republicans would not fight back. They were wrong.

“Carl, are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football?” Gov. Chris Christie asked Carl Quintanilla. “We have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us, and we’re talking about fantasy football?”

Christie may have had the evening’s best one-liner. “I’ve got to tell you the truth,” he said to a badgering John Harwood. “Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.”

Jack Cahill’s brand new book illustrates how the neo-Puritan progressive movement came to mimic a religion in its structure but not at all in its spirit — order “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism”

Marco Rubio was a close second. “The Democrats have the ultimate super PAC,” he observed. “It’s called the mainstream media.” This is a point so obvious the wonder is that it has taken all these years for candidate to say it on a public stage.

Ben Carson refused the Scarlet H for homophobia the panelists tried to slap on him. “[Homosexuals] shouldn’t automatically assume that because you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman that you are a homophobe,” said Carson.

“And this is one of the myths that the left perpetrates on our society,” he added. “And this is how they frighten people and get people to shut up. You know, that’s what the PC culture is all about, and it’s destroying this nation.”

Ted Cruz got the honors for most sweeping indictment. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” said Cruz.

He continued, “If you look at the questions: Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”

After pointing out the difference between the way the media treat Democrats and Republicans, Cruz concluded with an observation that no Republican has dared make before this cycle, “Nobody watching at home believes that any of the moderators have any intention of voting in a Republican primary.”

The one candidate who has done the most to change the dynamic, of course, is Donald Trump. As I noted in a June 10 WND column a week before Trump declared, “The Republican nominee for president will be that candidate who best learns that there is no future in apologizing.”

What made Trump’s candidacy viable were not his comments about Mexico but his refusal to apologize for them. In a similar vein, Carson’s refusal to apologize for his comments on Muslims solidified his base.

The media have not forgiven Trump. “Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?” Harwood asked in the evening’s first directed question.

“It’s not a very nicely asked question,” said Trump, trying to be more gentlemanly than Harwood deserved. Later in the debate, Trump got more specific.

Harwood asked Mike Huckabee, “When you look at [Trump], do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?” After Huckabee refused to take the bait, Trump fired back, “Such a nasty question.” Yes, it was.

If the media despise Trump for any one thing, it is changing the rules of the game. Before his entry, they were the ones with the sticks swinging at the piñata, blindfolds off. Now, they are the piñata.

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