Protestations to the contrary, a petition to rescind Marc Short’s hiring at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center carries the whiff of a witch hunt.
However, critics are correct in this: Hiring an official straight out of the Trump administration is tactless, to say the least, and such hires should be made only after a cooling-off period.
Until just a few days ago, Mr. Short was legislative affairs director for President Trump. He attended UVa’s Darden School of Business, graduating in 2004, and has been a guest speaker at Darden as part of its Business and Government Relations course.
As of this writing, Mr. Short is expected to become a senior fellow at the Miller Center on Aug. 1. He also will take a position at Guidepost Strategies, a consulting firm.
Critics say that their opposition to Mr. Short isn’t based on politics — Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative — but rather on community norms, an understanding of morality and the standards that should be upheld by a university “dedicated to defending and promoting an open society,” in the words of one of those critics.
Those are noble words. Taken at face value, they are even apolitical.
But there’s no getting around the fact that opinions about the Trump administration, pro or con, are — at heart — political. Opposition to the administration is embedded in politics (as is, of course, support for the administration). It’s difficult, therefore, to convincingly argue that this particular example of opposition is not political.
Be that as it may, critics make several valid points.
» It is surprising that the Miller Center would not anticipate this sort of backlash. No think tank with the center’s reputation for astuteness can fail to be aware of the revulsion in which the Trump administration is held in many quarters.
The issue is especially sensitive locally. Mr. Trump’s initial statement on the tragedies of last August’s white supremacist rally was so callous, uninformed and out of touch that it is seen as a personal affront to those who suffered here. Anyone who supported the administration is tainted by it.
Perhaps the Miller Center has such high confidence in Mr. Short’s abilities — including the ability to be politically unbiased — that it believes the hire is truly a coup, a chance to better understand a perplexing president based on inside information.
» For a non-political think tank to hire an associate straight out of a controversial presidency also is a surprising move.
It strikes others the same way.
Doug Blackmon, an incoming Miller Center fellow who already has worked with the center hosting its well-received “American Forum” television show, is among those who signed the petition against Mr. Short.
“This is a first,” he said, “to have a warrior coming straight out of the political battle and coming straight to the university.”
It is widely considered wise to create some time and distance between being immersed in the political fray and, in this case, being expected to impartially analyze the political fray.
That’s precisely because of what has happened here: Stepping from one job to the other without a pause creates the suspicion that bias is simply being transferred from one job to the other, too.
The Miller Center says it remains committed to its goal of “fostering robust, but civil, debate across our nation’s bitter partisan divide.”
Instead, it has put itself right in the middle of that bitter controversy — not as an impartial analyst, but as a participant.
By campaigning against Mr. Short’s hiring, opponents might be revealing themselves as less committed to a truly “open society” than they claim.
But such opposition was inevitable. The Miller Center should have seen this one coming.
The online version of this editorial was corrected to restore dropped material.