Conservative carping: Why many on the right aren't defending Don Jr.

During the long campaign, some of Donald Trump’s toughest critics in the media were conservatives.

This scrambled the usual partisan lines, where most conservative pundits back the Republican candidate and most liberal pundits support the Democrat. Some of the loudest #NeverTrump voices belonged to those on the right.

Trump delighted in taking them on, and of course he won.

Now, with the media furor over Don Jr. and his emails, they have ramped up their criticism once again. And that has deprived the White House of much of a cheering squad as the Russia story heats up once again.

It’s not that these conservative critics have a megaphone that approaches that of the White House. But it muddies the case that the “liberal media” are out to get Trump.

There are exceptions, of course. Sean Hannity, who interviewed Don Jr. Tuesday—the president’s son said that in retrospect he probably would have done things differently—told him during the sitdown: “Liberals in the destroy Trump media once again have worked themselves into frenzy. They're frothing at the mouth.”

Rush Limbaugh took on the “Drive-By Media,” saying: “I actually think I’m watching people lose their minds…This is the story that’s gonna get Trump thrown out of office. This is the story that’s gonna cause an uprising among the American people. Except they have done that practically every day for the last year, and certainly for the last six months.”

But others on the right said that Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer he was told had oppo research on Hillary Clinton—as documented in the emails he released—was troubling.

In “Don Jr.’s Disgraceful Meeting,” National Review says: "No campaign professional would have accepted such a dodgy meeting the way Trump Jr. did, and no person with a strong sense of propriety — Russia is a hostile power run by a deeply corrupt regime — would have wanted to."

The Weekly Standard, writing about U.S. sanctions against Moscow, says that "the Trump team has lost all credibility on the question of Russia. Second-guessing by the media and politicians of both parties will be the inevitable accompaniment to every White House announcement about Vladimir Putin or Russia.”

Fox’s Charles Krauthammer said this about the president’s son, in light of the fact that his meeting with Veselnitskaya apparently went nowhere: “It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent…

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up,” he noted. “I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”

New York Times conservative Ross Douthat says the episode has convinced him to no longer give the president the benefit of the doubt.

The strongest defense mustered by some on the right is that Don Jr. broke no law.

Conservative blogger Erick Erickson says that “while I do not think it proves collusion or shows any illegality, it does show that Donald Trump, Jr. lacks credible judgment, any ethical standards, and his father has placed his company in terrible hands…

“Still, there does not seem to be anything illegal going on despite hysteria to the contrary.”

Even the usually pro-Trump New York Post ran an editorial titled “Donald Trump Jr. Is An Idiot.”

And Breitbart, Steve Bannon’s old stomping grounds, ran a relatively straightforward news story on the matter.

But there is still the chance that the mainstream media will go overboard on the story, prompting pushback from the right. You don’t have to think that Don Jr. acquitted himself with honor here to buy into the taunts by some Democrats of possible “treason.” What the younger Trump did could be viewed as wrong or naïve without being illegal.

A good clue to whether the press has gone overboard will be if you see these conservative critics saying that on reflection, what happened wasn’t all that bad.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.