Never Trump’s Dilemma

Two Twitter threads on Monday illustrated the problem that those who consider themselves Never Trump currently face. It is the same problem that presented itself in 2016 — principles versus practical politics — except this time, Trump himself may very well go down in defeat and if he does most talk about Trump becomes mostly meaningless, which ultimately means Never Trump will have to talk about something other Trump.

One thread was by Real Clear Politics senior election analyst Sean Trende who was responding the argument that if Republicans had nominated Marco Rubio they could have gotten all of Trump’s policy wins — particularly the three Supreme Court nominations — without any of his character flaws and would therefore be a clear favorite to win next week instead of being widely expected to lose.

Trende, who points out he does not disagree with Never Trump on substance, however argues this is not the case and that not only is what Never Trump wants to return to not popular, it never was. In the middle of his thread, he argues:

What hardcore NeverTrumpers will have to come to grips with after Trump probably loses is that there is no hunger for their brand of politics.

The “‘be the world’s policeman’/cut social security/worst-of-all-possible-worlds-by-being socially-conservative-but-not-really-meaning it” coalition just isn’t there. As I’ve said before, it gets the votes of three guys in think tank cubicles, two of whom voted for [Gary] Johnson.

The idea that “smashing Trump means we lay the foundation for the re-emergence of Bushism” is simply delusional, period full-stop. That managed to get a wartime president 285 Electoral Votes during an economic expansion.

Trende did not, but could have also included Never Trump favorites John McCain and Mitt Romney getting a lousy 173 and 206 electoral votes respectively.

The second thread of the day came from Jerry Taylor and was cited by David French, the latter of whom tweeted, “I do not personally know a single anti-Trump conservative voice who’s in it for ‘the grift’ or to join the Democratic Party. They’re united by (among other things) revulsion at the damage Trump is doing to this nation and the belief character counts.”

Of course, the truthfulness French’s assessment hinges on what “I do not personally know” means, because in the thread he cites Jen Rubin, Max Boot, and Bill Kristol are hailed as “genuine.” Sorry, but “Biden supporting conservative” is a contradiction of terms. Refusing to vote for Trump is one thing, but those three have are grifters, especially Rubin and Boot.

They were never very conservative to begin with, their biggest conservative credential was being hawkish on Iran, but now now they are doves. Beyond that, Boot even wrote a book embracing the “conservatives are racists” trope which is quite a bit different than “Trump is racist.”

Boot is not alone, for a certain segment of Never Trump, Never Trump has become Never Republican. The Lincoln Project thinks the key to purging the party of Trump is too also purge it of Susan Collins.

It makes one wonder if French even read the thread he cited, but we should still consider his point, “They’re united by (among other things) revulsion at the damage Trump is doing to this nation and the belief character counts.”

Going forward it is French’s parenthetical that will matter most because while it is fair to say that the presidency is a serious office that should be filled with a dignified individual, Trump will not be president forever.

If Never Trump wants to have a future and political influence it needs a vision for the country without the word “Trump.” But, what vision they do have for the country, like Trende argued, is very unpopular.

To critique Trende, he too seemed to present Never Trump in a monolithic light. Trende is right to say Bushism is not popular either inside the Republican Party or outside of it, but that does not mean all Never Trump criticism is from people like the Lincoln Project who want to bring about the Revenge of the Establishment. Many of the people who at least were Never Trump in 2016, and may still be, were also harshly critical of the Bush Administration’s fiscal irresponsibility, to take just one example.

Beyond personality arguments, remaining Never Trumpers have three non-pandemic related arguments as to way they can not vote for Trump: tariffs, foreign policy, and the debt/deficit.

Take Trump out of the picture and Never Trump re-faces the same dilemma it faces that was mentioned in the opening paragraph. Never Trump has the advantage of being mostly correct on those three areas, but the disadvantage of being unpopular.

How Never Trump deals with this will determine how much political power they have. You can claim you will advocate for what you believe to be right, even if that means standing alone, but at a certain point you will become a guy on an island screaming into the void, because you’re not Churchill and the thing you’re warning against isn’t Hitler.

This is a problem not only for Never Trump, but for the country. If both major parties say we refuse to touch the idea of entitlement reform with a ten foot pole, then the country’s finances will eventually catch up with us and great amounts of unpleasantness will be had, but good luck getting elected on a platform of serious budget cuts and entitlement reform while also realizing that being a good conservative means fending off attempts from the left to cut the defense budget.

To solve this, after the election, Never Trump needs to rebrand. If he loses they will have the advantage of portraying Trump as a loser, his “I’m a winning winner who wins all the time” schtick will be a false one. But they need to be careful, because Never Trumpers like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace are not exactly winners either and how many presidents has Rick Wilson guided to victory? Wallace did not even vote for her boss in the 2008 presidential election.

They need to meet pro-Trump folks halfway. Character matters, but so does winning. Republican voters have a right to expect their candidates win elections. A dignified loser is better than an undignified loser, but is still a loser and Never Trump needs to acknowledge that. The more establishment-minded among them need to realize that their brand of campaign fails.

The reason why so many Republicans love Trump is not so much because Trump is awesome, but because “he fights.” Remove Trump from the equation and the path to victory is now believed by many to be in a populist form of conservatism that does not shy away from cultural and moral issues.

For years Republicans campaigned on tax cuts and stayed away from “wedge issues” like abortion even as Democrats portrayed them as waging wars on women. It led to a feeling among the rank-and-file that they cared more about getting Republicans elected than the professional party apparatus whose only reason for existing is to do just that.

If Never Trump wants to have a seat at the future of conservatism it needs to realize that as good as tax cuts are, being pro-life is more important. Attacking and debunking Critical Race Theory is more important than cutting “waste fraud and abuse.” As bad as presidential rage tweeting and name calling is, court packing is worse.

They also need to co-opt some of Trump’s language, while also learning from it. For example, Never Trump needs an “America First” foreign policy, but make clear that means “America First” means that America needs allies. Yes, even those pesky Europeans among whom include the annoyingly pompous Germans.

But, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop advocating we attempt to turn the Middle East into Western Europe. Even non-deranged Never Trumpers can celebrate the peace deals Trump got Israel to sign with Sudan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, but he did so by rejecting a Never Trump foreign policy. If Trump is able to get a Israeli-Saudi peace deal it will because he rejected calls from Never Trump (and others) to punish Saudi Arabia for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Less focus on international order building for its own sake, and a more realistic assessment of our national interest will help move the country’s away from Bushism and into a foreign policy for the 2020's and beyond while also guarding against Trumpism’s worst impulses.

In short, serious Never Trumpers need to break the dichotomy that many on both sides want: MAGA versus the Lincoln Project. Serious Never Trumpers need to find a way to turn those seemingly incompatible camps into a Venn Diagram and be the middle portion of said diagram. It will not be easy, but if Donald Trump can get elected president of the United States, then anything is possible.

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Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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Alex Christy

Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.

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