A Republican NeverTrump Postmortem
How history will view these self-proclaimed conservatives and protectors of principle.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Of all the bizarrerie over the last four years, the Republican NeverTrump (RNT) phenomenon is the strangest. Pundits, commentators, and writers who self-identified as Republican and conservative did not see Donald Trump’s historic upset victory as a cause for celebration. Instead, they saw it as a disaster to be mourned and attacked with more vitriol than they ever expended on Barack Obama, not just one of the most progressive presidents ever elected, but a failure both at home and abroad.
Many factors explain this mystery, but one stands out: the revelation that there is indeed a bipartisan political guild that cares more about maintaining its own power, prestige, and perks than instituting policies that keep America safe, prosperous, and free.
It’s understandable that many establishment Republicans would be put off by Trump. He didn’t come from the world of government, universities, and think-tanks, which is unaccountable to the market and so can fail forever. He owned businesses where concrete results are more important than abstract theorizing or rhetorical cleverness. A world where common sense and practical wisdom are more useful than institutional “paradigms,” “grand narratives,” and received wisdom. It galled the intellectual clerisy to think that such a boor and Philistine could achieve the highest office in the most powerful nation in human history.
But once the primaries were over and Trump had won the nomination, these complaints over style and personality were beside the point, and reflected distaste for one particular kind of American identity shared by a critical mass of the over 60 million voters who put him in office. More important was one simple fact: Trump’s victory meant that Hillary Clinton, a deep-swamp creature likely to continue the disastrous polices of Barack Obama––a tax-and-spend, hyper-regulatory, civil society-intruding degradation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights––would leave our political stage, taking her unpleasant personality, sordid ambition, mediocre achievements, and history of felonious behavior with her.
In other words, the RNT should have focused on the policies Trump had promised: revving up the economy with tax breaks and deregulation; regaining control over our porous southern border and the unvetted multitudes living here illegally; fighting back against the illiberal, anti-Constitutional regime of political correctness; restoring the rights of religious belief and practice in the public square; appointing federal judges who honor the Constitution; and restoring U.S. sovereignty by abandoning feckless multinational agreements that served the interests of both our ungrateful allies and autocratic rivals. In short, Trump realized many of the policy aims that conservatives have been wanting to achieve for decades, aims that a Clinton presidency would have never worked for.
For truly principled conservatives, then, the RNT should have monitored Trump’s actions in office to keep him faithful to these promises and make these aspirations real. Which he did. But no number of successes could overcome their visceral hatred of the upstart who mocked and ignored them and their supposed superior wisdom and specious moral preening, using tweets that bypassed the media filters usually serving progressive interests.
Indeed, starting before he was elected, many RNT wrote diatribes against him, mostly based on style and demeanor and violations of “democratic norms.” Many openly endorsed Hillary Clinton, preferring a seasoned political hack and progressive grifter just because she had the right credentials, and was fluent in the globalist patter of the ruling elite that had misruled the country for decades. They even seemed embarrassed by the vocal and visual “vulgar” patriotism on display at Trump’s rallies with their plethora of pickup trucks and seas of MAGA hats. Some spoke darkly of attacks on democracy and inclinations to fascism––“This is how fascism comes to America,” Robert Kagan shrilled about Trump in the Washington Post.
And don’t forget, Trump’s conservative program to roll back Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of America and restore the Constitutional order was opposed by most of the country’s elite institutions, especially the media, but also many of the entertainment and corporate businesses. Worse, the FBI, CIA, and DOJ were corrupted into peddling the “Russian collusion” hoax for over half his first term.
How unseemly, then, is it for self-proclaimed conservatives and protectors of principle to pile on a president trying to restore the nation to its foundational principles while he’s facing incessant calumny from the media, and battling against the most powerful federal agencies armed with the ability to surveil, wire-tap, subpoena, and bully?
Indeed, so stricken with Trump Derangement Syndrome were some RNT that they turned to leftist plutocrats to fund websites and outfits for continuing their assaults on the president. One fails to see what’s so “principled” about such behavior, or how it displays respect for their “democratic norms.”
But the RNT unwittingly performed for we the people a great service. They exposed the truth about our ruling class––that it comprises a bipartisan guild made up in the main of people from the same socio-economic class that shares the assumptions of technocratic rule by credentialed “experts,” as well as the politically correct book of manners that demonizes conservatives with question-begging epithets like “racist” or “xenophobic” or “Islamophobic.” These breaches of decorum are like wearing white after Labor Day. They typify the vulgar masses who don’t “believe in science” and so question global grifts and boondoggles like anthropogenic, catastrophic global warming, our age’s equivalent of the “scientific racism” and eugenics of the early 20th century. They too were called “settled science” that only the uneducated, superstitious plebeians questioned.
Most important, this bipartisan guild believes in the “rules-based international order,” the congeries of multinational institutions whose rules and regulations should limit and hinder our own national sovereignty, which feeds a dangerous “nationalism” sure to mutate into fascism. And they endorse the narrative of “moralizing internationalism,” the century-old, dubious belief that all peoples across the planet want to be Westerners and enjoy our goods like prosperity, peace, human rights, religious tolerance, sex equality, free speech, and all the other cargo of the Western way.
These are the stale ideas that created the “endless wars” in the Middle East that Trump decried and began to end, even as he brokered normalization of relations between Israel and several Muslim states. And he did it by ignoring one of the foreign policy guild’s most cherished narratives: only a Palestinian Arab state, created at Israel’s expense and a threat to her security, could resolve that long bloody crisis––another reason for the RNT, foreign policy and national security division, to hate the president so intensely.
Of course, Trump’s seeming failure to get reelected has no doubt excited the RNT. Now Joe Biden, if elected by the Electoral College, will be running the government according to the decrepit protocols of the traditional postwar ruling class. That Biden will have won likely with the help of widespread electoral fraud won’t matter, any more than the degradation of journalistic professional standards, or the debasement of the FBI and DOJ, bothered the RNT. Their anger, bitterness, and outrage will be assuaged, and they can return to being the Dem’s “good” Republicans, the ones who will sacrifice conservative interests and principles to progressive ones.
If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider this tweet from Steve Schmidt to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the radical New York Congressman. Schmidt is a high-profile RNT who heads the RNT Lincoln Project. Seeking a partnership with AOC to delegitimize the “other side,” Trump supporters smeared as “white supremacists,” Schmidt tweeted, as reported in PJMedia:
“I have an idea. Let’s approach each other and our points of view with good faith. We say the following with respect and seriousness Ma’am. Our hand is open and we need to work together or we are going to lose America,” Schmidt wrote. “We will not yield and we will never break. We are the side opposed to autocracy.”
Schmidt described Never Trumpers and AOC as “the left and right flanks of a broad coalition. Should we buckle, they will win. We must not. We are together. We pledge to listen. We pledge to learn. We pledge to be open to your ideas and we pledge to compromise. We have no such offer for the other side.”
The Never Trumper went on to praise AOC in the highest of terms. “We all admire your co[n]viction , Integrity and guts. We say the following with respect. Maybe it is the case that we are stronger together. I wish you a merry Christmas and all of your supporters a happy holiday season. We admire your conviction. You are a living example of democracy and the importance of faith and belief in the system,” he wrote.
Here we have the classic Republican “preemptive cringe” on steroids, the self-abasement before a hard-core radical who wants to destroy everything conservatives hold dear. And this is what passes for “principles” and “norms” for RNT? It bespeaks the naiveté of Senator William Borah when war broke out in September 1939: “Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided.”
The RNT still don’t get that the progressives do not want to “reach across the aisle” or honor “democratic norms.” They want to prevail by any means possible, and transform this country from a politically free republic into a socialist technocracy in which the only approved “freedoms” will be those of the appetites.
If Biden prevails, and the Republicans don’t win at least one of the Georgia Senate seats, we will have moved closer to that outcome. And if we do, the Republican NeverTrumpers will go down in history as the collaborators who helped that disaster come to pass.