Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
"'Never Trump' Will Be the Only Faction Still Standing When He's Gone," a Conor Friedersdorf headline at The Atlantic blared. That was before Trump’s triumphant State of the Union address demolished the final fantasies of the Never Trump government-in-exile returning to rebuild a fallen Republican Party.
Conor’s headline is less of a rational prediction than a statement of faith in a failed movement.
Never Trump has never been less relevant than it is now. And it’s been growing less relevant every month of its existence. Its only hope for redemption, as The Atlantic headline testifies, is Trump’s utter failure. Never Trump needs the President of the United States to fail to justify its political posturing.
There are precedents for the Democrats rebranding their political movement as the #resistance after losing an election. But the last time they tried that in a big way, they lost a war. The Republican version of the #resistance is a habit picked up from the left by some who are more comfortable on the left.
Never Trumpers revile the idea of making any common cause with President Trump. Yet they make common cause with truly tainted political figures. You can be a Never Trumper who voted for Hillary Clinton. (Somehow the Clinton baggage is never as disqualifying as rudeness.) You can take money from the Franco-Persian billionaire funding The Intercept, an anti-Semitic terrorist propaganda site linked to one of the most damaging Russian spy cases since the Cold War, and still be a Never Trumper in good standing. Just ask Evan McMullin.
To Never Trumpers, like their fellow Democrats, patriotism means accusing President Trump of being a Russian spy while climbing into bed with actual Russian spies. Never Trumpers like to claim that they’re creatures of independent principles, but the McMullin case shows that they’re mercenaries taking money from any billionaire willing to fund their anti-Trump political activities, and that the same standards they insist on applying to Republicans who support Trump never actually apply to them.
Also at The Atlantic, Benjamin Wittes co-authored an article in which he insisted that, "people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical."
Pre-partisan, pre-political and pre-rational.
Antipathy is not an actual principle. And in the service of anti-Trump antipathy, Never Trumpers have been throwing their old principles overboard and adopting new ones. Max Boot declared that 2017 was the year he learned about white privilege. What made Max sign on to the left’s most racist creed? Boot complained that President Trump “goes after African-American football players who kneel during the playing of the anthem to protest police brutality.” It only took a year for the former patriot to turn against the anthem. And all it took to turn Boot against the anthem was for Trump to defend it.
If President Trump likes the anthem, it must be bad. If racist football players are fighting with Trump, they must be good. That’s a microcosm of the sad, tattered principles of the Never Trumpers.
Boot wasn’t unique in turning on the anthem. Most Democrats, who would never ordinarily have done so, trampled it in the anti-Trump herd stampede. But Never Trumpers claim to be principled people who don’t just follow the herd. And yet instead of taking a principled position on the anthem, independent of Trump’s views, they break out into a rousing rendition of Groucho’s, “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Never Trumpers like Evan McMullin and Max Boot are willing to turn on America to spite Trump. They’ll stand with terrorist supporters and black nationalist racists if they happen to be fighting against him.
There’s nothing independent about Never Trumpers. The principles that turn Max Boot on to white privilege aren’t plumbed from some deep moral well of the soul, but from the only mainstream alternative to the right. Having left the right, the Never Trumpers are going left. They aren’t retaining their principles, but adopting the ideas and values of the only other game in town. Instead of remaining a principled government-in-exile that will one day return to reclaim the GOP, they’re joining a new tribe.
But if it wasn’t deeply considered principles that made the likes of Max Boot leave, what was it?
Status. There are actual policy differences, but they’ve never made for a sufficient explanation. If conservatives could stay in the GOP even when it embraced amnesty and fight for common sense migration reform, why couldn’t Never Trumpers stay and go on fighting for unlimited immigration? Russia has never been a credible explanation either. If the Never Trumpers had stayed, they would have been in the driver’s seat on foreign policy. Some still nearly managed to make it in despite their views.
It was never about policy. It was about social status and respectability. Status can look like principles. The leftist hipsters howling about a social justice cause that they didn’t care about last year think they have principles. But a year from now, like Boot discovering white privilege, they’ll be just as passionate about something they didn’t care about and would have dismissed without thinking twice about it.
Modern culture is not aesthetic, but hip. Its control of cool is based on an exclusivity dispensed by staying current with trends. The postmodern left’s hipsters are always one-upping each other’s identity politics to maintain their political class privileges. That’s the strain that broke the Never Trumpers.
Never Trumpers risked their class privileges to turn on Communism and terrorism. But Trump was too great a risk to their class privileges over issues that they mostly didn’t agree with anyway. It was easier to dump the GOP and reimagine Hillary Clinton as a hawk who would fight all of America’s enemies.
That wasn’t a principled position. It was a conveniently delusional one.
Never Trumpers lost some income, but retained their social status. And their income flows more from their social status than the other way around as it might for Trump and some of his supporters.
And they didn’t see a place for themselves in a political movement where social status didn’t matter.
The Never Trump Reconquista of the Republican Party is a cocktail party fantasy. They don’t want to be Republicans. Instead they finally have what they’ve always wanted, the moral sanction to be Democrats who take a harder line on some foreign policy and fiscal issues, under the umbrella of the Never Trump front. And if their views on those issues erode as they swim in the warm pools of social approval, that’s just a sign of how superior they are to the savages and cavemen still holding out in the GOP.
Hating Trump is the glue that binds the social upper classes of lefties and Never Trumpers. But the hour will come when they really have to choose. Once Obama won, the anti-Bush Republicans who had been nesting in MSNBC’s green rooms were in for a rude awakening. The Never Trumpers will have their own collision with reality. And then they’ll have to decide whether they have any principles left.
After Trump, Never Trump won’t be a conquering vanguard reclaiming the GOP from the vulgarians. Instead a timid huddle of men and women cast out from their social class will be left out in the cold.
When Never Trumpers no longer have Trump as their ticket into polite leftist society, the cozy arrangements will wither, the columns will disappear and the media invites will vanish. And they will have to decide whether to stay and lick President Elizabeth Warren’s boots or return to the GOP.
Some, like Max Boot, have already made their choice.
Never Trump’s collaborators won’t reclaim the GOP: instead they’ll have to reclaim their souls.