Twisting, Turning, Through the Never
The problem with parsing out “Never Trump” is that there are two distinct types: the principle, and the business model.
With the election looming the never ending argument over what is, what isn’t, and who constitutes #nevertrump is living it’s best life now.
And if it remains unclear whether the Lincoln Project-and a similar group, Republican Voters Against Trump-will actually be able to sway voters, as opposed to just racking up views online, the surge of interest in Never Trump groups is certainly being mirrored in Trump’s sagging polls. The president is facing a loss of support among key constituencies who voted for him in 2016, including white suburban women. If he fails to win back those voters, his reelection is in serious danger. His campaign seems to have realized this-hence his efforts to woo white suburb-dwellers by portraying America’s cities as bombed-out hellscapes, and by calling on the “Suburban Housewives of America” to turn against Joe Biden.
The Never Trumpers’ swift rise from the ashes of history does not have a single cause. There is, as an initial matter, the political savvy of some of the people in question. The Lincoln Project’s searing ads have developed a cult following-though they’ve also drawn criticism on both aesthetic and moral grounds. A series of videos made by Republican Voters Against Trump, which target a different demographic, have been no less engrossing. Made by voters themselves, these videos feature people describing the personal political considerations that lead them to identify as Republicans and yet reject the president. The output of both groups has been gripping and it has been quite different from material released by left-leaning, liberal, or Democratic entities. On a more intellectual level, a new magazine, The Bulwark, which was set up while the movement was still attracting life-support metaphors, has created an institutional home for Never Trump writing. In the drive for mind-share, the Never Trumpers have been tenacious and effective-aided in no small measure by their being the intellectual elite of the conservative movement.
Part of the problem with parsing out the broadly used but not very defined term of “Never Trump” is that there are two distinct types of Never Trump: the principle, and the business model.
The principle of Never Trump is self-explanatory: folks who will not, under any circumstances, support Donald Trump in anything for any reason.
The business model of Never Trump is also pretty simple: lots of folks oppose the president; if you want to stand out in the media environment, having the nomenclature of “Republican/Conservative against Trump” helps you stand out and get noticed.
How this all plays out will be telling. With the loudly prominent Lincoln Project promising to go scorched Earth not just on President Trump but also anyone and everyone who doesn’t share their contempt for him, questions are going to fairly be asked what comes after Trump. Their strategy is heavy on the online trolling and running ads in Washington DC for the express and open purpose of annoying Donald J. Trump as much as possible.
The Republican Voters Against Trump group took a different tact, using testimonials as the core of ads running in swing states. The volume and vitriol might be a notch or two lower than the Lincoln Project, but the goal is roughly the same.
“There became this myth about Trump that his base is so strong and locked in and they loved him,” (Sarah Longwell) says. “I knew that wasn’t true and it wasn’t true for a long time, and that there were a lot of people out there that could be persuaded if the Democrat wasn’t objectionable to them. I knew that Bernie Sanders was never going to fly with these people, but Joe Biden had always surfaced as somebody in our research that if it was him, there was a bunch of people who could be persuaded to vote for him.”
The thesis is, according to Longwell and others, the folks who held their nose and voted for Trump against Hillary Clinton will be comfortable voting for Biden. That could be, though there are variables there that are unproven in an election yet. Biden will be running well to the left of Hillary, or any Democratic nominee of our lifetime. The chaos of COVID and the fallout thereof makes for what will be the most unpredictable environment going into an election year in modern times. And it’s still Joe Biden on the ticket, fully capable of single-handedly blowing up his third run at the presidency the way he did his first two.
The professional wing of Never Trump is betting none of that will matter against an increasingly unpopular and divisive president. The odds are probably on their side for being right.
But, then what?
One of my questions with the dedicated Never Trump folks is what’s the plan for after that? By definition you are building your existence around a temporary thing in the Trump presidency, whether it is four or eight years. What’s the endgame? If you are actually Republicans fighting the good fight against the interloping Trump, is it to “return to normal?” Now, the co-founder of the Lincoln Project is promising to also push policy that would be unfavorable if not verboten in the GOP. If the Lincoln Project is utterly indistinguishable from the run of the mill Democratic 501c3s and PACs except for their founder’s former Republican credentials, it would seem unlikely they will be part of whatever the post-Trump Republican party morphs into.
Which if the proffered version of Never Trump is just a media platform, marketing, and business strategy wouldn’t matter? Controversy is good for business in political branding. If your design on Never Trump is the Republican party coming to you asking for forgiveness and declaring you were right all along, and please show them the way to a new, brighter future, you are delusional.
Most of the Never Trump arguments are very online and very inside-basebally among folks who spend way too much time on politics. Most voters aren’t very ideological at all; they vote for who they like at any particular moment. Voting for the opposing party is not as big a deal as some folks think. Voting for president is an exercise of who you want on your TV for four years more than any policy proposal. But if you like inside-basebally politics, it will be fascinating to watch folks who took the bare knuckle tactics of Trump as the best course of action against him find their place in a world post-Trump, and a party that may or may not welcome them back.
Till then, it’s summertime, and the living is easy for Never Trump.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com as part of the author’s Harsh Your Mellow Monday feature on August 3, 2020.