After VA, Defining “Never Trump”
In the aftermath of Republican Ed Gillespie’s loss to Democrat Ralph Northam in the Virginia gubernatorial election, the attacks against “Never Trumpers” from certain corners of the conservative world this week were not only predictable but remarkably consistent in how aggressively incorrect they were.
The Federalist’s Sean Davis accused Never Trumpers of pushing gun control, opposing tax reform, mocking gun owners, and voting for pro-abortion Democrats.
Mollie Hemingway denounced what she called “NeverTrump’s sabotage of Gillespie,” quoting a tweet from former independent Presidential candidate Evan McMullin criticizing Gillespie. Fox News’ Brit Hume quoted the same tweet, accusing the Never Trump movement of becoming a “cheering section for Democrats.”
Breitbart’s Joel Pollak similarly made an accusation of Never Trump “glee” at a “Democrat victory,” following that up with an article snidely accusing us of “gloating” and being “exuberant” about Gillespie’s loss.
It’s an easy thing to mock each of these tweets individually. As I pointed out, Davis conveniently forgot that Trump himself has done all of these things he is accusing us of doing, and Pollak’s insistence that we are happy about Gillespie’s loss is beyond bizarre considering his inability to quote a tweet where a Never Trumper actually said they were happy about it. To the contrary, Pollak quoted Rick Wilson’s tweet where he literally said: “I’m not celebrating [Democrat] wins.”
The foundational problem of these critics of “Never Trump” is that they are attempting to force those two words into a box of their own false definition. This is especially infuriating after years of conservatives objecting to liberals ignoring longstanding meanings of words in order to achieve their policy goals: the terrorist attack at Fort Hood was “workplace violence,” the Supreme Court allowing abortion by creating a right to “privacy” in the Constitution even though that word never appears in the text, etc.
“Never Trump” simply means we do not believe Trump is fit to be POTUS.
Plain and simple, this is what “Never Trump” means: I do not believe Donald Trump has the temperament, ethical foundation, moral code, intellectual ability, or emotional steadiness to be fit for the job of President of the United States. He lacks respect for the Constitutional principles upon which America was founded.
Trump was elected in no small part because he accurately voiced the very real frustrations felt by many Americans who are struggling financially, who feel left behind by the new economy. But Trump’s life history includes a seemingly endless string of examples when he betrayed the very kind of people who are counting on him now.
From Trump’s frequent willingness to abuse eminent domain laws to take property from people unwilling to sell to him, to the long list of creditors (including literally thousands of small/family-owned businesses; I’ve looked up the court records) he left unpaid in the multiple rounds of his casino bankruptcies, to the Trump University students to whom he was forced to pay a $25 million settlement for defrauding them, to the time he cut off medical insurance benefits to his own nephew’s seriously ill baby son after a dispute about Trump’s father’s will arose, Trump has repeatedly used his money and power to take advantage of those weaker than him.
Never Trump means I believe Trump is a dishonest and unethical person. These character flaws are not going to improve. He is not going to “become presidential” or grow into the job. A seventy-one-year-old man who even his allies describe as stubborn is not going to change.
Never Trump means I did not vote for Trump and I will not vote for his reelection.
“Never Trump” does not mean “Democrat.”
Note that I have yet not said one word about whether or not Trump is a conservative. That’s for two reasons.
First, he is unique among modern American politicians in being extraordinarily difficult to classify along traditional liberal-conservative lines, because depending on the issue, he might be liberal, moderate, conservative, or flip-flopping back and forth (or, as his supporters would say, “evolving”) so much it’s impossible to really say.
Second, whether or not Trump is conservative does not actually have any bearing on his fitness for the office of President. I would strongly prefer a pro-life, conservative President, but liberal politics alone do not make a President unfit for office.
That being said, the endless accusations that Never Trumpers are actually Democrats are not just tiresome, they’re ridiculous — and even more so when such attacks are offered in defense of Trump, with his long history of donating to liberal politicians and causes. I’ve remained staunchly pro-life, supportive of entitlement reform, repealing Obamacare, Second Amendment rights, and so have many other Never Trumpers I know. None of my political positions have changed since the GOP presidential primary began in 2015. Trump cannot make the same claim.
Beyond that, the screeching accusations that we wanted Northam to win and were “gleeful” at Gillespie’s loss are in direct contradiction to the many of us who clearly voiced our support for Gillespie, especially the Virginians who voted for him.
The reality is that the heart of being Never Trump is deeply connected to conservative principles. We see the divisions that Trump has encouraged in our party and in the country at large, and are worried about his long-term effects on the viability of the conservative movement. Northam beat Gillespie nearly 2-to-1 among 18 to 44-year-olds. Trump also had a deficit with younger voters versus Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s attacks on fellow Republicans are another matter of grave concern. He has repeatedly threatened to support primary challengers against any GOP members of Congress who openly criticize him, and Steve Bannon is said to be plotting challenges against all Republicans “except Ted Cruz” who are up for reelection in 2018.
I believe very strongly that no elected official — even the ones I support — should feel safe from a challenge for their seat, but this looming wide scale Republican civil war will be fought to enforce loyalty to Trump, not to elect more conservative representatives.
Trump’s lack of loyalty to other Republicans was evident last night, as he blamed Gillespie’s loss on Gillespie being just not “Trumpy enough,” as Caleb described it. Trump has had similarly narcissistic reactions after other recent elections, taking full credit for any Republicans who have won and blaming any losses on insufficient loyalty to Trumplicanism.
As Alexander Hamilton wrote, “If we must have an enemy at the head of Government, let it be one whom we can oppose, and for whom we are not responsible, who will not involve our party in the disgrace of his foolish and bad measures.”
“Never Trump” is not organized or marching in lockstep.
Evan McMullin is not the king of Never Trump. Neither is Bill Kristol or even Rick Wilson. And while I am arrogant enough to write this article attempting to establish a better definition of the term, I’m not in charge of the movement either — mainly because there isn’t actually a movement.
There was some structure to form a movement around the McMullin campaign, but some Never Trumpers voted for McMullin, some voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, some cast write-in ballots, and some even voted for Clinton as their choice of a “lesser evil.” (Casting a reluctant vote for Clinton still doesn’t mean they’re automatically Democrats, but I digress.)
Now that the campaign is over, those who identify as Never Trump are — surprise! — still thinking and acting individually. McMullin was one of a very small minority of Never Trumpers who did not support Gillespie, but his tweet was used to attack all of us. Those of us who are opposed to Trump had different opinions about the Virginia Governor’s race and will continue to support different candidates in many races moving forward.
Beyond the Virginia election, there are many issues with a divergence of opinions among Never Trumpers. Some of us feel it is best to attempt to continue fighting for reform within the GOP, some want to start a new third party, and some support Joel Searby’s Centrist Project approach.
The bottom line is that Never Trump has no organizational structure, no one issuing marching orders or talking points, no set of rules or membership requirements. We just aren’t going to vote for Trump, and feel no compulsion to defend his behavior from legitimate criticisms.
So go ahead and disagree with Never Trump. Support the President if you wish. We’ve endured two years of abuse and harassment and threats already and have thick skins and stubborn hearts. But if you come after us with this kind of intellectually lazy, overgeneralized nonsense, accusing us of criticizing Trump because you think we’re just a bunch of Democrats following orders issued from some secret GOP establishment lair somewhere, to borrow a favorite phrase from Trump’s own tweets, that’s fake news. Sad!
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.