National Review in February 2016 published “Against Trump,” a special issue that made a reasoned case for why conservatives should oppose Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president. Nearly two-dozen conservative writers and influencers weighed in; most of them cogently—and correctly—explained that Trump was not a “true conservative.” He had supported progressive causes in the past (including abortion and single-payer health care), and did not possess the intellectual mooring that conservatives value. Some writers faulted Trump for his boorish, impulsive temperament and populist rhetoric.
It was a measured assessment by fair-minded people, some of whom—such as Cal Thomas and Thomas Sowell—have helped attract millions of devotees to the conservative movement. Young, energetic newcomers, including Ben Domenech and Katie Pavlich were also featured. Some highlights:
Ben Domenech (editor, The Federalist): “Conservatives should reject Trump’s hollow, Euro-style identity politics. But conservatives have far more to learn from his campaign than many might like to admit. The Trump voter is moderate, disaffected, with patriotic instincts. He feels disconnected from the GOP and other broken public institutions, left behind by a national political elite that no longer believes he matters.”
Mark Helprin (novelist): “He doesn’t know the Constitution, history, law, political philosophy, nuclear strategy, diplomacy, defense, economics beyond real estate, or even, despite his low-level-mafioso comportment, how ordinary people live.”
Katie Pavlich (editor, Townhall): “Trump’s liberal positions aren’t in the distant past—he has openly promoted them on the campaign trail. Conservatives have a serious decision to make. Do we truly believe in our long-held principles and insist that politicians have records demonstrating fealty to them?”
Of course, Trump went on to win both the nomination and the election. Several of the writers, grown-ups who love their country more than they love proving they were right, managed to move on in life, staying true to their conservative principles while praising and criticizing the president as the occasion warranted.
But a handful of other alleged conservatives, who joined forces before the general election to form the “NeverTrump” movement, saw an opportunity. Rather than keeping a much-needed policy check on an unpredictable president and gobsmacked Congress, they positioned themselves as “conservative” Trump foes, and, in the process, boosted their number of followers on social media and number of appearances on cable news shows.
People such as Bill Kristol, Jennifer Rubin, and Bret Stephens have carved out a niche for themselves as the go-to source for reporters to get blistering commentary about Trump, or his administration, or his family, or his congressional allies, or his voters. Kristol’s number of Twitter followers has nearly tripled, as he churns out hourly rants that veer from impeachment pleas to far-fetched conspiracy theories on Russia, Mike Pence, and Trump’s inner circle. They promote the darkest narrative, not just of Trumpism, but of Republicans in general, mimicking the same, weary warnings Democrats have shrieked for decades—that Republicans are racist, sexist, homophobic, and plain stupid. These self-proclaimed guardians of America’s modern conservative legacy have ceased talking about anything of substance. They are as reactionary and emotive as high school sophomores.
It is all Trump, all the time. In the process, they have abandoned both their party and their principles.
This past week proves how unhinged, dishonest, and untethered to conservatism some NeverTrumpers have become. Not only are they backing away from a fundamental conservative belief—the constitutionally-protected right to bear arms (Stephens last month wrote a column supporting the repeal of the Second Amendment)—they rooted for, then celebrated, Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial win in Virginia.
Let’s start with the Democrats’ big win on Tuesday. On Election Day morning, Evan McMullin, Kristol’s handpicked puppet to challenge Trump as an independent last year, tweeted this:
.@EdWGillespie was one of the good guys, but now he peddles fear and white nationalism. It’s better for VA and America that he not prevail.
— Evan McMullin (@Evan_McMullin) November 7, 2017
(Side note: On what planet does this dullard have 400k “conservative” Twitter followers? Does he know he’s being used? That these people aren’t who they say they are?)
Kristol followed-up with a non-endorsement endorsement of Northam as well:
Whatever the case for or against Gillespie, VA has something like the 6th lowest crime rate and 14th lowest unemployment rate in the nation. https://t.co/kb0nS3M4x8
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) November 7, 2017
Kristol’s wife, Susan, donated to Northam’s campaign, and made no secret about her support for a candidate who wants to protect Obamacare, allow abortion-on-demand, and repeal concealed carry:
Now that the Virginia GOP and Ed Gillespie are falsely accusing Ralph Northam of supporting the MS-13 gang, this tweet bears repeating. https://t.co/N63DvfGn8Z
— Susan Kristol (@SusanKristol) October 7, 2017
Jennifer Rubin, who has the gall to call herself a “conservative blogger,” and the Washington Post has the gall to present her as such, spent the past few weeks mocking prayer, demonizing the NRA, defending the estate tax, and smearing Ed Gillespie. In her post-election piece, Rubin wrote (I literally cannot stop laughing as I read it):
The mood of the country a year after Trump’s victory may not be as anti-government as some thought. Instead of unrelenting hostility toward government, verging on nihilism, we see voters going for pro-government candidates, even ones seeking to expand health care. You never know what you stand to lose until you look into the abyss and see the loss of a politically sane and functional government.
Do it with me: LOL
She wasn’t the only one dancing in the NeverTrump end zone. Kristol, Stephens, Rick Wilson, and other devoted NeverTrumpers posted and retweeted the election news in an “I-told-you-so” way that had nothing to do with conservatism and everything to do with political revenge. Fox News’s Brit Hume took notice of the celebration, and tweeted, “this is what the never-Trump movement is becoming—a cheering section against Republicans.” Stephens stepped up to defend his NeverTrump compatriots in what could be the most dishonest tweet of the day:
— Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT) November 8, 2017
(Keep in mind, Stephens not only wants the Second Amendment repealed, he became a recent climate-change convert after years of calling it a sham.)
Hume fired back:
A leading never-Trumper acknowledges that the movement has indeed become a cheering section against Republicans. Note the chest-thumping. https://t.co/0veTm9GlaR
— Brit Hume (@brithume) November 8, 2017
The fray was not unnoticed. Erick Erickson, a contributor to NR’s “Against Trump” issue, summed it all up: “I’ve wanted to say NeverTrump died with the election, but there really are Republicans now who’d cheer on the devil if Trump said he believed in God.”
So, where do these NeverTrumpers go from here? There seems to be a gradual split in the ranks and a recognition that the most fervent among them have lost their senses. There is also no compelling strategy to “take back” the GOP with any policy platform or candidate development effort. (The best they could do is come up with a letter to support Robert Mueller. Not exactly a winning message for 2018.)
Kristol is rooting for the implosion of the GOP because that’s what he predicted would happen if Trump was elected. With a history of poor political prognostication, Kristol is hell-bent on making sure the Republican Party pays the price for nominating and electing Trump, even if it means the other side, with its destructive agenda of progressive policies, wins. Kristol, Rubin, Stephens, are now de facto, if not actual, liberals. We should stop allowing them to get away with calling themselves anything but that; the media will rub them in our faces until we do.
Soon, however, the Virginia election will be a memory, these NeverTrumpers’ social-media fist-bumping will end, and they will still be left with a president they detest, an electorate they ridicule, and lost integrity they won’t be able to recover.