The Trumpocalypse is nigh. Regardless of how it comes to pass—the remaining primaries, a contested convention, the general election, or a Trump presidency—Donald Trump will inevitably result in disaster for the conservative movement. The open question is merely of magnitude and duration. The absolute, best-case scenario is that a non-Trump candidate wins the GOP nomination and manages to win in November.
We should retain hope in and work for that merciful deliverance, but we should also recognize that even in that best case there will be deep and bitter feelings of injustice and betrayal in its wake. We should also recognize markets estimate those odds at less than 15 percent. The more probable scenarios are much, much worse.
The vicious, friendship-breaking recriminations are already starting, and they will continue as long as Red America is jaundiced Orange. If you are #NeverTrump and believe events will prove you right, then eventually anyone with any pretension to being conservative will anathematize Trump in the same way that lighting candles at Reagan reliquaries has been requisite for the past decades.
We ought to prepare for that future now. It is not a pleasant one. It consists of re-sowing the wasteland and reclaiming from fallout shelters whatever credibility, dignity, and honor we manage to stash in them beforehand. With that cheery introduction, I propose seven #NeverTrump principles as a basis on which to reestablish peace in that future.
Principle 1: Forgive But Never Forget
The reconciliation ought to work like the Polish system for dealing with the aftermath of communism in the ’90s. The basic bargain was that anyone who collaborated with the communist regime or who informed for the secret police would be pardoned and amnestied, but only if they publicly confessed to their collaboration. Forgive but never forget.
As most of us conservatives are people of the book, this principle ought to be broadly acceptable. As applied to pro-Trumpness, it can and will be forgiven, but only after an open and written apology that is a genuine confession and not an I-was-always-with-you retcon. Speaking of being people of the book (and mostly pro-canon in things literary), these ought to be collected and made required reading (“The Black Book of Orange”?) in the future as inoculation for all ambitious, aspiring conservatives.
Principle 2: There Is No Such Thing as a True Scotsman
The inevitable temptation in the #NeverTrump camp will be to adopt the “I was here first” seniority system that is so poisonous to fandoms of bands, TV shows, sport teams, etc. This must be resisted as strongly as possible, because it will devolve into a Sean Hannity-style purity competition (before of course, he abandoned such things for His Orangeness) in which the slightest friendly gesture towards Trump becomes grounds for excommunication.
That road ends with defenestrations of people like Ross Douthat for pointing out in 2006 that maybe, just maybe, the GOP ought to do something for blue-collar voters. That’s the root cause of Trumpism! BURN THE HERETIC! That’s how social justice warriors operate; it’s not how conservatives ought to operate.
Principle 3: Gradations of Trumposity
We should distinguish three distinct gradations of Trumposity: pro-Trump, Trump-curious (concept h/t: Ace of Spades), and anti-anti-Trump. They are different positions and have accordingly different degrees of respectability.
At the outset it was completely acceptable to be Trump-curious. A reasonable person could have honestly thought he was more or less how he marketed himself. How many people then would have known about Trump University, or his eminent domain shenanigans, or that he would speak in favor of war crimes, or go full Code Pink on Iraq? Giving him the benefit of the doubt as long as doubt was plausible should not be punished.
Reconciliation is not to be a competition as to who had the keenest instincts but rather a coming to grips with impaired capacity for reason and susceptibility to seduction. Anti-anti-Trump has also been a completely legitimate position up to a point. Taking the no-good-guys and pox-on-everyone’s-house position has a long and sadly justified track record conservatives ought to respect in principle.
Principle 4: Approximate Unacceptability Dates and the Burden of Sincerity
Despite Principle 2, the continuous escalation of Trump’s odiousness means there must be chronological consideration to one’s souring on Trump. We should set approximate unacceptability dates (AUD) at which being pro-Trump, Trump-curious, and anti-anti-Trump (considered separately) carry with them the assumption that there’s something seriously wrong with you.
The practical difference when dealing with the aftermath will be the “Burden of Sincerity.” If one went from being pro-Trump to anti-Trump before the AUD, then one’s confession carries the presumption of sincerity. #NeverTrump has the burden of demonstrating insincerity in order to reject reconciliation. We would furthermore agree there will never be any future status implications in the pre-AUD crowd relating to the timing of conversion, or of having never been Trump-tempted at all (extension of Principle 2).
Alternatively, if conversion from pro- to anti-Trump occurs after the AUD, then the confessor has the Burden of Sincerity and cannot assume a sympathetic audience. Everything one said can and will be used, if not against them, then as something that must be both acknowledged and recanted.
I propose an AUD for pro-Trump as February 15. Trump was by then unambiguously the most likely candidate to actually win the nomination, so tactical anti-some-other-candidate reasons for pro-Trumpness had lost all validity. Jeb! Bush was toast. By then any sentient being knew that Trump had innumerable instances of unethical personal and business behavior.
There was furthermore a large group of conservatives loudly making an anti-Trump case that was qualitatively different than arguments about candidates in previous election cycles. Someone you respected was making the anti-Trump case, so ignorance was by then an unacceptable excuse. February 15 was a full month after the National Review “Against Trump” issue. For analogous reasons, I would propose a similar AUD for Trump-curiosity. By that point “curiosity” was on the edge of willful ignorance.
Anti-anti-Trumpness is tougher, but I propose an AUD around March 20. Between February 15 and then, Trump had mathematically vanquished all but one opponent, and in that timeframe the David Duke dance, the Lewandowski affair, the Chicago fracas, and the convention riot “prediction” all transpired. By any reasonable consideration Trump crossed the line from generic martial campaign rhetoric (which, let’s all be honest, has been a standard feature of politics since Washington retired) to real threats of violence.
Regardless of the theoretical acceptability of the anti-anti-Trump position, when a real presidential candidate threatens to cross the political violence Rubicon, that’s serious, arguably republic-threatening stuff (perhaps not Rubicon-level, but edging toward the Catiline). There may be no good guy, but one of the bad guys had become obviously worse. To be so jaded to be unable to discern that difference is tolerable only of high school sophomores (in all senses of the term), who are too young to vote.
Principle 5: AUD Should Be Flexible to Personal Circumstance
Deserving of lenience: A 24-year old Breitbart staffer with student debt, only $5,000 in savings, and trapped in a bad contract. For such a person, going publicly anti-Trump involves a non-trivial risk of financial ruin. That sort of bravery is way above and beyond the call of duty. Such as these should not bear the stink of their employer.
Not deserving of lenience: Multi-millionaire radio hosts. People occupying leadership positions in the conservative movement are expected to have the bravery to risk a job over a matter of core principle. Being willing to take that kind of stand is precisely what’s supposed to qualify one for leadership in the first place.
Related, AUD should depend on the practical effect one’s (in)actions had on Trump’s candidacy. For Average Joe, his state’s primary is the relevant date. For those in charge of $100 million-plus in PAC money, there is ‘splainin to do. Matt Labash’s Mike Murphy debrief is great journalism, but Murphy’s (and Jeb!’s) cases for leniency are undermined by Murphy’s admission that they both knew Jeb! was a longshot from the beginning.
That being the case, the “It’s not my job” defense for not attacking Trump is garbage. If you’re in the business of supporting a classic Republican, team-player, it’s-my-turn candidacy, then you still have to be a team player when you find out your guy is the sixth man.
Principle 6: #NeverTrump Is about Donald Trump and Donald Trump Only
Above all, #NeverTrump and post-Trumpocalyptic reconciliation has to limit itself to renunciations specific to the person of Donald Trump, not about the associated stylistic, socio-economic-status “establishment” and policy-stance fights. All of that continues, and all of those substantive arguments remain in bounds untainted by Orange.
If one’s initial pro-Trumpness was because one wanted to take the side of the scorned working class against the Chamber of Commerce set, that’s fine. It won’t be held against them, but neither will it excuse post-AUD pro-Trumpness. #NeverTrump is about Trump the man, not Trump the avatar.
Principle 7: A Trump Corollary to Godwin’s Law
Anyone who has been reconciled cannot be casually accused of Trumpism going forward. This will be a critically important principle to maintain, because if the #NeverTrump crowd is proven right, “Trumpism” will quickly devolve from a term describing real phenomenon into a meaningless but nonetheless powerful call to ostracism. Left-wingers will be ruthless that application, but conservatives should not succumb to that temptation (another Principle 2 extension). “Trump” going forward will have to be restricted to only the cases in which it is literally appropriate.
By no means should the above principles be considered settled law. They are rather proposals about which we should argue and settle together. If all I accomplish by these proposals is getting conservatives back to arguing amongst ourselves about first principles, then I will consider it a smashing success.
But let’s not forget: The Trumpocalypse is nigh. We need to build our fallout shelters. Soon.