There is a little dance that goes on nearly every day on Twitter. It usually starts with a pro-Trump conservative attacking a Never Trump conservative by suggesting their anti-Trump program is pointless and can only serve to help a Democratic Party lurching to the left. Next, the Never Trumper typically responds that if they are so irrelevant, why are pro-Trump conservatives so obsessed with them?
A fundamental misunderstanding is at work here. Nobody really thinks Never Trumpers are irrelevant. In fact, they and their views are all over the place. The Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many other prominent left-leaning media outlets ensure that Never Trump pundits maintain relevance by plastering them all over our nation’s news commentary.
So, yes, Never Trumpers certainly have relevance, but there is something arguably much more important that they do not have: a constituency. The vast majority of conservatives and Republicans outside of the media and the Beltway approve of the job President Trump is doing. This is why, ultimately, ideas like running Joe Walsh against Trump are so silly and derided.
Conservatives Are Reasonably Preferring Trump
This doesn’t mean that all of these conservatives supporting Trump think he is the greatest president of all time, the only one who can save us, or some great moral leader. Some of Trump’s core supporters feel that way, but most don’t. Most see politics as transactional, and given the choice between Trump’s eccentricities and the Democrats’ extreme and radical policy positions, they quite reasonably prefer the former.
I myself was a Never Trumper prior to his election in 2016. Like most conservative writers, I decided the responsible way to go forward after his victory was to call balls and strikes. Within about a year, I was confident that Trump’s presidency was not the existential crisis I had feared. But for a handful of prominent conservatives, that was not an option. Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, Rick Wilson, and Tom Nichols, among others, continue to believe Trump is an existential threat.
There are Never Trumpers for whom I still have a lot of respect, others less so, but on the whole they tend to be a pretty accomplished group and are certainly entitled to their opinions. This in part explains why media outlets give them so much coverage, even though they represent the views of so few conservatives. But it’s not the only reason. The bigger reason is that they give hope to a left very worried that the right will not go back to being a docile political force with a tendency to get bulldozed.
Never Trump Camp Wants a Return to Progressive Hegemony
The left longs for the good old days. For 20 years, before Trump took office, American conservatives were the Buffalo Bills of the culture war. They were competent, won some elections, but on every big cultural issue, they lost badly. On abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism, anti-American education, and a host of others, conservatives suffered principled losses. Now they are fighting back, and lo and behold, even getting some major wins.
This change has had some negative consequences. Trump’s over-the-top attacks on rivals, Republican and Democrat alike, has eviscerated the basic politeness in politics that most Americans grew up with. It was not, in the past, assumed that those who disagree with you are trying to undermine the country. That has now changed on both sides. Just as Trump continues his hyperbolic attacks on his critics, they have sharpened their elbows in his direction.
When Never Trumpers talk about a return to political sanity, often ironically while hurling the same types of insults and jibes at Trump and his supporters that they claim to decry, they are talking about a return to progressive hegemony. This is flatly obviously when we see a Democratic field for the presidency in which all of the candidates are way to the left of 2008 Barack Obama on every issue, and yet the Never Trumpers would take any of them, as well as a Democratic victory in the Senate.
Never Trumpers Aren’t Convincing
Left-leaning legacy outlets thrust these faces front and center because they are the type of conservative these outlets want all conservatives to be. Sure, you can make your silly arguments about free speech and religious liberty, but at the end of the day, you will lose and grimace a little smile as the progressive march of history goes on, knowing you stuck to your principles.
The good news for conservatives who don’t want to hand total victory over to the party of wokeness is that those in the Never Trump camp do very little convincing. It’s not really their job to persuade those who they consistently insult to come to their side. Rather, it is their job to assure those on the left that they are correct in assuming conservatives are bad faith actors, brainwashed by Trump, who should not be engaged, but rather shunned.
This is the nature of their empty relevance. They exist to justify and promote contempt. But every day that goes by, those conservatives that want to fight, that don’t want to surrender, become more secure in their ability to do so and less willing to return to the days of being punching bags. Whatever happens in 2020, whoever wins, the conservative movement is not going back to a refusal to fight, and that’s something Never Trump can’t change.