Never Trump is as dead as a doornail, this must be distinctly understood. It met its fate when all but one Republican senator voted to acquit Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. Never Trump was always short for “Never Trump Republican” or “Never Trump Conservative.” For all intents and purposes, those qualifiers no long define the group. Instead they are now defined by the one senator who abandoned the GOP: Mitt Romney.
The Romneyites, which they should now be known as, are still defined by their staggering aversion to Donald Trump, but the handful of principled Republican politicians they kept predicting would turn on Trump did not materialize. Their three-year project to wrangle back the GOP from the inside has failed, leaving them with only one option, to support a Democrat against Trump, and increasingly it appears that Democrat may well be socialist Bernie Sanders.
This is a very tough spot for the Romneyites to be in. One almost has to feel sorry for them. It is important to remember that they are not just smarter than their Trump-defending conservative ex-cohorts, they are also of course much smarter than the Democrats who they have been warning about the dangers of lunging too far to the left. But for all their wisdom and long hard hours in the think tanks, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans seem very keen on heeding their important advice.
This was not supposed to happen. The election was not supposed to even get close to coming down to a right wing populist bully from Queens and a left wing populist bully from Brooklyn. Even last week the Romneyites were writing weird wish craft, like a piece in the Bulwark called, “Romney-Bloomberg: The Unity Ticket America Deserves.” You couldn’t read the sentiments of the American voting public more poorly right now if you held the book upside down.
And speaking of the junior senator from Utah, now the titular head of what was once Never Trump, who will he be supporting come November? He did just recently vote to remove Donald Trump from office. Does that leave him in a reasonable position to support his re-election, even against socialist Sanders? Romney’s vote to remove is an important tool for Democrats inasmuch as it gives just the slightest bit of legitimacy to their failed impeachment efforts.
For Romney and his supporters, there is no way back into any semblance of power in the GOP as long as Trump is president. If Biden and Bloomberg cannot stop Sanders’ efforts to secure the nomination, the Romneyites only choice will be to support him. They will claim this grudging support is a needed backstop against Trump’s alleged undermining of American democracy, but they also know a Trump defeat is their only likely way to regain policy influence in the Republican Party.
Friends, these are strange times. Over on the left, from his perch at MSNBC Democrat Chris Matthews is comparing Sanders’ socialist victory in Nevada to France falling to the Nazis, and on the right, former anti-communist neocons are dismissing concerns about electing a Disdainer of Capitalism in Chief.
To no small degree is the Romneyite position similar to that of Joe Biden, a Democrat they would greatly prefer to support. Like them, Biden’s campaign is a call for a return to normalcy. The good old days of Bush and Obama, globalism and neoliberalism. It’s not too late to get all of that back, they say, if the people want it. The problem of course is that there is little sign that this is actually what most Americans want.
The Romneyites, using their preferred term, Principled Conservatives, will hold a conference in Washington DC this weekend, a kind of shadow CPAC if you will. All of your favorites will be there: Bill Kristol, Charlie Sykes, Tom Nichols, and Rick Wilson to name a few. But they really only have one principle, which is Donald Trump and his rube Fox News addicted voters are bad. And they really just aren’t conservatives anymore. The baby went out with the bathwater and all that is left to refill the tub is warmed over socialism.
So get ready to hear a lot from them about the wonders of Denmark, how Sanders really isn’t a socialist, how Trump’s conservative victories actually don’t amount to much, and about how four more years of Trump will end American democracy. Trump is to the Romneyites what climate change is to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an existential and immediate threat that must be not just the top, but the only priority.
The good news is that in reality, their support for a socialist presidential candidate cannot sway any considerable constituency of voters, because no such voters actually exist.