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After Roe, Never Trumpers Should Just Admit They Were Wrong

The Never Trump faction is so committed to hating Trump it can’t think clearly about the end of Roe and give credit where credit is due.

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The left’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s historic decision last week overturning Roe v. Wade has been uniformly appalling but not at all surprising: violencecalls for more violencecalls to pack the court, ignore its decisions, dissolve it. In other words, about what you’d expect from people who want to destroy every institution they don’t control.

On the right, the reaction has been rather more mixed, mainly because of the cowardice and intellectual dishonesty of the Never Trump faction, whose leading lights can’t bring themselves to give credit to former President Donald Trump for accomplishing what the Republican establishment could not.

Make no mistake: without Trump, Roe would still be on the books. No other Republican candidate could have beaten Hillary Clinton in 2016, and no other GOP president would have yielded the results Trump did once in office.

Trump didn’t just deliver three solid originalist justices to the Supreme Court, he did so despite enormous pressure from Democrats and the media — pressure that any other politician almost certainly would have submitted to. Would any other Republican president have stood by Brett Kavanaugh amid the orchestrated smear campaign against him, or nominated someone like Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than six weeks before the 2020 presidential election? Of course not, and everyone knows it.

Trump was able to do these things precisely because he possesses qualities his Never Trump critics most deplore: combativeness, a disdain for the media, political instincts that told him the Supreme Court was of paramount importance to his conservative base and that he needed to deliver on the promises he made.

Indeed, crediting Trump for his central role in the overturning of Roe should not be a heavy lift, even for those who are no fans of the former president. You can think of him as a kind of Balaam’s ass, if you like, and still recognize the essential part he played. 

For Never Trumpers like Bill Kristol, the easiest way to avoid this reckoning is simple hypocrisy. Just write the opposite of what you wrote in the past, and blame Trump for your intellectual dishonesty.

But for some Never Trumpers, the whole thing is… complicated. That’s how Timothy Carney of the American Enterprise Institute put it last week in a Washington Examiner column that was mostly a bunch of throat-clearing about how bad Trump was for the “GOP brand” and how much he hurt the conservative movement.

Never mind that the conservative movement Trump supposedly hurt has been working for decades to overturn Roe v. Wade, and indeed largely defined itself through opposition to abortion in an era when every major institution in American life was arrayed against it.

Carney doesn’t engage that argument, or any other, because he has no argument to make. He admits as much when he says, “no issue in politics is more important than abortion because no cause is more righteous than protecting innocent babies from slaughter. No president did more good on abortion than Trump. So this makes things complicated.”

No, it doesn’t. It only makes things complicated if you’re wedded to the idea that decorum is more important than actual victories for the conservative cause, or if you draw a paycheck from a Never Trump bastion like AEI. Maybe then it’s complicated. But out in the real world, where untold children will escape being butchered in the womb partly as a result of Trump’s resolve, it isn’t complicated at all. 

Read in the best possible light, Carney’s hand-wringing over Trump’s role in all this is at least a tacit acknowledgement that he might have been wrong. Not so for the impossible-to-parody Kevin Williamson of National Review, who wasted no time churning out a laughably dishonest column about how the end of Roe isn’t Trump’s victory. 

Why? Because, says Williamson, Trump did what any Republican president would have done and “delegated his judicial selections to the Federalist Society.” It does not seem to enter into Williamson’s thinking that Trump perhaps turned to the Federalist Society in light of the past failures of Republican presidents to nominate justices sufficiently originalist to overturn Roe. Indeed, it was a plurality opinion from a trio of justices appointed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush that botched the chance to overturn Roe 30 years ago in Planned Parenthood v Casey, and instead maintained its central holding that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

Never mind all that, says Williamson. “No conservative who knows how to read supported Trump in 2016 because he was solid on judicial originalism — or any other major conservative issue.” But as Williamson surely knows, many conservatives (including some literate ones!) supported Trump in 2016 precisely because he committed to nominating Supreme Court justices who were solid on judicial originalism, and even released a list of possible nominees in May 2016 — something no other GOP primary candidate had ever done. Indeed, his explicit commitment to nominate originalist justices is one reason many Republicans who were on the fence about Trump decided to vote for him in the end. 

None of this matters to Never Trumpers of Williamson’s bent of mind. To them, reality — even something as real and astounding as the end of Roe — will never overturn their smug conviction that they were right to oppose Trump. So satisfied are they in their own opinions and prejudices that nothing so mundane as actual events will ever persuade them they were wrong.

So be it. It’s not like the Republican Party needs the dozens of voters whose views these pundits represent. Williamson can go on writing his snarky, nattering columns peppered with snide little insults to Trump and the people who supported him. One has to pay the bills, after all, so he might as well have fun with it. Carney can go on striving to sound measured and respectable, for all it’s worth.

But the rest of us on the right, including some (like me) who have come to realize they were wrong about Trump, will remember that it took Trump, of all people, to bring about a result so glorious and long-sought that honest conservatives should be willing, even happy, to admit they were wrong.