As someone who was upfront about his NeverTrump position during the 2016 election, I wrote a number of columns back then qualifying my decision not to vote for the man who went on to become our 45th president. I was always up for discussing the rationale behind my stance, and I’m still more than happy to explain my views on the importance of character and competency, as well as the flaws with political tribalism.
But what I’ve grown exhausted with, two years after NeverTrump died a natural death on election night, is its artificial preservation and misrepresentation by partisans and political pundits.
A quick history lesson: Those who claimed the title of NeverTrump back in 2016 did so as a declaration of who they were not going to vote for (in both the primary and general elections). Their reasons varied, but virtually no one presented or interpreted their message as a vow of eternal opposition to anything and everything Trump.
NeverTrump was a voting stance with a clear expiration date: November 8, 2016. As I wrote in a previous column, it should have vanished from our political vocabulary as quickly as a campaign sign from a front yard.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. The posturing opportunities were apparently too big to fail.
Trump loyalists (like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham) continue to use “NeverTrump” as a conspiratorial straw-man foil for the purpose of marginalizing conservative criticism of our president. Reflexive Trump opponents (like Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin) exhibit “NeverTrump” as a justification for abandoning the very conservative principles they based a good chunk of their election-era opposition to Trump on.
Regardless of the camp, the term (along with its various, disingenuous applications) no longer has any serious or consistently identifiable meaning. It has become boogieman folklore. So whenever I see “Never Trump” brought up in a topical reference, my inclination is to roll my eyes and shake my head.
That being said, I must admit that there was a qualifying Daily Beast headline the other day that did manage to pique my curiosity: “Kavanaugh Killed the ‘Never Trump’ Movement”.
Aside from the statement generating immediate questions (like “What movement?” and “How did Brett Kavanaugh kill it?”), the piece was written by Matt Lewis, a notable and thoughtful conservative Trump skeptic who was a NeverTrump voter himself.
In other words, it was worth checking out.
Lewis’s point in the piece is that prominent NeverTrumpers from the 2016 election cycle were so divided over the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings that they came away from the battle falling into one of two categories:
- Those who were so outraged over Kavanaugh’s treatment by the Democrats and the mainstream media that they finally turned into Trump supporters (he names Erick Erickson as an example).
- Those who were so disturbed by the GOP’s confirmation of such an ultimately controversial Trump nominee, that they left the Republican Party (as Tom Nichols did) or even abandoned the conservative cause (as Max Boot seems to have).
As someone who follows a lot of fellow former NeverTrumpers on social media (and often reads their columns), I was surprised that Lewis didn’t touch on what appeared to be the most common sentiment among these folks: They listened to the hearings, considered everything they heard, and then supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation while remaining largely unchanged on how they feel about Trump.
I’m one of those people, and I’m confused as to why Trump was supposed to have had any bearing at all on how I assessed Kavanaugh. Yes, Trump’s the guy who nominated him (and I give him credit for that), but why should that have mattered? Kavanaugh is a conservative judge, with a strong resume, who would have reasonably appeared on any Republican president’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. And if you don’t believe me, consider that former president George W. Bush campaigned hard for Kavanaugh behind the scenes.
I also don’t get why Kavanaugh’s confirmation was supposed to change how I feel about Trump. Am I expected to join the Trump Train because of how nasty the Democrats and the mainstream media were during the proceedings? Can’t I be content with the nomination while recognizing what Fox News’s Brit Hume did about our often nasty president:
He was right to stand by his nominee, but the best thing he did to help was to stay mostly out of the fight. https://t.co/itoBKZe9MO
— Brit Hume (@brithume) October 7, 2018
The differences in political views and philosophies among former NeverTrumpers may have widened, but they are by no means new. Significant discrepancies and infighting have been there all along, which is why talk of “NeverTrump” as an organized (or even disorganized) political movement has always been a fallacy. There was never any conspiracy. There was never a leader, nor a serious political strategy. It was just a hodgepodge of right-leaning individuals who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for one Donald J. Trump.
The fact of that matter is that NeverTrump has been dead for nearly two years, since long before Brett Kavanaugh commanded the news cycle . It just hasn’t been allowed to rest in peace.