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What Will the Never Trumpers Do?

Bill Kristol. Charlie Sykes. Jonathan V. Last. Mona Charen. Kim Wehle. George Conway.

What do all of these names have in common? They are some of the last remaining “Never Trumpers,” a group of conservatives dedicated to opposing Donald Trump no matter what. They make their presence known on Twitter and in the mainstream media publications such as the Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC. Some Never Trumpers such as Sykes, Last, and Kristol congregate within The Bulwark, a Never Trump website formed in 2018 to provide “political analysis and reporting free from the constraints of partisan loyalties or tribal prejudices.” 

Today, many of the Never Trumpers find themselves putting their hope in the fate of the Democratic Party. Because Donald Trump is such a threat to the republic, they claim, then they must team up with Democrats to save it. This means supporting Democrats as they did in the 2018 midterms, starting a “Never Bernie” movement as they did in the 2020 Democratic primaries, and endorsing Joe Biden for president.

The idea behind supporting Joe Biden is that he will be a more moderate Democrat appealing to more centrist voters, and that is enough for Never Trumpers to support him. As Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight writes, “Mostly, ‘Never Trumpers’ simply want Biden to run a general election campaign similar to his primary run, emphasizing more moderate policies and appealing to more centrist voters.” The idea is that a moderate Biden will be successful in beating a radical Trump. 

But what exactly is the rationale behind Never Trumpers supporting Joe Biden? There are two possiblities. The first is that the Never Trumpers are just one part of a broader political realignment that is currently occurring in American politics. As the Republican Party starts to turn more and more towards becoming the party of the working-class, the Democratic Party has become the party for ex-Republicans who were appalled by the behavior of Donald Trump, potentially creating a larger and more centrist Democratic Party in a similar vein with the Democratic Party of the 1990’s. Because the Never Trumpers do not fit within the current mold of the GOP, then perhaps they could team up with moderate Democrats to create a new type of Democratic Party. 

The second rationale is a little bit more complex: working to elect Joe Biden president will help the Never Trumpers keep conservatism from being tied to how one feels about Donald Trump. As Robert Saldin, co-author of the upcoming book Never Trump: The Revolt of the Conservative Elites, explained, “[Never Trumpers] think of their jobs as translating conservative ideas to liberals. They had invested in the idea that conservatism was respectable…So they were particularly horrified by Trump because he embodied what they had spent their careers saying was not conservatism.”

So, the thinking goes, the Never Trumpers should work to help bring a Democrat to the presidency for just this one election in hopes that only four years of Donald Trump will allow these conservatives to regain control over the GOP and make whatever impact that Trump had on the party very dismal and limited. It is risky, but many are hoping the risk pays off. As Sarah Longwell said, “If he loses, there is a lot of room for a fight over the soul of the party…If he wins, then it’s pretty definitive.”

The majority of the Never Trumpers want to remain Republicans (although, it is not quite clear what Bill Kristol will do ever since he tweeted that “We are all Democrats now”). But, these Never Trumpers find themselves stuck in a very sticky situation. Should Joe Biden win, there is no guarantee that the Republican Party will even welcome them back into the fold, as they will most likely consider the Never Trumpers as traitors both to the conservative cause and the party itself. Should Donald Trump win, there remains the strong possibility that the Republican Party will be completely transformed into a more populist and less conservative party. The type of party that Never Trumpers have been critical of ever since Donald Trump’s election. 

The Never Trumpers are in a tough spot. Their best hope is to continue to fight within the Republican Party for influence and hope that they can somehow be successful in shifting the party into their own direction. It will be a challenge because President Trump makes it a challenge. But if conservative principles are as important as the Never Trumpers say that they are, then it is best that they remain in the party that Harry Jaffa once claimed that the fate of the world depended on.

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