#NeverTrump: Conservatives Against Trump

#NeverTrump: Conservatives Against Trump

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Should #NeverTrump conservatives - those opposed to the presidential nomination of reality television star Donald Trump - refuse to vote for Trump even if it means electing Hillary Clinton as the next president? Here we will explore the origins of the Never Trump movement, and why many conservatives will refuse to vote for Trump in 2016.

"Against Trump"

In January, 2016 conservative magazine National Review released an issue dedicated to opposing Donald Trump for President. This was the first major publication to come out against Trump in a major way with articles from conservatives William Kristol, Mona Charen, John Podhoretz, Glenn Beck and a dozen others detailing their opposition to his candidacy.The issue was notable for dropping shortly before the Iowa Caucuses kicked of the presidential race. After the "Against Trump" issue, National Review was subsequently removed as a debate sponsor for an upcoming GOP primary debate.While the magazine made a definite splash, it was ultimately written off as the "last gasp" of the "dying Republican establishment."


A month later - after Trump won contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada - the #NeverTrump movement caught on when Aaron Gardner tweeted out the hashtag flagging an article written by talk radio host Erick Erickson. I reached out to Gardner - a political consultant and writer based out of Colorado - for background on the history of the movement:

"#NeverTrump began as a line in the sand for movement/activist conservatives. Erick Erickson wrote a post detailing why he could never vote for Trump, much of which echoed my own thoughts for months, as expressed in Twitter. I tagged the post shortly after it was published with the #NeverTrump hashtag and worked to get it trending on a Friday night. The response was amazing and over the next 12 hours there were over 500,000 tweets, #NeverTrump was trending worldwide, and the altright Trump-backers freaked out. They started to counter with #AlwaysTrump and got their anonymous accounts, alleged to be Russian troll accounts, to push the tag. Twitter took the tag off of the trending lists, but it has continued getting 100s of thousands of tweets per day. Unfortunately, certain forces aligned with Ted Cruz also worked to diminish #NeverTrump as they saw it hurting Cruz and helping Marco Rubio. If only they'd had a bit of forethought."

The hashtag started trending on Twitter and would become the battle cry for anti-Trump forces throughout the remainder of the republican contests. The movement did not back a specific candidate to oppose Trump and instead emphasized "strategic voting" and partnerships to deny Trump the required number of delegates and force a contested convention. The first candidate to embrace the concept was Marco Rubio ahead of the March 15th contests when he signaled to his supporters that they should back Gov. John Kasich in the winner-take-all primary in Ohio. (The favor was not returned by Kasich or Ted Cruz, and Rubio lost crucial Florida and dropped out of the race.) On Team Never Trump, Mitt Romney - the 2012 Republican nominee - backed Rubio, Kasich, and Ted Cruz in different states on the same day.

It wouldn't be until late April when an alliance of sorts would be formed between the two remaining non-Trump candidates. As Trump was on his way to dominating 6 contests in the northeast, and finally winning beyond just a plurality, it became obvious that the only way to stop Trump would be through an open convention that led to multiple rounds of voting by the GOP delegates. With polls showing Trump building leads in key upcoming contests in Indiana and California, Cruz and Kasich struck a deal. Cruz announced he would pull out of competing in New Mexico and Oregon, while Kasich announced he would not compete in Indiana. Both made the case for denying Trump a first-round ballot victory, but the late-forming coalition may be a case of too little, too late.

Trump, as Republican Nominee

So, what of the Never Trump movement if Trump wins the Republican nomination and sets up a battle against Hillary Clinton? For many, the Never Trump movement takes the first word very literally. Never. A refusal to back Trump extends beyond the primary and into the general election.

Writing for Bloomberg View, columnist Megan McArdle shared the responses she received from Never Trump supporters:

The #NeverTrump voters "are appalled, repulsed, afraid and dismayed that their party could have let this happen. They wrote in the strongest possible language, and many were adamant that they would not stay home on Election Day, but in fact would vote for Hillary Clinton in the general and perhaps leave the Republican Party for good."

These sentiments are widely held within activists conservative circles, and polls show that Donald Trump would get obliterated in a general election. But do people who are part of the Never Trump camp now stay in the Never Trump camp if the only other option is Hillary Clinton? Do they change their minds? Certainly, some will make the reluctant case for Trump. Some will support Trump and not admit it. But I would expect a fairly large contingency of Never Trump backers to remain opposed to Trump, even vocally. Many will try to guilt-trip Trump opponents into backing the reality show star "or else" effectively support Hillary Clinton. But conservatives should not feel guilt-tripped into backing down. And here's why:

  • Conservatism: It isn't just that Trump is insufficiently conservative. Does even a single conservative bone in his body exist? He certainly doesn't speak the language. His liberal political history is well-known, and his current political opportunism apparent.
  • Competence: This isn't a case of "Romney/McCain/Trump aren't conservative enough, I'm staying home." Those men were competent. Conservatives weren't thrilled with the idea of Jeb Bush being the nominee, but Jeb is at least competent, admirable, and accomplished. Trump has no interest in learning even the basics of the issues, promising only to learn them if he gets elected first.
  • Character: What can be said about Trump's character? His behavior during the campaign is enough to give him general election nightmares, but his tabloid past is enough to make Bill Clinton blush. While the media has generally been soft on Trump, that will change in a general election. Character matters.
  • Temperament: Trump has not shown the temperament to be president. He too often is vindictive and childish, and threatens everyone who disagrees with him. The President has to be capable of making rational decisions, often quickly. Does that shoe fit?

In the end, there is no "obligation" for anyone to support Trump. It will be his duty to convince enough reluctant people to back him in a general election. This is what Mitt Romney and John McCain and Bob Dole all ultimately failed to do and the blame belonged to them, just as it would belong to Trump. In the end, Never Trump will likely be a success. Hopefully, it succeeds in a primary and Republicans and conservatives nominate an actual Republican or conservative. Unfortunately, it's more likely to succeed in a general election.