With Donald Trump moving steadily toward the Republican nomination, conservatives have now been put to the test: is #NeverTrump serious?
The conventional wisdom says no. Most commentators tut-tut exit polls showing that a large minority of Republicans say they won’t vote Trump under any circumstances; once they’re faced with the specter of Hillary, the logic goes, they’ll fall in line behind the demagogic real estate strong man.
Trump himself is already pushing this line. Cleverly utilizing the GOP loyalty pledge demanded of him early in the campaign – a loyalty pledge I opposed at the time – Trump now says that if Republicans don’t line up behind him, they’ll be handing the nomination to Hillary. “Let me tell you,” said the Cicero-like orator, “a third party guarantees – not 90 percent or 99 percent, 100 percent – that Democrats will win. Probably Hillary, I guess it’s Hillary, looks like it if she gets to the starting gate, which she probably will, frankly.” Or, as Trump’s even less coherent supporters say, in the mold of Snidely Whiplash tying Nell to the train tracks, “get on the #TrumpTrain or get run over!”
Just to drive the point home, Trump says that there will be riots if he goes to the convention with the most delegates but is denied the nomination. “I’m representing a tremendous – many, many millions of people, in many cases first-time voters,” he told CNN today. “If you disenfranchise those people…I think you would have problems like you’ve never seen before.”
He may be right. Trump supporters hew closely to the words of their Great Leader.
Which is why the conventional wisdom is dead wrong.
Those of us who have said #NeverTrump will not go along just to defeat Hillary Clinton. That’s not out of personal pique – many of us didn’t like Mitt Romney (see my 2012 column, “No On Mitt Romney,” for example).
It’s because we believe that beating Hillary in 2016 is less important than defeating leftist visions of the government’s role, both in the Democratic Party and in the Republican Party. We may be entering an era in which conservatism is a minority philosophy. But so was nationalist populism until five minutes ago, when certain Republicans became so desperate for victory that they made common cause with disgruntled big government authoritarians in order to defeat Democrats. Those same Republicans must be forced back toward conservatism – and the only way to do that is to build up a conservative army loyal to principle rather than personality, and for that army to use their voting leverage to stop candidates like Trump. Trump’s whole pitch is that he’s bring disgruntled voters back to the polls, and many mainstream Republicans are falling for it. We can make that same pitch, but only if we leave Trumpism to its own peculiar nastiness.
Building a conservative movement is a far harder mission than cobbling together a coalition to win an election to hand power to a man who will implement a leftist vision of the world under the banner of the supposedly conservative party. But it’s a far more important mission, too.
We calculate that Donald Trump taking over the Republican Party for the foreseeable future and transforming the conservative movement into European-style authoritarianism, complete with riots, is far more dangerous to the future of the republic than Hillary Clinton continuing us toward the cliff for four years. If Trump wins, he guts the only movement we have. If Hillary wins, there may be a future for our movement yet.
And no, Trump won’t shut the border, fight the war on terror properly, or deport massive number of illegal immigrants. It just isn’t happening. If you believe Trump will do all those things, you’re being played.
So no, there won’t be détente, nor should there be.
I was #NeverTrump. I’m still #NeverTrump.